Sunday, August 2, 2015

J&K logs - some more landscapes

It's been a year (June-July 2014) since I had been to J&K - Ladakh and my memory is still afresh with all the tripping we did and all the sightings we had throughout our two week sojourn from Srinagar to Ladakh and back to Srinagar.

In this post, I will just brief on the places we covered, more details will be shared in a later post.

Srinagar-Sonamarg-Drass-Mushko valley-Jozila pass-Leh-Khardungla-Panamik-Leh-Changla-Pangong lake-Karu-Chumathang-Tsumdo-Tsokar-Taglangla-Rumtse-Leh-Drass-Manasbahl-Srinagar-Dachigam-Srinagar

We (myself and Kannan) traveled by GoAir from Bengaluru-Srinagar via Mumbai (and return via Delhi) and were joined by PK (Prashanth) from Mumbai and Amit picked us up from Srinagar (he had flown in two days earlier to pick the car - SX4 that was to be our vehicle for the entire duration).

To start off, I would just share a few landscape shots (nothing excellent by any measure) that I was able to take throughout the journey. J&K is so beautiful that you just can't stop clicking, be the green valleys beyond srinagar that changes over to brown once you are in Ladakh region and the himalayas in the distant background and those stunning vistas you get to see at the high altitude lakes... everything is just so beautiful!

Also, to note J&K is the place where unrest is real and happening and Srinagar town has army presence everywhere...and sometimes you do get that eerie feeling seeing so many army people. Another thing I would mention is the presence of army camps all through the way from Srinagar and covers entire Ladakh region, you pass one and you get another... and the huge convoy of army trucks in those narrow hilly stretches.

Let me stop boring you and take you to the pictures... enjoy!

(many such fields and sights makes on wonder - why go elsewhere)

(the huge mountain ranges and home to some of the inhospitable army posts)

(glaciers, streams and mountains...)

(valleys, hills and mountains...)

(landslides...not a day without them!)

(Himalayan ranges as far as you can see!)

( sheets of them everywhere!)

Follow the entire J&K logs here...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

J&K logs - Kargil war memorial!

On my last year's trip to Kashmir-Ladakh, one place that we didn't want to miss visiting was the 'Dras war memorial' (or Vijaypath) located in Dras, an the foothills of Tololing peak.

Across from there, you can see a glimpse of the Tiger hill and way beyond is the Siachen glacier peak, all strategic and important posts for India. This memorial is situated right on the Srinagar-Leh highway on NH1 and is hard to miss.

A must visit to pay your tributes to the brave soldiers and officers of the Indian Army who gave up their life fighting the Kargil war, something that should have never happened.

You get an eerie feeling passing through the NH1, Srinagar-Leh highway as the war happened right beside the highway on the hills like Tololing peak, Tiger hill from where the highway is clearly visible, I had goosebumps.

Back to the memorial, it has a huge epitaph with names of all officers and soldiers who laid down their lives in the war. There is a gallery beside, named after Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, a Param Vir Chakra recipient - the highest military award honored who displayed extraordinary courage and leadership and laid down his life for the country, all at the age of 24.

The gallery houses pictures of soldiers marching on slopes, cooking food at high peaks, recovered arms from the intruders, celebrating victories and mourning deaths of fellow men. Going through the gallery, you cannot hold back not getting emotional and also wish there should be no war...!

Just can't imagine how the war was fought in hostile conditions, inclement weather and the enemy seated above in strategic places seeing all your moves. It requires nothing less than exemplary courage to move forward and charge being in the line of fire and we are blessed to have an army like that and apt are the words on the memorial says - "the martyred soldiers who gave their today for our tomorrow".

If you are ever passing through the place, please pay a visit and offer your tributes (and on my behalf too). Most of us do not even have an iota of idea as to how the army people manage critical posts, that are high altitude places almost in isolation, temperatures dipping way below zero, hostile weather and nobody to even talk except your partner with whom you would be manning the post for weeks or months at a stretch.

Imagine yourself locked up in a remote high altitude place in a bunker, unable to move out due to inclement weather and having to survive on packed foods for months with no communication with the outside world except for the communications with the base camp; and this for weeks or months together till you are swapped with another person who in most likely would have to trek up to the place with all necessary materials in his backpack...!

I can't describe anything beyond...! Let's respect our brave men who are sacrificing their today for our safe and better tomorrow.

P.S. the photos are not of good quality - never realized it!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Magadi lake - a conservation success story

(a delight to watch... Bar-headed Goose)

I was so keen on sighting the Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), that I took few others scanning lakes around Magadi, close to Bengaluru a couple of years ago in search of them and our efforts paid fruit when I could sight them at Markonahalli reservoir but at a very far distance. It was enough for me to glee that I was able to see the prolific travelers (they visit from as afar as Mongolia flying over the Himalayas...!)

Last year having heard more than enough of another 'Magadi (tank) lake'; this one near Gadag town in North Karnataka about 350kms from Bengaluru, that hosts more than 3000+ of the Bar-headed Goose every winter when they come visiting was enough to set me packing to go and witness it live.

(early morning high key images)

Saandip Nandagudi, prolific birder and wildlife photographer, Yogananda Thandra and comedy king Avinash Kannammanavar okay'd to accompany me and we drove down to Lakshmeshwar, about 350kms away and the closest town to the lake. We had contacted Somanna, the forest department temporary guard there for directions and accommodation options and he was of great help for us and one should accolade the hard work he puts in for the protection and conservation of the species for the entire period they stay here.

I am fond of North Karnataka style and varieties of food and an roadside eatery catered to our early morning pangs so much so that it set Saandip on fire because of the spices; well... I enjoyed it :) We stayed put at the PWD IB at Lakshmeshwar that is okay, a better choice would be a hotel near the bus stand that offers decent accommodation as well as food (hotel below and lodging on top) and the food was good while we stayed there.

'Toilets' and 'use of toilets' are something non-existent even today in many places and Magadi town is no exception to this and having a lake is like an attraction where many people openly defaecate in the early hours of the day. I'm stating this to highlight not only the good things but also the practical ground realities that exist and would see if visiting there.

(Brahminy Shelducks)

(they fly in formations...)

(typical landing amidst chaos...)

Getting back to the Geese's, they are called so because of the bars on their neck and are known for their long distance flying, all the way from Mongolia and other European regions to peninsular India crossing over the mighty Himalayas. They breed in the high altitude regions of Ladakh and China and fly down south to pass the harsh winters up north. Another intriguing as well as mind blowing fact about them is that they return to the same wintering hotspot year after year, retracing their path with the help of tailwinds and are capable of covering more than 1000 miles in a single stretch!!!

Their routine is very simple: As the dawn breaks, they all take off in batches with their 'honking' sound and disperse off the fields to feed on groundnuts, corn, rice and other crops and travel long distances in search of food. Sometime between 8-9 am, they all return back to the lake and spend the rest of the day in the lake. They repeat the feeding cycle once in the evening and congregate back by nightfall and prefer to spend the night in the middle of the lake, the deepest part to avoid predators and dogs.

(long distance flyers...)

Specific to Magadi lake, the forest department has done a commendable job in ensuring its protection and declaration as a conservation reserve. Mr Vijay Mohan Raj (VMR), IFS officer is one of the pioneers who played a role in conserving this lake. Somanna, the guard has been given a field scope by the North Karnataka Birders Assocn and a 3-tier watchtower is built by the department to keep a vigil over the lake and also to keep a track of the 'ringed' birds that come in every year. Somanna is keeping a log track of all the 'ringed' birds that visit the lake every year and the information is communicated back to the originator that helps in understanding a lot about the species and their lifestyle. Somanna once rescued a goose that was injured and nursed it back to health on his own with the help of a local vet and is happy that it joined the group back in good health; but his hard work needs to be recognized by the department and sufficient grants/privileges should be released to ensure he can sustain his family while working for conserving the lake and the species that visit them. If he moves on in search of greener pastures and more income, that would be a great loss for the lake and its visitors.
(Painted Stork in flight)

(Northern Shovelers in flight)

(pair of Indian Coursers from a nearby field)

Not only the Bar-headed Goose, we also saw a plentiful of other species such as Brahminy Ducks, Painted Storks, Egrets, Cormorants, Northern Shovelers, Indian Peafowl, Bonelli's Eagle's, Caspian Terns, Hume's Whitethroat and many others, epitomizing the fact that 'you save one species, a hundred more get saved with them'. We were also lucky to sight Indian Coursers in a field where we had wandered off losing our way.

I will list typically what to do and what not to do if you are visiting there:
  • Do reach the place early, in fact before dawn and position yourself closer to the banks (empower yourself with the knowledge of east direction)
  • Do sit still without movements till they feel comfortable in your presence
  • Do not move around like crazy or keep frittering around. A little discomfort... and off they go!
  • Patience and perseverance pays
  • Afternoon is hot, ideal to end morning session by 10am and return back for evening session by 3pm. Winters will be awfully cold in the morning, tendency to dip low.
  • Be a silent visitor and leave no traces of your visit.
  • Inform and report any unusual sightings to the guard over there. Try and collect more information about any ringed birds you see.

Other Information:
  • Magadi lake is in Magadi, a small village of Shirahatti Taluka in the district of Gadag. Lakshmeshwar town is 11kms from the lake and Gadag is 26kms from the lake. Bangalore is at a distance of 350+ kms and the road is good enough for a self drive and takes about 8hours.
  • Magadi (tank) lake houses the Magadi bird sanctuary and spread over 140 acres is a biodiversity hotspot and declared as an IBA (Important Bird Area).
  • Accommodation and Food at Lakshmeshwar (PWD IB or a local hotel near bus stand)
  • Time to visit: November to February

(difficult to catch loner in a frame...)

(end of a long day...)

Also, please read these blog written on and about the same place...
Saandip Nandagudi's blog

Yashpal's blog
Dr Arun's article on JLRexplore
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