This trip is about clicking the birds at the highest altitudes of the country and takes about 14 days.
The first day is about reaching New Delhi from where Asian Adventures will transport you the next day to Srinagar by noon. Thus, the actual trip begins at Srinagar and takes us through Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Kargil, Leh, and areas of Ladakh.
I join the trip on the second day at Srinagar where I and local guides meet the tour guests and accompany them to the Ibrahim Houseboat where they can take rest for a while before the evening birding tour near the Dal Lake and in the forest near Shankaracharya Temple. A large number of waterfowl join the residents of Dal lake during migration. Black-
crowned Night Heron and Pied Kingfisher are residents. In summer, Clamorous Reed Warblers are common and a few Little Bittern inhabit the reed beds while Whiskered Terns hunt over the water. After an enjoyable evening, I bring them back to the houseboat for a serene Sunset where lots of birds return to their nest. An overnight stay at the houseboat amid Kashmiri food and music is an amazing experience, especially for the foreign birders.
The third day begins at Sunrise when I take the birders to Dachigam National Park for a full-day birding tour. Tourists are delighted to know that Dachigam used to be a game reserve and was later turned into a National Park to protect Hangul or Kashmir Stag. The park lists numbers more than 150 birds many of which breed. Dachigam is a big natural reserve requiring the permission of the Kashmir Bird watching Wildlife authorities for exploration purposes. And I ensure that all such permissions are in place well beforehand. Dachigam is divided into Lower Dachigam and Upper Dachigam. While Upper Dachigam is ideal for bird-watching and mammals in the summer months on the other hand Lower Dachigam is ideal for watching mammals in the autumn and winter months and bird watching during spring. Among the most notable birds here are Besra, Northern Goshawk, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Himalayan Monal, and Tawny owl to name a few. Also, mammals like Hangul, Jackal, Langur, Leopard, and Yellow-throat-ed Martens are common.
The fourth day is about a birding trip from Srinagar to Pahalgam and then back to the houseboats. I take tourists out at 5 am in the morning to catch early birds' en route to Pahalgam via Hokarsar. The latter is a marshland that pulls several migratory birds and bird-watchers every year. This is the best region to enjoy sights of a large variety of ducks including Brahminy Duck, Tufted Duck, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Gadwall, and Northern Pintail. After a full day of birding, we drive back to Srinagar where the tourists spend another night at the Houseboats.
The fifth day is about me leading the tourists and local guides to the Gulmarg Biosphere Reserve, which is some 50 kilometers away from Srinagar. And the two-hour drive throws open a variety of birds. Avi-fauna at the reserve includes pheasants and upland birds among other resident and migratory species. Griffon Vulture, Snow Cock, Koklass Pheasant,
Monal Pheasant, Eurasian Hoopoe, Blue Rock Pigeon, Kashmir Roller, etc. are found here. Birders are elated to see such a vibrant display of colored wings which also includes Coal tit, Rufous-naped tit, Fire-capped tit, Himalayan Woodpecker, and Brown fronted woodpecker. Finally, post-lunch birders tracked Tytler’s leaf warbler followed by Kashmir Nutcracker which we saw after a small hiatus. By the time we return to Srinagar by early evening where we can expect sights of Whiskered tern, Common Kingfisher, and lots of black-eared kites around our houseboat. And of course the Sunset at the Dal Lake – a sight to behold.
On the six mornings, we bid adieu to Srinagar and headed to Kargil via Sonmarg. While the drive throws open a plethora of glimpses of birds from various regions in Kashmir, on the other hand, Sonmarg is about capturing amazing clicks of the European goldfinch, Fire-fronted Serin, Pink browned rose Finch, Rock Bunting, Kashmir Flycatcher, Himalayan Woodpecker, Brown-fronted Woodpecker, Golden Eagle, White-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Brown Dipper among the 150 plus winged beauties of the region. The guests, especially the ones from abroad, were delighted to catch close glimpses of Greenish warbler, Tytler’s leaf warbler, Brown-flanked bush warbler, Kashmir Nutcracker along with Kashmir nuthatch. Post lunch we drive to Kargil which is some five kilometers from Sonmarg. And we need to reach there before Sunset since the temperature takes a sudden dip to post that. Safer to reach before that and sit by the bonfire for an early dinner.
The seventh day is about birding en route to Leh. As a guide I have to ensure that the guests reach Leh by early evening, so we take only a few stops at the green as well as the barren lands, to capture a few birds in the cameras. But primarily this drive is about capturing the changing face of the landscape which is again a sight to behold – the magic of nature.
On the eight-day, I take the birders for an extensive birding tour of two different regions of Leh – the Shey Marshes in the morning and the Trishul Lake post Lunch. The first on the itinerary of the day is the Shey Marshes – a must-visit place for any birder. Just 7 kms away from Leh, this region is famous for winged beauties like Eurasian Golden Oriole, Hume’s lesser white-throat, Ibisbill, little grebe, blue rock thrush, northern pintail, Eurasian Hobby,red-crested pochard, White-winged Redstart, Citrine Wagtail, Carrion Crow, tufted duck, common teal, Hume’s short-toed lark, garganey, Streaked Rosefinch, plain mountain finch among others. Siena Charmaine of Polan was elated to see Black-billed Magpie, Reed Bunting, Mountain Chiffchaff, Humes Whitethroat, Carrion Crow, Eurasian Hobby, White-winged Redstart, Winter Wren, Ibisbill, Northern Lapwing, Common Rosefinch, Black Redstart, Oriental Turtle Dove, Citrine & White Wagtail. Post an early lunch I take the tourists to Trishul Lake. This lake is the best place to spot water birds like the Wallcreeper, Ibis Bill, brown dipper, Mallard, Winter Wren, Solitary Snipe, Common Pochard, and Ruddy shelduck. In the nearby dry grounds, rocky hills the birders sighted the nesting Robin Accentor, a pair of Brown Accentor, the flying flock of Red-fronted Serrain as well as the Long Leg Buzzard and Upland Buzzard. After a heartful birding experience and a lovely Sunset at the Trishul Lake, we retire for the night at the lodge in the mountains.
The ninth day is the most exciting one – tell many a birder to me, every time I bring different ones here. You may ask me why? This is because this day is not just about birding but also about discovering the exotic beauty of Leh as a barren-hill town landscaped by monasteries! The first half of the day is spent bird watching at the Khardung La Pass – which is the region of the highest motorable road in the world. En route to this pass, birders are excited to camera Khardungla birds like Chukar, Plain-backed Snowfinch, Wallcreeper, Brandt’s Mountain Finch, and Blue-fronted Redstart. Located at the height of approx 5,500 meters, Kahrdung La Pass gives us the opportunity to see some very high-altitude birds like Upland Buzzard, Little Owl, Snow Partridge, Great Rosefinch, Lammergeier, Robin Accentor, Yellow & Red-billed choughs, Raven, Golden Eagle, etc. This birding tour ends by noon when the birders are driven to the Leh town where they can explore the local life and places. Birders spend the
10th Day traveling with me and local guides to Puga stopping en route for birding at Chumathang. Here the birds get amazing glimpses of the Golden Eagle, Common Merganser, Ibisbill, and Horned Lark. Towards noon we sit around for lunch at the Sulphur Stream at Puga, which is the favorite spot of Black-necked Crane, Brown-headed Gull, Ruddy Shelduck, etc. After extensive birding, the birders enjoy the bonfire around their tented accommodation at Puga itself. Yes, we do not return to Leh, it is from Puga from where we will stride ahead.
Day eleven is about birding en route from Puga to three regions namely the picturesque Tso Moriri Lake. Morning excursion to the lakes for ruddy shelduck, bar-headed goose, ruff, lesser sand plover, white-winged black tern, long-legged buzzard, etc. Black-necked crane is big a possibility too. Spend the noon and evening respectively at Namshang La and Thadsang Karu checking the bushes and shrubs amind rocky terrain for the Eurasian eagle-owl, white-winged redstart, robin accentor, Asian house martin, white-throated dipper, lammergeier, etc. At night there is a bonfire
waiting birders at the Puga Camp tents.
On the twelfth day, I take the birders from Puga to Across Polo Konga and then to Tso Kar before we return to Leh. En route to and at the Polo Kongka Pass, one can enjoy the sights of large flocks of Brandt’s Mountain Finch. Explore the area for the little owl, Tibetan sandgrouse, Plain-backed snowfinch, etc. Horned lark, Hume’s short-toed lark, and Tibetan snowfinch. Post lunch I direct the birders to “Tsokar” – meaning the WHITE LAKE OR SALTY LAKE in the local language. Ornithologists consider it among the best birding place in Ladakh which is famous for Tibetan Wild Ass & endangered Black-necked Cranes. And if the birders are lucky, the birders get great glimpses of breeding Bar-headed Geese & Ruddy Shelducks. Other birds here include Great-horned Lark, Tibetan Snow Finch, Plain-backed Snowfinch, Twite, Eurasian Linnet, Created & Great Rosefinch, Raven, Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Red-throated Pipit, Altai Accentor, Hill Pigeon, Brown-headed Gulls, Red-crested Pochard, etc. As the is about to set, I take the trip members to spot Eurasian Nightjar, Upland Buzzard, Little Owl, etc before we head back to Leh. The last two days of the trip are about transporting the birders back to Delhi from where they will head back to their homelands. The high Altitude regions of Kashmir and Ladakh are in fact miracles of nature to showcase how life thrives even in the harshest climates. So when are you taking our trip?