November 2009
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Dachigam – a wildlife sanctuary outside Srinagar, India

Location: 22-km From Srinagar, Kashmir Region, State of Jammu and Kashmir, India
Area : 141-sq-kms, spread over an altitude of 5500 to 14000 feet (1700-4300 meters).
Attractions: Kashmir Stag, Himalayan Black Bear, Markhor, Ibex, Exotic Birds, Local trees
Best Time To Visit: Upper Dachigam – May-August (very cold in winter)
Lower Dachigam – September- December, and also good in summer

View maps of Dachigam at this location (link)

India boasts of a large number of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and most of them are extremely beautiful. One of the most beautiful, although smaller than the others, and located in the most northern part of India is the Dachigam Wildlife Park, located outside Srinagar, in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. The sanctuary is located just 22 km outside the capital city of Srinagar, and you have to really be there to admire the natural beauty. The sanctuary is spread over an area of 141 square kilometer, with hills, forests, and a great undergrowth. Like most other sanctuaries, you need permission from the Wildlife Department for exploration. There is a 10 km road that runs through Lower Dachigam, and travel through the Upper Dachigam by foot.

Climate and geography: The sanctuary, given that it exists in a mountainous area, nestled among the Himalayas, covers a huge difference in altitude, from 5500 feet to 14000 feet. As a result of this wide spread in altitude, you cannot really explore the higher regions in winter, and summer is a better time to explore the sanctuary. The upper region is best explored in the summer months of May, June, July and August; while the lower altitude regions can be explored in all the months, although December does get cold (but you don’t suffer the problems of snow and ice that you get in the upper regions). As a result of this difference in altitude, the greenery in the park also varies, with the lower regions being more densely green, while the upper regions lie above the treeline and have a lot more of bare mountains, rocks, cliffs and hills. The Dachigam River winds through Lower Dachigam after emerging from the Masrar Lake (4,300m), in the higher ranges.

History: The park has been in existence in one way or the other since 1910, when it was patronized by the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, and later by the Government. In 1981, the Park was formally designated as a National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary when it got legal protection under the law of the land. The name of the park is from the phrase, ’10 villages’, which were literally the villages that were removed to facilitate the formation of the wildlife sanctuary. The park was also considered very important from the perspective of maintaining a reliable source of water for the people of the capital city of Srinagar.

Protection: Given that the sanctuary is located in the region of Jammu and Kashmir, and in the Himalayas, the flora and fauna is from that region. The sanctuary is the home to the endangered Hangul or the Kashmir stag, a species of Red Deer. During winter, they move to the lower regions, and you can view them in the lower regions. Some of the other species of animals found over here include Himalayan Black Bear, species of wild Goat like the Markhor and Ibex, varieties of exotic Himalayan birds, rare musk deer, and the Himalayan marmot. And if you are lucky, you can see the leopard, or even the more elusive spotted leopard. Dachigam is also known for the large species of birds that can be found there such as the Crimson Tragopan, the iridescent Monal Pheasant with its glittering plumage, the Blood Pheasant and the Koklass Pheasant, and you can also see the golden Eagle and the bearded Vulture or Lammergeier in the sky over the sanctuary.
In terms of the plants and trees, you can find the park very beautiful with its alpine pastures, meadows, waterfalls and scrub vegetation with deep gullies, locally known as Nars, running down the mountain face. And of course, at the higher levels, the meadows and grasslands are covered by beautiful poppy flowers. Some of the wild trees of the park are Wild Cherry, Pear, Plum, Peach, Apple, Apricot, Walnut, Chestnut, Oak, Willow, Poplar, Chinar, Birch, Pine and Elm.

How to get there: Srinagar is the best base to visit Dachigam. You can get to Srinagar and then take a vehicle to Dachigam, after getting the requisite permissions.

Air: The nearest town and airport is Srinagar 22-km away and Srinagar is well connected to Delhi and other cities in North India.

Rail: It is 310-km from Jammu, the nearest railway station, although there is a railway under construction to extend this line to Srinagar.

Road: A metalled road links Srinagar with Lower Dachigam. Upper Dachigam can be reached on foot. Srinagar in turn is well connected by Road to Jammu as well as to Leh.

Where to stay: As with travel, you can easily stay in Srinagar in a huge number of hotels, guest houses or in houseboats. Or you can get to Dachigam with its limited staying options: Two lodges and rest houses in the sanctuary are available for accommodation.

External articles / blogs:

1. (link)

The area of what is now Dachigam National Park was the exclusive hunting ground and protected area of the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir. Among other issues, one of the mandate of the protected area was to ensure clean supply of water for Srinagar. Following India’s Independence, the area came under the control of the Forest Department, and in 1951 it was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary.

2. Ladakh Kashmir (link)

Dachigam is one sanctuary that cannot be seen in all it’s glory with just one visit. This is due to the fact that the park changes it’s entire appearance with the onset of each season, every one of which is as beautiful as the one before or the next to arrive.
A major portion of the park is under constant stress from over grazing and encroachments by neighbouring communities. Although the problem is still very much prevalent, it has been controlled to a large extent by the park authorities. A permit from the chief Wildlife Warden is necessary for anyone wanting to enter the park premises.

3. Adventure activities (link)

Two steep ridges enclose the Park with its great topographical variety – deep ravines, rocky outcrops, steep wooded slopes and rolling alpine pastures. Tumbling down from the Masrar Lake (4,300m), up in the high ranges, the Dachigam River winds through Lower Dachigam. A metallic road takes visitors from Srinagar into Lower Dachigam.

4. Wildlife tours of India (link)

The lower area of the park has gentle terrain which is not too harsh even for the ‘not so fit’ people. Trekking and walking are the best ways to explore the park while it can sometimes be a bit uncomfortable walking in the midst of machine guns peeking out from the BSF checkposts. Beware of the leopards and bears and try not to go on a trek without the company of a local person, preferably a guide with good knowledge of the area.

5. Wildbytes from India (link). Some nice photos as well.

Just as we entered the park we saw a group of grey langurs, again endemic to this forest jumping about in the trees. On closer look these langurs did look different from the langurs we see in Delhi; much bigger and indeed, grey. I was happy that no one including the forest guard and the army person who accompanied us objected to my using the video camera.

Some photos from Dachigam:

Flickr (link)

2 photos at webshots (link)

Hanguls run from Kashmir’s cold

Endangered Hangul back in Srinagar

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