Thursday, January 5, 2012

Up in the Mountains

The road rises steeply as you climb up from Nainital, it curves and bends viciously as you move further up. This is the road to Pangot a hill resort chiefly visited by birders. On the way up the frightening climb one comes across the spectacular view of  the Himalayan Ranges and the Nainital District in Uttarakhand.

Many tourist from Nainital below climb halfway up to see this panoramic splendor of  the Himalayas - if not engulfed by the fog. Layers of mountain ranges precede the magnificent range adding to the beauty of the landscape.

It snows in Pangot just any time as late as April making the drive a difficult proposition. A snowstorm can completely block the road to Pangot and tourists have to be evicted on foot - a long arduous walk. Make sure of the weather, the destination can be very gloomy and depressing whence engulfed by clouds and fog.   

The Pangot village is a sleepy place with few resorts that offer accommodation for the birders. All around, the high rise mountains surround the village situated on a plateau. When the snow falls, the mountain tops reflect  strands of stark sunlight on the ground below that further enliven the scape. The slopes are covered by dense forest of pine, birch and oak and the ice stands out in contrast to lively green, the spectacle can best be described as mesmerizing. 

On a sunny day the drive to the highest point Vinayak can be rewarding. This is where you get the best view of the Himalayas, the large span of the range stretches your eyes as you gaze at the unfolding panorama.  On the way you come across barren mountains near the Gughu Khan a small sleepy hamlet with few chai shops that offer succor from the bitter cold. The cheer pheasant point allures birders to get a glimpse of the enigmatic cheer pheasant on the grassy slopes of the mountains. This bird is a rare sight and along with the Koklass Pheasant forms the birders catch.    

The Himalayan Griffons and Lammergeier soar amidst the empty spaces of mountains over the steep  valleys. They rise on the thermals and dip down into the valley searching for food displaying their amazing flying skills and rapacious strike power. Lammergeier are known to pick up prey as big as lamb hence the name.  At night one can get a glimpse of the leopard and rare mountain wildlife. 

The landscape is dotted with small hamlets, a mix of forested and grassy slopes. In the deep valleys rivulets crisscross through the maze of slaty stones in complete silence. The ethereal silence is a golden rule here and all  elements seem to be standstill, frozen in time and space.  

The glaring sun creates a vivid pattern of light and shade on the slopes. The early morning light barely reaches the glens the effect is a ghostly contrast to lively sky above.  

All around in Pangot birds call at their best and the vivid colors that traverse through the canopies are delight not only for birders but even for the nonchalant holiday makers. From my resort Birding Lodge I can see streamlined mountains and a long pitched valley at the other end of which is the Corbett Tiger Reserve. 

It is best to visit Pangot in winters for bird watching. The destination offers peace and tranquility to holiday makers and honeymooners. Long walks at Kilbury or a drive to Bagger can be a pleasing experience. Pangot at height of 2300 MSL is at a distance of 14 km  from Nainital Township.