Words: FRIYAN DRIVER
Photographs: VAIBHAV MEHTA
GREAT FROM New Delhi
GREAT FOR Nature lovers and birders – both amateur and experienced.
“Folks, you will see lots of tits today – and if you’re lucky, you’ll also see the greater tit!” says the naturalist enthusiastically as he stumbles through the bushes. Before you get any ideas, you should know that in the tiny speck of a village that is Pangot, ‘tits’ has a whole different meaning.
Botanically referred to as the paridae, these little birdies are commonly found in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, six varieties of which have been spotted in the areas around the village. Cocooned in the Shivalik range, which boasts over 250 documented bird species, you are sure to tick many feathered creatures off your list. Apart from a lone general store and two shops that never seem to be open, the area is sleepily silent save for the incessant chirping of its avian residents. Pangot has been attracting serious birders from all over the world. Even the locals live in harmony with the birds – some houses are built with special spaces reserved for nests.
There are many trails to explore, but the Timla Pani route promises a charming mix of rhododendron, oak and young neem trees, quaint Kumaoni houses and birds galore. Your guide, decked from head to camera lens in camouflage, starts you off with an introduction of the area’s bird life before setting off on a trail that leads you down the hillside. Apart from birdy trivia, he will also patiently explain to you that the call you thought belonged to a bird is, in reality, that of a human baby. He will also point out the gravity-defying bar-tailed treecreeper that walks vertically up the trunk of an old oak tree. If you’re really lucky, you might even chance upon the endangered grey- crowned prinia. Sadly, the population of this cute little fella has decreased drastically due to loss of habitat. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to spot one of these little creatures, you’ll certainly see bee-eaters and bulbuls and the high-altitude Oriental turtle doves. You might also come across the plum headed parakeet, which cockily struts its stuff or a tiny spotted owlet tucked away in the bark of a tree. The trail has you criss-crossing through small hilly settlements and ends at a tiny nameless tea shop in Bagadtala where you can enjoy views of the valley while nibbling on biscuits and chai.
If you prefer wheels to walking, drive 400m to the Khunjakorak trail through a forest of rhododendron and pine trees with nothing more than the occasional mountain goat for company. Don’t be alarmed if your guide suddenly brings your car to an abrupt halt to listen for the call of a koklass pheasant, which, when you finally manage to get a glimpse of it, bears an uncanny resemblance to a rather elegant chicken. A small detour brings you to a patch of forest called Woodpecker Point, where five woodpecker species have been identified. If you look carefully, you will see pecked-out rings on the barks of the trees, which, the guide explains, is the handiwork of these birds – they use them to hide nuts, and also to help them suck out sap.
A perfect base for this trip is Jungle Lore Birding Lodge, with its cobbled pathways and cosy wood-panelled rooms. Kick back with a cup of tea and a book after a long day of birding, or take in a pretty sunset from the wooden balcony in the quiet company of the property’s two very lovable dogs, Gabbar and Dolly.