Dachigam National Park

The world’s last viable population of Kashmir stags is in Dachigam National Park. Their does produce densely spotted fawns every spring in this sheltered, verdant valley bordered by dramatic mountain crags up to 14,000 feet (4,300 m). They are among a unique range of Himalayan flora and fauna in this scenic national park in far northern India.

Here too are rare serows, goat-like antelopes with bristling chin beards and aggressive dispositions to match, along with leopards, leopard cats, jungle cats, and quick little yellow-throated martens and Himalayan weasels, both peers for the serows in touchy outlook.

Dachigam is divided in two sections, Upper and Lower, with seasonal wildlife populations dictated by their elevations. In winter, upper reaches become inaccessible, clothed in a stunning but forbidding cover of white. Snow partridges bury themselves in it, Himalayan black bears hibernate. Below, multihued plumed monal pheasants eke out a living on seeds in the scrub zone above the timberline. Longtailed blue magpies look for scraps from leopard kills, as do jackals and red foxes. After them come Himalayan griffons and bearded vultures or lammergeiers, which specialize in dropping bones from great heights to get at the marrow (hence their name: “bone-breaker”).

Kashmir stags, also called hanguls, descend to survive on valley stubble, accompanied by cinnamon sparrows and black-and-yellow grosbeaks.

In spring, black bears and Himalayan brown bears come out of their holes in the rocks. Small musk deer, hunted for their musk glands (used in perfume and reputedly useful in treating impotence), nibble at new tender grasses. Long-coated gray langur monkeys change their diet from bark to fresh tree shoots. Kashmir stags then head to higher ground. Does wait below until fawns can manage the steep rocky terrain.

Fruiting trees burst into pastel bloom. Golden orioles appear along with pygmy owlets, smartly plumaged Himalayan pied woodpeckers and a throng of bright warblers, babblers, buntings, and laughing thrushes. Orioles start to weave cradle nests. Bears look for early plums and mulberries.

Dachigam was protected first as a pure drinking water catchment for the Kashmir valley. It now covers 55 square miles (140 km2) divided by the Dagwan River, with lodges and rest houses. Hotels and houseboats are in Srinagar, 13 miles (21 km) west. Best times are May–August in Upper Dachigam, September–December in Lower.

Greatest threats have been poaching and grazing, and in recent years, Kashmir’s political instability— check before a visit.

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