RADventure 2023: Episode 3 - Winged Wonders of Uttarakhand (27 Feb - 10March 2023)


 27Feb - 10March 2023

"When I was a lad of three-foot-three,

Certain questions occurred to me,

So I asked me father quite seriously,

To tell me the story 'bout the bird and bee!"

                                    ....Woman Piaba and the Man Piaba - Harry Belafonte (1948 - 2023)
The Lammergeier also known as the Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)




he magical and mystical Dev Bhoomi, Uttarakhand, with its inherent beauty, has been the land of curiosity for many a traveller, each with his inquisitiveness, like the ever-curious child about the 'Bird & the Bees'. Richly endowed with natural splendour, Uttarakhand offers panoramic vistas of the Himalayan ranges, snow-capped peaks, magnificent glaciers, a pilgrimage hub, wild forests and much more. This diverse set of attraction makes it truly a God's Paradise.

I have visited Uttarakhand on many occasions, but the lust over its beauty, mystery and wilderness has long enchanted my tribe and brought me back time and again. This time our primary purpose was to see some of the winged wonders of Uttarakhand. Every other facet of life here bestows a unique perspective, be it culture, tradition, people, or food, apart from the complimenting dimensions of nature. Trying to address all aspects we experienced would make this travelogue  too lengthy and may be boring.   So here we will stick to some of my favourite topics and images.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

                                                                                        .... Julie Andrews ..Sound of Music

What are my favourite things on a trip like this?
What makes Uttarakhand so tempting and inviting? 
The region's well-diversified habitat - the Terai plains, the Bhabhars, the Shivaliks, the lower Himalayas and the Trans-Himalayas makes it a wonderland for birds, bird watchers and photographers. With 693 bird species recorded in Uttarakhand out of the 1300 bird species found in India, makes Uttarakhand home to more than 50 per cent of the country's species count. For the birder in me, that is an irresistible attraction. Over and above, the land, its people and natural beauty are way too seductive.

Which person on earth would not be enamored by such a sunrise? Magical and mystical golden hour from the terrace of Pandey Lodge @ Munsiari, encompassing the horizon. It is these wonders that remain a hypnotic enigma, which draws you again and again.  

Prunus sp .... It includes about 430 species of deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs naturally widespread throughout temperate regions. The genus Prunus covers - almonds and peaches; plums and apricots; cherries; among others. I am not sure if this particular tree was Peach, Apricot or Plum! All the trees and flowers look similar. Prunus plantation is common in Uttarakhand. And every where we looked they were in bloom. Indian Tortoiseshell (Aglais cashmirensis), endemict to the Himalayas, is enjoying the nectar.

Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar) ...- chukor .. the sound associated with the bird. In North Indian (subcontinent) culture, as well as in Indian mythology, it sometime symbolizes intense, and often unrequited, love. It is said to be in love with the moon and to gaze at it constantly. The name is onomatopoeic and mentions of chakor in Sanskrit, dates back to the Markandeya Purana (c. 250-500 AD). Hats off to Prem for his acute sense of locating the bird.

Himalayan Griffon (Juvenile) - Saw this juvenile bird soaring across the skies of Munsiari. 
The image presented an opportunity to try my hand at some studio art.

Koklass Pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha) - Both the words koklass and pucrasia have been onomatopœically derived from the bird's territorial call. Though they skulk under bushes, which makes direct sighting difficult, they give loud chorus/predawn calls during the breeding season and during autumn, revealing their presence. They remain in pairs or small family groups throughout the year. They nest on the ground and spend the nights roosting on trees, or under rock overhangs.

I have visited the Himalayas often, but each time I stand in front of a snow-capped range, it makes me feel so minuscule and insignificant; yet it has an incredible charm that can only be felt deep inside. As you watch in awe, all the time, you wish to get closer and closer. The Panch Chuli massif was no different—such a surreal beauty.

As we drove into Uttarakhand, after our week-long drive across the Terai, the landscape significantly transformed into winding roads leading up the hill, interspersed with lakes and rivers, until we arrived at 'Incredible Birding Camp (IBC)', Sattal.

While checking in at IBC, we bumped into Khusboo Sharma, one of the owners of IBC. Energetic, experienced and knowledgeable, Khusboo is a bundle of emotion and excitement regarding wildlife adventures, which I could make out in our short interaction. Prem (Praveen Singh Rawat) recommended IBC as the base location for our 10-day birding pilgrimage! We arrived at IBC just in time for a hot 'n' piping lunch. Soon after, with droopy eyes, we watched the birds visiting the water body at the IBC for a bath. As the sunlight faded, we overheard the returning birders ecstatic at their day's accomplishments. 

The Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica) was photographed at the woods surrounding Incredible Birding Camp (IBC), Sattal. IBC is nestled among lush green oak tree forests. The surrounding area boasts many birds that nest in and around the IBC campus. I was told there are at least 5 species of owls inside the property—the Brown wood owl, pictured above, breeds every year in the campus forest. IBC is a popular port of call for birding at Uttarakhand.

Later that evening, we had our first face-to-face meeting with our champion Prem (Praveen Singh Rawat), our naturalist cum guide and had a quick run-through over the following ten days' schedule. While the cold night took charge and the mercury rapidly dipped across the horizon, the street lights of Bhimtal Valley blinked amongst the settling fog, signalling time for a few shots of whiskey, for the much-needed warmth and to recharge our spirits!

The next day (28 Feb), after an early round of birding in the wee hours, around 10 am, we hit the road for Chaukori, our day's destination, en route to Munsiari. We decided to leave our Brezza at IBC Sattal and hired a local car for the trip, arranged by Prem. A wise decision, for we soon realised that the roads of Uttarakhand were far from expectation, especially when compared to the roads of the neighbouring state Uttar Pradesh. Without a local vehicle, it would have been an enormous waste of time, energy and significant wear & tear.

Our new team member, i.e. our driver, Pawan (da - the elder brother), was a nice fellow and soon became part of the family and a great ally. Over the years, Pawan has begun recognising several bird calls and is even aware of the hotspots. Quite a meticulous person, Pawan took good care of his car. And that showed in his driving skills too, being an ardent driver myself, my respect for Pawan went up quite a few notches watching his care and caution. 

Roads in Uttarakhand are a poignant story. The pathetic state of the roads presents a stark contrast to the surrounding natural beauty. The average speed of a vehicle on the so-called highway is at most 30 km per hour. Considering it is a border state, the priorities of those governing it seem grossly misplaced. One can very well imagine the plight of citizens living in remote areas of this Himalayan terrain.

As we drove up and down from one mountain to the another, one valley to the other, the Ram Ganga East and its tributaries were a constant companion. Criss-corssing through the gorges and the valleys.

Enroute to Munsiari, we essentially encounter Ram Ganga EAST that originates from the Namik Glacier in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand and flows towards South-East. The river is fed by numerous small and big rivers and finally joins river Sarju. The Sarju in turn converges with the Kali (Sharda), which we encountered at the Sharda Sagar resorvoir on our way from Katarniaghat.
Ram Ganga WEST is a different stream that originates in the Doodhatoli range of Chamoli district.


Our  birding stop-overs covered 'Chaukori, Munsiari, Manela, Sattal, and Nainital.' Along the route, we made many a birding stop too. Apart from the birds' alluring beauty, the landscape was equally hypnotic. As we drove from Chakauri towards Thal, breathtaking views emerged across the hills and every bend.

We crossed the winding Ramganga River, an omnipresent companion, over and again onto higher hills as we inched closer and climbed higher onto Munsiari (7200ft).

Finally, the grandest panorama of the Panch Chuli peaks unfolded upon us. Resplendent in its glare and glow, the Himalayan range, including the Panch Chuli peaks, is an unparalleled sight that stops you in your tracks and puts you in a trance. 

Over those ten days, 580 km later, we managed to observe 120 species of birds, of which almost 50% were lifers for me.

Here are some of my favourite images of the winged wonders of Uttarakhand.

Hill partridge (Arborophila torqueola)

Vinaceous rosefinch (Carpodacus vinaceus)

Spotted laughingthrush (Ianthocincla ocellata)

Himalayan rubythroat (Calliope pectoralis)

Green-tailed sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis) or Nepal yellow-backed sunbird

Chestnut-headed tesia (Cettia castaneocoronata)

Fire-capped tit (Cephalopyrus flammiceps)

Mountain Scops-Owl (Otus spilocephalus)

Migrating Great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Ashy bulbul (Hemixos flavala)

Black-throated tit (Aegithalos concinnus)

Rusty-cheeked scimitar babbler (Erythrogenys erythrogenys)

Spotted forktail (Enicurus maculatus)

We even had two cute mammals visiting us at the hide

Top Left: yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula); Right: Southern red muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) or the Barking Deer; Bottom Left: Asian House Rat

The cake's final icing was the day-out at the Christian Ashram & IBC hides nearby. It was like an opera performance. Simply amazing!  This video that follows tries to capture the experience at the hides.

After all, is said and done, the experience has been altogether unforgettable!

"Unforgettable in every way,

And forevermore (and forevermore)."


With Panch Chuli range as backdrop L-R Prem, Arunava, me (Amitava) & Runa

On 10 Mar 2023, we finally bid goodbye to Prem, Pawan, IBC and Uttarakhand. With our camera SD cards loaded, we came down from the magnificent Himalayan province and headed to the 'Land of Sangam' - Allahabad, now known as Prayagraj, in Uttar-Pradesh.

P.S. ... comments are welcome... feel free to share amongst friends & families .... Thanks!


Jayprokas Chakrabarti said…
Winged Wonders of Uttarakhand is fascinating reading. Wish the write-up, with the images, would continue and take us to more adventurous treks.
Joyanta Kumar Seal said…
Excellent, free flowing & interesting travelogue like a great writer with fascinating pictures and listening videos of carolling birds singing in joy. Really I loved it. Looking forward to have your next episode soon and shall request a travelogue on Ayodhya range at Purulia.
Thank you
Bodhu said…
Well crafted verses for the Devbhoomi. The land has blessed the group with the landscapes, sightings and sunrises.

It's really hearty to see the kind of creativity which marks the RADventure blog. Looking forward to your next traverse from Terai to Peninsula.
Anonymous said…
What a write up. Transported us on the journey with you.
Ethics Eclipsed said…
Apart from an avid birder, you are an excellent narrator, AD; apt in understanding universe of readers’ unique tastes. Await your next travelogue. Most information you had noted are new learning to me. Knew now nuances of nascent Uttarakhand and her magnificent peaks…Thanks