DACHIGAM: From the eyes of a wanderer

It has always been an area for very selected persons to visit
"It is guarded by the Central Reserved Forces en route."
"It is guarded by the Central Reserved Forces en route."Author

On a sunny day, notwithstanding the low temperatures of around 6 degrees centigrade, it occurred to me to go and visit the Dachigam National Park. It is only 22 Kms from the city.

I have visited it a number of times during warmer times between April and September but never during Chillai- I- Kalan. I rang up a few acquaintances in the Forest Department to get permission to enter, since it is not possible to go there without it.

It is guarded by the Central Reserved Forces en route.

Its name Dachigam comes from Dah Chi Gam (ten villages), which used to be there before World War 1, in July 1914. These villages were relocated to different nearby parts like the New Theed which was a conglomerate of villages around the Maharaja’s palace (Now Grand Lalit Hotel), and is located across a stream at the gateway of Dachigam.

The villages were evacuated to create a place for water supply for the city of Srinagar during Maharaja Pratap Singh’s times. The entry road is near the New Theed bus stand after Harwan village.

This village has an impressive, large garden with a central canal which is beautifully bordered with Chinar trees and blossoming flower beds. It is a tourist’s delight.

Dachigam is located in the Zabarwan Range of the Western Himalayas with an area of 141 sq km, with variable elevations from 5,499 ft (1676 m) to 14,000 ft (4267 m). It makes it a very un-even region. The terrain ranges from gently sloping grass lands to sharp rocky outcrops and cliffs.

The area which contains the National Park has been a protected area since 1910 declared by Maharaja Pratap Singh who used to come here for hunting.

He, and his son, Maharaja Hari Singh, the last monarch of Jammu and Kashmir, got a building made in a flat part of the park. It has very decorated rooms meant for a vacation in the form of a guest house.

It has well spread-out, well-maintained lawns and a kitchen with a big dining hall which was meant for their families and their honoured guests. Later it was taken over by the concerned authorities of the successive Governments which declared it as a National Park in the year 1981.

It has always been an area for very selected persons to visit. There are however a number of villages in this area. Two of the villages which have been studied in depth by Khurshid A Khan and the colleagues from Aligarh University and Sher I Kashmir University of Agriculture are New Theed and Mulnar.

New Theed has mainly Kashmiris while Mulnar has mainly Gujjar community living. The population there is dependent upon green fodder for cattle, and products like herbs, fruit, honey, vegetables and fish from the Dachigam National Park area.

Harsh climatic conditions, dependence on natural forest resources and very poor literacy rates are major issues for these people living in this beautiful area of the valley.

The mountain side of the park has coniferous forests interspersed with alpine pastures, meadows, waterfalls and scrub vegetations. These are covered with coloured wild flowers in all seasons except the winters.

Dagwan river which originates from Marsar lake flows along the side of the National Park and is full of fish including the Trout. The Park is also known for the Hangul, the Kashmiri stag, an endangered species of which only 261 have remained at the last count.

This was first identified by the researcher Alfred Wagner in 1844. Other wild animals found here are snow leopards, musk deer, Kashmiri grey Langur, leopard cat, Himalayan black and brown bear and a variety of cats and foxes. Besides animals, beautiful birds with lovely variegated colours and beaks of various shapes are seen here.

A full list of them can be found by the bird watchers. One of the well-known treks to view this natural beauty is the Dachigam-Marsar Trek. It traverses two valleys. Starting from Sumbal, a town in Bandipore District the trek goes through Marsar lake.

This lake is located in the Tral valley of Pulwama district and finally enters the Dachigam National Park. It is an arduous trek which can take up to 6 nights and 7 days going up to a height of 4200 meters (14, 000 feet approx.)

My good friend Nazir Ahmad Malik always comes along with me or facilitates my long walks in the National Park. He is a walking encyclopaedia on the flora and fauna of this area. He has accompanied many international experts on forests and wild life during his long career.

Nazir started his 25 years career there as a class IV employee in 1983 and retired as a wild life forest guard in 2008. He has also introduced me to the present-day guards. Guards are the persons who are the best company if one wants to really understand the environment of the place.

This time being winter the trees of the forest were bald and only a few wild flowers and fruit seen. The bushy trees still looked very majestic. The beautiful Nala with flowing crystal-clear water and frozen banks with icicles were really a treat to eyes. I was there for nearly 3 hours admiring the nature.

On my way back I visited the Dachigam trout beat which is located near the entrance of the road to the National Park. This was the place where Frank J Mitchell first introduced rainbow and brown trout to Kashmir in 1900. The visit was very relaxing after a tiring, half a day of professional commitments.

Tailpiece

Dachigam National Park established in 1981 has an interesting history behind it. Like many other places in Kashmir valley, the most talked about tourist spots of the valley have been the giving of Moghul emperors and then the Dogra Maharajas of Jammu and Kashmir with a British flavour.

The place is full of adventure and natural beauty rich in flora and fauna, located in the Zabarwan ranges. Such places need protection as is being done and are a part of our heritage.

At the same time conducted and guided tours for the local population and the tourists need to be encouraged keeping the park environment free of crowding and pollution. It is possible and lessons learnt from several other international tourist places can be put into place.

Prof Upendra Kaul is Founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation. A recipient of Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy Award

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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