National Parks and Sanctuaries : Dachigam National Park

Dachigam,meaning 'ten villages', was first given protection by the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1910, when he relocated these villages from the Dagwan valley and delineated it as a game preserve.

The Park harbors the last viable population of the endangered Hangul or Kashmir Stag. Himalayan Black Bear are visible in the lower reaches from spring to autumn and hibernate in winter. Long-Tailed Marmots are very conspicuous during summer in the upper reaches while Mouse Hare are active throughout the year. Other wildlife includes Leopard, Common Palm Civet, Jackal, Red Fox, Yellow-throated Marten and Himalayan Weasel.

Over 145 different bird species including the Lammergeier, colourful species like Monal Pheasant and Blue Magpie are seen.

Just 21kms north-east of Srinagar, and beyond the Moghul Gardens of Nishat and Shalimar, Dachigam is best considered as two parts. Lower Dachigam is more accessible to a visitor while Upper Dachigam is a day's trek. Good time to visit is in September-October which is also the Hangul rutting season.

The area now known as the Dachigam National Park was first given protection by the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1910 when he delineated the valley as a game preserve and relocated the ten villages that were present within its precincts. From this comes its name Dachigam, translating as 'ten villages'. The Maharaja was motivated not only by the desire for sport for himself and his guests but also to ensure an undisturbed catchment zone for the Harwan reservoir which supplied water to his summer capital, Srinagar. The National Park occupies almost half of the catchment zone of the famous Dal Lake and still plays a crucial role is supplying clean drinking water to the inhabitants of Srinagar. The Maharaja planted a number of tree species preferred by the wild denizens, such as oak and horse chestnut and supplemented the limited winter fodder available to the wild animals. He also introduced Wild Boar to the area, a small population of which survived into the early 1990s but which have now died out.

Following independence, responsibility for managing Dachigam went to the State Government and it was administered at different times by the State Fisheries Department, Tawaza Entertainment Department and the Forest Department. From 1978 it has been under the purview of the Directorate of Game Preservation of the Forest Department and in 1982 the Directorate was upgraded to an independent department and is now known as the Department of Wildlife Protection. In 1951 the State notified the area as a Sanctuary and in 1981 it was re-notified as a National Park.

Latitude: 34°5' - 34°3' N
Longitude: 74°4' - 74°5' E

Altitude: 5,550ft - 14,070ft (1,690m - 4,300m )

Dachigam National Park is one of the most accessible parks of India as its main entrance is only 21kms by road, north-east of the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar and not far beyond the popular Moghul Gardens of Nishat and Shalimar. However the road only runs for 10kms inside the Park, so to truly appreciate the beauty and variety of this Park it is necessary to explore on foot. The Park is only 141 sq. kms. and roughly rectangular in shape, approximately 23.5km by 6km. It is best considered as two sections - Upper and Lower Dachigam. Lower Dachigam, in the west, comprises approximately a third of the total area and is the area most accessible to a visitor. Upper Dachigam in the east extends over the higher reaches and is a good day's trek from the nearest roadhead.
Climate: Temperate with four distinct seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter.
Temperatures :
-10°C to +30°C
Rainfall : approximately 660mm; 50% falling between January - April.
The vegetation of Lower Dachigam is overall classified as Himalayan Moist Temperate Forest (Champion and Seth, 1968) which includes various sub-divisions such as moist temperate deciduous forest, blue pine forest and Himalayan temperate secondary scrub. The vegetation varies according to aspect and slope. In the main valley floor, Morus alba (mulberrry), Celtis australis, Ulmus spp.(elms), Juglans regia (walnut), Quercus robur (oak), Fraxinus micrantha, Aesculus indica (horse chestnut), Acer indica and Populus spp (poplars) are the major tree species. Parrotiopsis jacquemontiana (witch hazel) dominates the shrub layer along the stream beds; other genera included are Prunus, Rubus and Rosa as well as Lonicera, Cotoneaster, Berberis and others. The south facing slopes contain grasslands with Koeleria cristata and the north-facing slopes have a canopy of Pinus with Aesculus indica. A great variety of herbs are there of which Strobilanthes is the most common.

The higher reaches of Upper Dachigam have alpine meadows and fir-birch forest. When grazing is restricted, these high valleys present some of the most lovely meadows in the Himalaya, carpeted with a variety of multi-coloured flowering species the crimsons, golds and purples beautifully interwoven, reminiscent of the patterns on a Kashmiri carpet. Blue poppy and rare Saussurea species are to be found here.
Dachigam's principal faunal importance lies in harbouring the last viable population of the endangered Hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu), also referred to as the Kashmir stag,a species of red deer found only in this Park and its surrounding areas. This magnificent animal can be seen in the lower valleys of the Park at most times of the year although much of the population migrates to the Upper Dachigam alpine meadows in the summer when the area is undisturbed.
A large male may carry twelve-tined antlers of up to 50 inches (average is around 40 " measured on the outside curve). Antlers are shed in spring, March/April. By the end of September the new antlers have hardened. October is the rutting season and the valleys of Lower Dachigam reverberate with the resonant call of the males during this time. The gestation period is 7-8 months and the fawns, spotted during their first few weeks, are dropped in the side nallas of the lower valley in late May and June.

An estimate for Hangul numbers in 1940 is given as 3,000. These numbers dropped drastically after independence and by 1969/70 Hangul numbers were reported to be as low as 140-170. However with more vigilant protection they increased and, according to the wildlife department census, had more than doubled by the early 1980s (347 in 1980; 430 in 1982). The numbers continued to increase, to a high of 663 in 1986, but have suffered some decline since political turmoil hit the Kashmir valley. Latest census figures provided by the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Department reveal 550 to 670 Hangul in 2000.

Dachigam is also famous for its Himalayan Black Bear (Selenarctos thibetanus), as this species is particularly visible in the lower areas from spring to autumn. The black bear hibernates through the winter, from November until March. It is omnivorous, feeding largely on fruits, herbs and insects but it is also a keen meat eater and when available will scavenge kills. It can also be seen in early summer criss-crossing the hill slopes in search of the new born Hangul calves. However fruit is its favourite diet and from the fruiting of the mulberry in June/July to the walnut and acorns in autumn, the bear can easily be found when one knows the fruit in season. There are believed to be between 25 and 40 bears in Dachigam concentrated in the valleys of Lower Dachigam which gives a density estimate of 1.3-1.8 per km2. The Brown Bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus), is also reported but its exact status is uncertain and few sightings occur. This bear is generally to be found above the tree-line and is ecologically separated from the forest-dwelling Black Bear. However in Upper Dachigam its ranges have some overlap.

The Leopard (Panthera pardus), is the main large predator of the Park although it is not believed to be present in very high density. However since the 1990s, sightings in the lower valley are not infrequent and indirect signs (tracks and scraping) are now to be seen more often. Hangul is its main prey as well as the Himalayan grey langur (Semnopithecus entellus schistaceous), a sub species of the grey or Common Langur to be found over much of the sub-continent. These individuals have longer hair than their plains cousins giving them a more impressive heavier look. In early spring the langur and hangul may be seen together as the arboreal monkeys feed on the new shoots, dropping many to the forest floor below where small groups of hangul gather to benefit from their messy feeding. The Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) has also been reported from the Dachigam area. However, its appropriate habitat would be the upper reaches of the Park where scarcity of prey make it unlikely to be a true resident of the Park.

Other carnivores of the park include the Leopard Cat, Common Palm Civet, Jackal, Red Fox, Yellow-throated Marten, Himalayan Weasel and Smooth Indian Otter. Musk Deer (Moshus moschiferus) and Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) are also reported in the Park. Another hibernator of the area is the Long-Tailed Marmot (Marmota caudata) which is a conspicuous species in summer in the valleys of upper Dachigam. The Marmot is an endearing-looking rodent of the squirrel family that digs deep burrows in the higher treeless grassy slopes. It feeds in these alpine meadows and can be seen scurrying amongst the rocks or perching on its haunches as it reacts to a threat by sitting up and screeching. It shares these areas with the Mouse Hare (Ochotona sp.) a lagomorph which is active throughout the year.
145 species of birds have been recorded from Dachigam National Park. These include dramatic and large species such as the Himalayan Griffon and Lammergeier, colourful species such as the Monal Pheasant, Blue Magpie, Black and Yellow Grosbeak, altitudinal migrants including Minivets and the Golden Oriole as well as more common species such as the Streaked Laughing Thrush, Wagtails and Woodpeckers. Species vary with the altitude and season.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The Himalayan pit Viper (Agkistrodon himalayanus), Common Rat Snake (Ptyas sp.), Kashmir Agama (Agama tuberculata) and small skink (Lygosoma sp.) are amongst the reptiles reported from the Park.

Best time to visit:
Dachigam National Park is open throughout the year and has something to offer in every season. The upper areas are not easily accessible in the winter months and are at their best between June and August. Summer is also a good time to visit the lower areas although probably the best month is October when the rutting season is on and Kashmir's glorious autumn tree colours are in evidence. September/October is also a good time for viewing the Black Bear which is feeding up on the remaining walnuts and acorns, building up fat for its long hibernation.

How to get there:

From Srinagar, the main gate to Lower Dachigam is only 22kms along the road circling the Dal Lake past the Nishat and Shalimar Gardens.
Nearest railhead : Jammu 315kms

Nearest airport: Srinagar 32kms

Forest Department accommodation is available in the Park and may be reserved through the Chief Wildlife Warden at the office in the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar
(Tel: +91 44 194 452469). However since the political turmoil in Kashmir, visitors are not encouraged to overnight in the Park. Many hotels and houseboats are available in Srinagar which is close enough as a base for visiting the Park. In Upper Dachigam, tents are required.

Contributed by Joanna Van Gruisen




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