Summer Road Trip – Birding in Lansdowne

Leaving behind the starkly beautiful landscape of Chambal and the ‘bhihad’ (in)famous for the dacoits, Meerut is the destination for today. Needing to fuel up, we make for the nearest fuel bunk. This happens to be Dhaulpur, Rajasthan. The pleasant surprise here is that the diesel rates here are cheaper than Madhya Pradesh. We make a mental note to fuel up here again on the way back. Surprising how petty we sometimes become… a couple of rupees per litre… but then it is equally true ‘boond, boond se hi saagar banata hai’! As budget travellers, it makes sense alright!

Navigation through Agra is a nightmare… As usual we plot our route on Google Earth and follow it especially in large, unknown cities. This time, it takes us through packed, narrow by-lanes and the teeming milieu almost gives me claustrophobia! After seemingly aeons, we emerge from the labyrinthine alleys and get onto the Taj Expressway. The feeling of relief, space and freedom is overwhelming! Lesson learnt… never take Google at face value! We take the turnoff to Bulandshahr and then onwards to Meerut.

Enroute Meerut

Enroute Meerut



Interesting ways to store 'Kande' (cowdung cakes for fuel)

Interesting ways to store ‘Kande’ (cowdung cakes for fuel)

Crash out for the night in Meerut and hope to make an early start for Lansdowne next day. Early morning is quite pleasant as we drive out of Meerut on the Mawana road. The most conspicuous feature is the lush greenery of the landscape. The fields are a vibrant green along both sides of the road and a sense of earthy affluence prevails. Breakfast of Chole-Bhature from a ‘thela’ in Miranpur is yummm! Skirting Bijnor and driving past Najibabad, we reach Kotdwar. This is where the hills start.

Kotdwar Main Street

Kotdwar Main Street

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The ever present Long tailed Shrike and Plum headed Parakeets welcome us into the hills.

Plum headed Parakeet

Plum headed Parakeet

Long tailed Shrike

Long tailed Shrike

We find a good sized flock foraging in fields while four slaty headed parakeets do a fly by. Typically, we see some amusing signboards along the way…

A funny signboard...

A funny signboard…

This picturesque route whets our appetite for the much acclaimed place we are heading towards… Lansdowne. The first glimpse of Lansdowne perched as it is on top of the mountain is enchanting and the beautiful pines lining the road give the place a fairytale look.

Enroute Lansdowne

Enroute Lansdowne

Originally known as Kaludanda, after Kalun (Black) and Danda (Hill) in local language, Lansdowne was founded and named after then Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne in 1887. Lansdowne was developed by the British for catering for the Recruits Training Centre of the Garhwal Rifles. It was a major place of the activities of freedom fighters from British Garhwal during the British period. Nowadays, the famous Garhwal Rifles of the Indian Army has its command office here.

We have reached well before lunch time so after checking in, choose to relax for a bit absorbing the stunning views from our rooms. The altitude is merely 5870 ft. but it is cold indoors even in the afternoon. This is no place for an afternoon nap. The salubrious mountain air beckons as does the birdsong!

Camera at the ready, we step out. What arrests my attention is the profusion of flowers everywhere. The tiniest place be it on the mountainside or along the road is blooming with wild flowers. Many moss-laden trees have orchids on them in full bloom. Coming from the hot, dry and dusty plains, this is pure bliss!

Sunrise in Lansdowne

Sunrise in Lansdowne

The next two days are packed with bird watching. The commonest of the birds around command our attention for they are new to us plains dwellers. The ubiquitous Himalayan Bulbul, Blue Whistling Thrush and the Russet Sparrows are everywhere. In fact, we do not see any house sparrows there at all! The Streaked Laughing thrush is trying to catch our attention by peaking at us from just beyond the tree trunk. The Black headed Jay is wandering around as common as the Rock Pigeon in the plains!

1 Streaked Laughingthrush

1 Streaked Laughingthrush

1 Black headed Jay

1 Black headed Jay

1 Himalayan Bulbul

1 Himalayan Bulbul

 Blue Whistling Thrush

Blue Whistling Thrush

Meanwhile, two green birds fly up to a nearby tree. There is a distinct yellow on them and the flight indicates woodpeckers. We hurry and try to get in position for at least a record shot to identify the specie. The Lesser Yellownape it is! Hard on the heels of this pair is another pair, this one of the Brown fronted Woodpecker… birds are raining down on us hard and fast! The Himalayan Woodpeckers are also plentiful. The Grey headed Woodpecker makes an appearance… I am very happy. The bird count for the trip is increasing rapidly.

2 Himalayan Woodpecker

2 Himalayan Woodpecker

2 Lesser Yellownape

2 Lesser Yellownape

Brown fronted Woodpecker

Brown fronted Woodpecker

The Minivets are calling and the Vernal Hanging Parrots are screeching around. The Verditer Flycatcher with its vivid blue is conspicuous while the glorious colours of the Great Barbet are eye-catching. It is a problem of plenty… Should I get the Yellownapes or the Brown fronted woodies or the pretty Grey hooded Warblers flitting from branch to branch?? Surely heaven couldn’t be much removed from this!

3 Slaty headed Parakeet

3 Slaty headed Parakeet

3 Verditer Flycatcher

3 Verditer Flycatcher

3 Great Barbet

3 Great Barbet

3 Grey Bushchat

3 Grey Bushchat

Grey hooded Warbler

Grey hooded Warbler

During the course of two days, we undertake walks around on the bridle paths used by the villagers as well as along the roads. Bulla Tal is visited and so are the two Churches. Tip-n-Top is a nice view point. The entire Shivalik range is spread out here and when the visibility is good, makes for an enchanting sight! Regrettably for us the visibility is not good in the summers due to heat haze rising up from the plains as well as minor forest fires. Therefore the true potential of the view point is not realised. Unfortunately for us, this is going to be our lament throughout the trip!
Next morning we set off for Joshimath via Pauri, Shrinagar and the Prayags. This report in the next instalment!

13 Comments

  • A very captivating, short but sweet post.

    Thanks to Garhwal Rifles, Lansdowne is one such place where you can spend few days with nature in the hills, which is not very common in hills these days. Sunrise picture is stunning…so as the capture of all the birds.

    Personally I think, fun of a road travel or exploring a new place is almost over when we depend too much on Google Map/Google Earth or GPS…the feeling “Oh, we are lost!”…it is always better to get lost, drive a few KM extra, ask the locals for the direction…

  • AUROJIT says:

    ……… (in)famous for the dacoits, Meerut is the destination for today…….

    Know you did not mean it that way, but wouldn’t have been much off the mark, had you done so :) Hope Meerutwallhs don’t take it to heart.

    Wow, the posts are turning into a birder’s comprehensive guide; both, interesting and informative.

    Will remember to look up your posts before we travel to Himalayas next :-)

    Thanks.

  • Prasad Np says:

    Very happy to see a birding post on Ghumakkar, all the pics have come very well along with nice writing about the beautiful hills and roads.

  • Naturebuff says:

    Thank you Amitava, Aurojit and Prasad for the encouraging comments. I’m glad you have liked the pictures n the commentary!

  • ashok sharma says:

    extremely beautiful photographs.very good post.you are a true nature lover having so much love for birds.How do you identify the birds by their names?

  • Avtar Singh says:

    Wow, I was about to write my post on Lansdowne, and it is great to see a post on it. Unfortunately i did not bump with so many beautiful birds…. amazing…great pics!!!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Wow wow wow. What clicks man. Amazing eye and what little I have known and heard from fellow birders, it takes a lot of effort to get these shots. Thank you.

    Vipin left the link of birding story by Jayshree in your previous story, please read it as your time permits and please comment. Hopefully your comment would bring back Jayshree to this post and Ghumakkar. :-)

  • Naturebuff says:

    Hey, thanks Ashok, Avtar and Nandan!

    I adore birds and thus learning how to identify them just follows naturally… I do have some guides.. Guide to birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp as well as the quintessential beginners ‘Salim Ali’. It is the most rewarding hobby I have ever had!

    Thanks for all the encouragement.. makes me want to write :-)

    Will check out this link too Nandan.

    Hope you guys read the posts to come also!

    Cheers!

  • abheeruchi says:

    Hi,
    All pictures are so beautiful.really liked sunrise pic.

    Good post

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Naturebuff,

    Pretty bird pictures indeed and a great writeup too! Birds are everyone’s favourites and the colours and the variety does bring a wow.

    How do you shoot the bird photos – do you set up a tripod and wait or do you hand hold your camera? What are the zoom specs of your camera?

    Thanks for this avian knowledge!

  • Naturebuff says:

    Thanks Abheeruchi and Nirdesh!

    I have a superzoom point and shoot, Sony HX100V with a 30x zoom. I hand hold it… no tripod for me! My partner also handholds the Canon 550D with 70-300 zoom. Roughly half the pics in the post are from my camera and the other half from the other. In good light, the P&S is very good…

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    That makes two of us having HX100V!

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