| 'I believe any trip in search of wildlife can be coupled with physical activity and elements of cultural diversity to form a thrilling opportunity '
I have just returned from a memorable trip to Yellowstone National Park . In the fall, at Yellowstone, large herds of wapiti, a member of the deer family, begin their courtship behavior. This involves the largest of the males gathering
groups of females together for mating and then defending their gathering. They display using their antlers and bodies, and they call. The call is best described as a three to four note rising whistle ending with a series of grunts.
There is a small park in northwest India , which may still provide habitat for a small number of a rare deer species known as hangul, the Kashmir stag. Hangul is derived from the local Kashmir name for the Indian horse chestnut,
the han. The small park with its unique habitat is Dachigam. Dachigam is a small damp valley very near the city of Srinagar. The valley drains a beautiful high altitude lake. The lake is named Marsar.
The hangul are very similar to the wapiti. The hangul are a darker color and a bit smaller than the wapiti, but their body and antler confirmation are the same. Their rutting behavior is also the same, with the males announcing themselves
with a very distinctive series of grunts and calls. Indeed, a visitor to Dachigam who found himself or herself at Yellowstone in the fall would sense something familiar and feel right at home, though the two habitats are a world apart.
Srinagar, a name formed from the roots sri and
nagar, meaning beautiful city, is at the center of Jammu and Kashmir. It has been decades since my visit to Dachigam. In that time, Srinagar has been at the center of much fighting and unrest. Groups of men have taken to fighting and defending their territory.
In outward appearance, there are many similarities between these groups and if they were not prone to combat would probably feel something familiar when visiting the home of the other. I have read there is a truce between groups now and Srinagar is once again
an open tourist area. I wonder what has become of Dachigam. Do any of the Indian horse chestnut trees remain? In the crisp fall air, at Dachigam, can you hear the distinct series of calls from the rutting hangul?
Dachigam can be reached by NH 1A from Himachal Pradesh to Srinagar. It can also be reached via the Leh-Srinagar highway past the Wahka Gorge near Kargil, past Dras, the coldest city in India, and then over Zoji La. Of course, Srinagar
has a modern airport for those with less time. Dachigam is also one of the last strongholds of the Himalayan black bear. The fall is also a good time to see these animals as they fatten themselves on chestnuts.
The rutting of the hangul in the fall is part of their life cycle, which always leads to the birth of young the next spring. I am eager to return to Dachigam and see what our human combat has led to.
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