Destination – Kupwara, Lolab Valley & Bungus Valley
Date – 23 & 24 June, 2021
After spending about 5 days in the southern part of the beautiful Kashmir valley, we decided it was time to explore the more untouched areas in the north. So, on the afternoon of 23 June, 2021, we packed all our gear and left for Kupwara, a small town in the northernmost district of Jammu and Kashmir.
Just outside of Kupwara I found a trio of Crested Kingfishers (the largest species of kingfishers found in India), hunting in the stream below. Since we were a bit short on time and there was some considerable traffic, I could not spend much time with them.
We found a decent hotel in the main chowk of Kupwara town, dropped our luggage there and immediately left for Lolab Valley. The road to Lolab was so picturesque and we were mesmerized by the sheer beauty of it.
In Lolab we first went to a small village Diver to visit a local trout farm. After spending some time there interacting with the locals and appreciating the beauty and simplicity of village life, we left Diver and headed along on our round trip of Lolab valley. The overcast sky with filtered evening sunlight and light periodic showers added to the beauty of this amazing part of Kashmir. Marveling at the scenic views and stopping at multiple occasions to capture them, we made our way through Lolab and went back to Kupwara. By the time we reached Kupwara it was already dark so we headed back to the hotel, had dinner and took a good night’s sleep.
Next day we left for Bungus Valley early in the morning. We followed Google maps to reach there, though later we found out it was not the right way and we also took some wrong turns along the way and reached some place totally different (though close to Bungus only) but it turned to be a blessing in disguise because the place we went to was genuinely prettier than anywhere any of us had ever been to.
This area is however restricted for tourists and requires special permit from CRPF to be accessed. We got the permit from one of our contacts in CRPF and even for him the permit was hard to get. For these above mentioned reasons, I will not disclose the exact location of this place.
Since this was not the right way to Bungus, there were no cemented roads there and due to the intermittent showers the path was very muddy and slippery, so going along that road was not easy. After an hour or so of driving we decided we would park our cars there and cover the remaining distance on foot. Asking the locals continuously for directions we headed towards Bungus. During that time, we had absolutely no idea where we were since there was no mobile network coverage in those parts, and we were just blindly following the instructions of the locals. Due to this uncertainty combined with the rain and the muddy road, we decided its best to head back. Besides, it was getting late and we still hadn’t reached Bungus.
Even though we didn’t reach Bungus that day, the trip was a total success and it might not have been such if we wouldn’t have lost our way. The road here was so beautiful, it was so calm and peaceful there with no motor vehicles besides ours and best of all there was absolute silence which made it suitable for me to get call recordings of some of the amazing wildlife there.
Speaking of wildlife, since the place was far away from civilization, there was a lot of wildlife there. I saw some interesting Wintering Thrushes of Himalayas (in peak summers!) like Chestnut Thrush and Mistle Thrush. Rufous-Vented Tits, Rufous-Naped Tits and Cinerous Tits were abundant here. Calls of Common Cuckoos were heard all along that road, but I could not see any individual. I saw two new Flycatcher species here – Rufous-Tailed Flycatcher and Dark-Sided Flycatcher, but due to the low light I could not get any decent shots of them, but I did manage a couple of record shots of both. Another new bird species I found here was a Black-and-Yellow Grosbeak!
There were plenty of moth species there too.
While looking for butterflies there with my brother, we found some pretty interesting species like Himalayan Queen Fritilary (Issoria issaea) and Common Argus (Callerebia nirmala daksha). While photographing these, my brother found probably our rarest butterfly catch till date – Jerdon’s Silverspot (Boloria jerdoni)!
After spending some time photographing the wildlife there, we headed back and, on the way, stopped near a beautiful lake decorated with wild growth of Foxgloves on one of its sides. On other sides there were vast green meadows, so we spent some time lying there on the lush green grass and slowly soaking in the peace and calm, and the beauty of the place. Within an hour or so, it started raining quite heavily, so we had to leave the area and considering there was no place else to go to, we went back to Kupwara.
There were still plenty hours of daylight left then, so we decided to go to out next destination – Gulmarg. But on the way we took a short a stop at Handwara.
At Handwara we went to an undisclosed area (restricted access) to get some great views of the valley and, for one of my main targets of the whole Kashmir trip – European Bee-Eater. Within 10-15 minutes of reaching there, I found what I primarily went there for – my dear Bee-Eaters! I found a pair of these gorgeous birds perched on the wires far ahead of me. So, I slowly started approaching them and taking a couple of shots after every few steps. This went on for about 10-15 minutes until the pair decided it was time to go. After that I spent about 20 minutes waiting for them, but they did not return. So, again, with only a few record shots and an unquenched thirst to get great photos of them, I went back.
After spending some more time there, we went back to our cars and left for Gulmarg.
To be continued…