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Posted by Prashant Mahajan on October 15, 2017

 
INTO THE HIMALAYAS!

After completing my 1st year in Masters in wildlife sciences I had summer vacation of 2 months, so I decided to do some kind of internship during these holidays and applied for a one in the Himalayan region. The project was from the Rufford Foundation and its title was Firewood for Fuel. The project was based in Rudranath and Tungnath meadow in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Chamoli District, Uttarakhand state. So I packed my stuff and left for the Himalayas!

From Sagar to Rudranath

I along with the other volunteer was assigned the Rudranath meadow for the study. Rudranath is Lord Shiva’s Temple located at the elevation of around 3700 meters. It is one of the 5 panch kedar namely Kedarnath, Tungnath, Rudranath, Madhyamaheshwar, Kalpeshwar. It is located in the Rudranath beat of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary having an area of 2200 km2.
We started our trek from the Sagar Village which is 5 km from Gopeshwar. Then from there, it is 20 km trek to Rudranath. From sagar to Rudranath, we encountered about different forests like the sub-tropical rain forest, moist oak forest, deciduous forest and Rhododendron forest.
Initially, it was very difficult for me to trek along with the 8 Kg rucksack as the trek was steep initially up to our 1st destination which was Chandakoti (2050m). I somehow was able to reach that place and then we had the Burans juice (Rhododendron arboretum) which was like one of the best juice I had till date and then we rested there for a while. I pulled my socks and was ready to move on. I didn’t want to give up at that point and continue our trek and was able to gain some stamina after trekking for few hours. Then we reached our 2nd place Pung meadow (2297m). We stayed there for one night and collected the data for one day. Then the next day we left for Molikharakh and Laviti (3206m). Then we reached Panar (3480m) where we stayed for 1 day and collected data and next day we left for Panch Ganga (3679m) and then finally to Rudranath (3679m). While coming back we stayed 2 days at each settlement and collected data for 2 days each. The trek was not easy at all, although it was like child’s play for the local people.
The path was very slippery at times and the weather was also not showing any mercy. It was like, it has to rain after 1 pm. But believe me, you won’t regret going to Rudranath, as it is not less than the heaven. From Panch Ganga, we could see the beautiful glaciers and it was so mesmerizing that it cannot be explained in words. It was not only the glaciers but also the journey, the forests, the rivers, and streams. Working in the Himalayas was totally different experience. One day we saw like two rainbows one above the other in the evening after the rain and it was the most beautiful thing of the whole trek. 
 The Rudranath ecosystem is primarily alpine forest and shrub. Above the tree line Rhododendron campanulatum also known as semru locally, is the dominant shrub vegetation. Semru was the primary source of firewood and according to them it almost takes four years to completely dry. The place supports the rich diversity of Wildlife. I saw Himalayan Tahr, Barking Deer, around 50 Species of Himalayan birds like Himalayan Griffon, Common Rosefinch, Yellow-Billed Blue Magpie to name a few. During the day the weather changes much time from bright sunny early in the morning followed by fog and continuous rainfall throughout the day.
Rhododendron campanulatum is a mysterious species which is now the dominant species above the tree line replacing other species rapidly. Animals avoid this plant and it also has some medicinal values as told by some locals. 
The locals living in these settlements seasonally graze their livestock. Many wild ungulates species graze in these habitats. 
Talking about the local food the one dish which I liked the most was the “chosa” a simple mixture of many lentils and also the dish made from the fern plant. Although the simple Maggi at the settlements was also like the best thing you can have, high up there. They were so expert at making that you will never get tired of eating it. 

MY WORK AS A VOLUNTEER

Our work as a volunteer was to measure the amount of firewood used by the each settlement in one day in Rudranath region. And to identify the species used for the firewood. The local name of the species used is Bailardo, Banj, Burans, Outees, Vees, Rinal and Semru. Also, we had to record the frequency of tourists and the daily activities of each settlement. The amount of firewood varies according to the number of tourists and the weather conditions which can sometimes lead to the higher consumption and can lead to deforestation in that area. We asked them the species that were used as a firewood and also if there is any kind of conflict with locals and forest department for the collection of woods. Also, we asked them in collecting the firewood from the forests, what are the other problems they are facing.


CONFLICT AND CONSERVATION

Due to excessive consumption of firewood in the higher altitudes, it can lead to the deforestation in the near future and therefore sometimes the owner of the settlements have to face the conflicts with the forest department. Also, these settlements cannot be removed as these are the only places which can provide accommodation and food to tourists in the remote areas. Therefore, this project will help to develop the alternative way to use the firewood in a sustainable way. 
Most of the owners of the settlements were ready to adopt an alternative way for the consumption of firewood as we make them believe that it will reduce their dependency on firewood to some extent and also we told them that how it will affect the environment and can help to save the environment.

Other Issues

Besides these local issues of habitat loss and deforestation, poaching is the one main issue told by the locals and is much observed during the winter season when snowfall is there. The poachers are well adapted to hunt in these conditions and know the forest in and out. The musk deer is the commonly poached animal in higher altitudes.
Also, we all know that due to the climate change the Himalayas are changing rapidly. So it will be interesting to know how the animals over there are adapted to these changes and what all different strategies they are using to tackle the adverse effects of climate change and how it is affecting their ecology. 
Also, the human-animal conflict is quite high in these areas. As told by locals the human-bear conflict is most common at higher altitudes and at lower altitudes, the rhesus macaque and central Himalayan langur is the one which are causing damage to the crops. 

Chance opportunity

As I was done with my 1st internship, I had still one month left before my college gets started. So I got this opportunity to volunteer for 1 month for studying the social behavior of Central Himalayan Langur (Semnopithecus schistaceus). This was the best opportunity for me to learn the behavior of Langurs. The study site was the beautiful Mandal valley with surrounding mountains, rivers, and forests. Although 1 month is very less time to know something about the behavior I learned a lot about the troop and the bond langurs share with each other. The 1 month that I have spent working with langurs was the best field experience till date.

My work

As a volunteer, I was assigned to scan the whole troop that is to record the activities of each member of the troop like what are they doing, on what species they are feeding on and what all other interactions are taking place among the members of the troop. I enjoyed every bit of my work. Studying the langurs in their natural habitat is the best thing one can expect as a wildlife student. 
The one thing which I liked the most was the juveniles playing among themselves. It was so joyful to see them playing, jumping here and there and biting each other. Also observing females grooming each other and how they interact with the other members of the troop was fascinating itself. 

Conflict with locals

Since the villages are located within the sanctuary, therefore, the conflict between langurs and humans is quite high. Langurs sometimes raid the crops as they have to keep changing their place and also they sometimes feed on the fields. So while following the langurs we also had to face some problems as the locals would blame us that we are the ones who are bringing langurs to the fields, although we were just following them. I hope that one day, this conflict will resolve and langurs will be able to live in harmony with the people.

An experience to remember

I will cherish this whole experience to the Himalayas for my whole life. I feel myself to be lucky enough that I got the chance to work there and not only 1 but 2 volunteering opportunities in the same region. This whole new experience taught me many things. I came across the beautiful Garhwali culture and people. It is amazing to see how people are living in those harsh conditions and are well adapted. The food, places, mountains, glaciers, rivers and everything was unique in its own way. 
I also went to Tungnath and Chandrashila peak (4000m) with my fellow volunteers. I wasn’t able to see the view from the peak for which it is known as it was too foggy that day, but I was happy that I went there. And I wish to go back to the Himalayas so that I can again feel that beauty and can see the nature and wildlife in its best way possible.



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Susan Sharma says

October 15, 2017 at 10:27 AM

Thanks for writing in this interesting Blog.


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