Dehradun, widely known as the state capital of Uttarakhand, is a city of dual nature with traces of rustic charm, natural beauty and serene biodiversity. To break the chain of daily mundane finds new depths to this gorgeous city, we decided to explore some old/new trails nearby Rajpur, Dehradun. We wanted to convert our weekend morning ritual to birding followed by breakfast in small cafes or laid-back street stalls.
So, to catch the early bird, we drove early to start an old weathered and beaten trail connecting Dehradun to Mussoorie. It also diverges to a quaint waterfall called Shikhar fall. Our aim was simply to walk, see, record and enjoy the rising sun with views of a city waking up. The trail would have been made as an old route that villagers must be using to reach villages situated around Mussoorie or Shikhar falls. It started as a cheap Tar Road, degrading condition as we kept walking along the route, moving higher. We can see sections of the path missing due to landslides caused by heavy rain. Our hike started with Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Grey Treepie, and Grey-winged blackbird.
As the sun was climbing up, playing hide & seek with clouds, we walked along the road listening to Himalayan Bulbuls singing while they fed on Lantana flowers. Nearby mountain ranges were still green with few patches of brown, announcing imminent autumn, and few trees were yet to shed their leaves. Hills in the distance were calm blue as if standing steadfast against any change in weather. Suddenly, a Maroon Oriole captured our attention, distinct among a throng of ubiquitous Himalayan Bulbul. His prominent eye and silverish beak shone while it sat on a perch, bathing in the sun. Observe and Record. A Himalayan Agama also made his presence known as it moved in sudden swift motions on rocky sections, unhappy that we disturbed its sunbath. We also witnessed a Black Eagle, who flew over our heads before taking any photograph.
The trail area had many wildflowers ranging from purple, pink, red, orange in colour. There were pods in a few climbers and trees. As we walked ahead on the path, the green colour of the mountains was steadily being filled with the yellow flowers of Jungle trees (Bauhinia roxburghiana). We could see water flowing from the Shikhar fall at some distance which soon will converge in a river and be part of the Gangetic River system. It was mesmerizing to see the city from a different viewpoint as we stood at the intersection of its different natures: one urban and the other close to nature. Hills full of life and calm while the Urban section was slowly waking up to hustle-bustle.
Chatting, exchanging knowledge and making idiotic comparisons of things with people and events, we kept on walking towards Shikhar falls. As our path reached a section with a denser forest, we suddenly heard unsynchronized calls of many birds. The area was full of trees with many bearing wild fruits and flowers. The whole place was under shade as faint sunlight reached the ground through the canopy of green trees. Thrilled to witness in such a venue, we raised our eyes to the trees trying to figure out what was happening. Slowly we realized that a mixed flock was present and might be competing for resources. Black bulbul was mobbing Myna. Fantails were mobbing Nuthatch. We were in the middle of the action but still too far to make out all the participants.
As our neck gave out, we climbed up in the adjoining forest over a hill slope for a better vantage point to witness the drama unfolding. Meanwhile, the shrieks got louder as more birds joined the action. The climb was steep, on damp loose soil as it was still wet as an aftereffect of seasonal rains. We somehow managed to climb and find a good spot to stand still, filled with excitement. We, filled with a sense of adventure and curiosity, kept our backpacks at one place and picked our binoculars to watch birds, carefully standing on a reasonable level. In just 20-30 minutes, we saw Blue-throated Barbet, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, White-throated fantail, Black Bulbul, Grey-winged Blackbird, fire-breasted flowerpecker, and many more birds. Black bulbuls, like area don, were feeding on some berry-like fruit and not letting other birds have their share. Barbets would sneak in from time to time and grab a bite and make a thief exit. There were roots, fallen logs, and twisted tree trunks just above the ground, where Nuthatch and Fantail were playing “catch me if you can” to get the supply. As this dramatic scene unfolded, we stood firm with our binoculars and cameras, ready to observe and record any action sequence possible.
After half an hour of playing moot side characters of the jungle drama, we came to the real world and realized our precarious position. Slowly and cautiously, we moved on the same level with the support of sturdy roots and tree trunks to a small dried-up stream. Dried up the stony path was perfect for finding some firm footing, and slowly we started our descent. While drama continued over our heads, we diligently came down to the way, making sure descent was not ungraceful. We ended our trail and decided to make our way back with the smug satisfaction of encountering a bird paradise close to our homes. After a break with a mini snack of homemade sweets and fruits, we started walking back. We witnessed the other mixed flock of Cinereous tit, Green-backed Tit, Himalayan Black-lored Tit, Grey-headed canary flycatcher, Oriental white-eye, warbler spp. (Hume’s warbler and grey-hooded warbler). We also saw the beauty of an immature Orange-bellied leafbird and Chestnut-bellied rock thrush and a few more warblers. Our camera and binoculars were still out, and we observed and captured anything catching our eye. Slowly the urban part of the city was getting louder and more mobilization were being noticed in the picturesque background, and we quickly reached our parking spot. Rose-ringed parakeets greeted us back as if congratulating us on having a good nature walk.
As the temperature rose and the chilly morning turned to warm early afternoon, we were back in our vehicle, ready to make our way to a café to have breakfast and discuss what all photos our camera had captured. With the realization that there are more hidden trails in this capital city, we pledged not to make this an one-time event and follow the adventure with more exciting walks.