Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The year that was 2018

Welcome 2019
The last I found a year significant enough to write about as a keepsake was 2013, when Alisha came into our lives, and changed our lives forever. Since then it's been business as usual. 2018 though came in with a few significant changes worth remembering.

2018 saw my career turning topsy turvy. It was a year that had me questioning a lot of my own beliefs and values when it comes to my profession. It was a year that brought on a virtual Tsunami in my professional world where some rode the wave, some held onto trees, some could swim ashore but many sank without a trace. But in the end, miraculously enough, everyone survived. It taught me a lot of life lessons that apparently I had started to take for granted. Most important of all is that life's happiness can't be at the mercy of just one aspect and that there is a life beyond the cubicle where Sun shines everyday and where birds chirp and trees sway, bringing much delight.

2018 was the year when Alisha went to Grade I and with her course books, we began our second tryst with traditional study system in India. What seems like an overload to Ateesh and me seems completely doable to the little one, making us believe that next generation is indeed smarter. What disappointed me though are the plethora of implicit gender, caste, religion stereotypes that still pervade the books. When cooking person is drawn, it's a mom, when someone comes from office, it's a Dad, pilot is a male, teacher is a female. Ditto for religions, all of them typecast, so we had a hard time teaching Alisha why we go to church so often when we aren't krischins as she calls Christians.
We took her to Gurudwara but couldn't explain we are not Sikhs. Agnostics is not a term she knows yet, so we'll wait for a little while to tell her who we truly are. Ultimately being Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian is far easier today but remaining a mere human is far more difficult to prove.

2018 is when Ateesh and I detoxified our hearts, minds and bodies a lot more. We uncluttered our home, sat a lot more in Sun, read a lot more of what we liked and in that process, uncluttered our minds by not getting involved in a lot of what we consider mundane, we took time to do things we love, turned ourselves into urban farmers and spent a lot of time doing nothing, literally.
Nothing works like being with yourself and doing nothing and trust me it's the hardest to do. I personally stayed away from facebook, watsapp as much as I could and instead connected with real people more. We explored our first international destination with Alisha - Mauritius, and witnessed winter solstice not just once but twice in the year. Tinge of regret being that, we couldn't visit our very own Goa in 2018, something we hope to more than make up for, in 2019.

2018 for me is the year of Alexa. Though AI has been around for years, 2018 is the milestone year when Alexa entered the middle class Indian homes and started to vie for attention on prime time television advertisements.

In years to come, as artificial intelligence pervades our lives even further, this little event will pale out but for me, this will remain the year of a beginning when vision of sentient machines started to appear on horizon for a mass majority. As I type this out looking forward to 2019, Alexa smugly sits besides me, belting out rainforest sounds.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My reflections on the year gone by

It's been months and years since I worked on this blog. I started this blog as my truly online diary that would contain bits and pieces of everything worth sharing with you, the reader. As I sit at my office desk in the new dawn of 2014, I can't but help reflect on the year gone by. Hence, an opportunity to revive the blog.

Here are my reflections, recollections and attributions on/to the year that just went by - 2013.

The year 2013 was very uniquely placed in history, in that it is the first year that humankind survived, post the failed 2012 apocalypse that doomsday sayers had so strongly predicted, taking some cue from what they called Mayan calendar. Common public obviously had no clue what this calendar was untill the hollywood flick stamped it's seal of approval on this far fetched idea. Now, don't get me wrong. Folks who studied Mayan culture and calendar, I am sure knew a great deal of it, but to publicly proclaim something like this with perfect accuracy : remember the dates were also predicted, made all this look very ridiculous in my opinion. In a way it reminded me of our met department's predictions which most of the times are missed by miles and yards. As humans, we love to speculate and predict future and go to great lengths to do that and I am sure this is not the last time we witnessed such misplaced forecast. So, overall Homo Sapiens survived 2013 and lived to greet each other on 1st Jan, 2014.

As each year draws to a close, more and more cyber junkies and SMS ustaads are getting busy in what's possibly the high point of their creativity through the year. To come up with the ultra creative messages, pictures, quotes that are full of great adjectives and phrases, that can easily put a Wren Martin to shame. All sorts of philosophies of life are shared over Facebook and Twitter, with most of them attributed to famous names, which obviously most of us cannot verify. Hence, believing everything prima facie is becoming order of the day. Over the last few years, since social media announced itself boldly and pervaded our minds and our relationships, it's been an exponential change in the way we connect with each other, remember each other or wish each other well. No wonder then that 2013 saw the most number of well meaning messages on Facebook, Twitter etc. etc. in human history. Future years, I am sure, will experience further explosion of such online social media bonhomie.

2013 saw my city "Gurgaon" explode as well. Now for those of you who don't know about this city, just google it and you'll know what I am talking about. More open spaces in the anyways congested city, vanished, giving way to concrete. Gurgaon city or New Gurgaon is curiously made up of many tiny hamlets surrounded on all sides by posh buildings. So while the buildings are all named as Plazas, Gallerias, Parks, Courts or Squares, the district administration decided to retain the Indianness and put up big blue signages in 2013. Now all roads have village names prominently mentioned. So, while I live in Malibu Towne, the big signage that I tell people to look for, is Tikri village, followed by small Malibu board. Dream of buying a house in Gurgaon moved away further by tens of lakhs of rupees for many genuine household buyers. More roads were dug up to widen them for ever increasing traffic and more traffic lights popped up through out the city in 2013. It's another matter, many of them don't work, but at least they are there and I hope one day all of them will work.

One other noticeable feature that marked it's ubiquitous presence all over the city in 2013 was local liqour shops. Never have I seen so many of them open in such short duration and within such small perimeter. One can almost walk on foot to reach from one shop to another and they are there at almost every busy traffic signal. I still don't know who feeds whom here. Anyways, they are all being designed by same arcthitect I think. All of them like to call themselves Winery instead of Thekka and all of them have glow lights dancing around their signboard. Around winery opened lot of restaurants catering to "you know who".

I also noticed the surge of capitalism in 2013. More and more people from middle and lower classes are sporting global brands. Whether they are authentic or imitations from Karol Bagh, is not easy to tell, unless you believe in judging people by their looks. It wasn't hard to find a Puma splashed across the jacket of a milk delivery guy and Adidas sporting Gardener. In fact it was harder to find people wearing home made clothes than ever. Our daily garbage collector took the cake when he landed up one day with headphones plugged in and a straw hat with a Red Rose on it. I am sure one of the expats living in the colony gifted him this as part of their house cleanup drive but he definitely looked curiously cute in it. He was oblivious to the fact that he was wearing a female party hat which even furthered his appeal on colony roads.

While I am on the topic of materialism, cars cannot escape attention. In my own city and NCR, which is the world I am maximum exposed to, 2013 marked the unabashed display of Jaguars, Audis and BMWs followed by innumerable SUVs/MUVs ranging from XUV, Fortuner, Eco Sport, Duster, Ertiga to Rexton from curiously named SsangYong. Words like Offroading and Adventure Sports entered the common man lingo. The upwardly mobile middle class became more aspirational as they many of them moved from hatchbacks to bigger vehicles. Now in 2014, ironically, we have more horsepower on road than ever before but more vacant car seats on road too. Car Pool unfortunately still remains a dream and so does road safety for cyclists/pedestrians.

Online shopping became big in 2013. Everything from kitchen to dining stuff to house furnishings to office supply to clothes to customised mugs to kids stuff to lingerie, vied for consumer's attention. And it vied for attention online via other sites. So, everytime I logged into Facebook, at least 5 different ads popped up on the sides along with sponsored ads sandwitched in between. But one shouldn't mind that, given it's still free. Not everyone can possibly be a Google which still has the subtlety intact.

Google remained creative with it's Doodle through 2013. I loved to experiment more with it's doodles and in the process, many times learnt a good deal about people who made important contributions in human history. I also read more online this year and discovered lot of good blogs and sites. Lot of treasured books dating as far back as early 19th century and even 18th, came online under archives. These are real treats and one could almost spend the whole day pouring through the dusty brown pages online. One such example is Birds of Asia by John Gould which I cannot take my eyes off, everytime I open it on my screen. More information than ever before, became available online. Trouble of sorting through it therefore increased further.

In one of the recent learning programs that I attended, I heard a very powerful statement and I quote it here "We live in exponential times". Nothing could be closer to truth.

On Personal front, we expanded our family with Alisha. Alisha is the first baby I have ever held so close. She is the most charming little girl with expressive eyes and infectious smile and she loves to play with Talking Tom. I am always amazed at how quickly kids take to technology. She can move her tiny lady fingers over Dad's smartphone and iPad and gets frustrated when my old Blackberry refuses to act at a mere touch. It still requires keyboard and she doesn't quite like to be patient. Our house transformed from a tidy household, with things in order, to one with toys littered around and cushions strewn about, Potty seat tucked in various corners of the house, depending on Alisha's ease of access and now with her reaching little over 2 ft, 2014 will force us to be creative with our desks and drawers. I learnt to feed, clean, pacify and act silly so she laughs. Sometimes I find myself mimicking her blabber and sometimes I find her mimicking me. Guess, it's a round trip here. We took baby steps as parents and though we faltered a couple of times, which is probably expected from a beginner, overall I think we did fine. At the end of 2013, both I and Ateesh can change diapers, can make milk, can change her clothes in flat 2 mins, brush her teeth, bathe her and play with her in the park. We are still learning. 

Thanks to Alisha within the family, we enjoyed more time with parents and relatives this year. Family from all sides came in, pouring toys, clothes, love, affection and more toys, more clothes, more love etc. etc. From sharing her dad's wardrobe, Alisha finally moved into her own wardrobe, had a bed of her own and a Toy basket of her own. We are still counting gifts and this is one happy season I don't mind at all. I have never felt more content personally. Just yesterday, I sat in the dining area, alone, with a book in one hand, hot tea in another when I heard peals of laughter from one room with Alisha, her cousin and her maid, my mother-in-law on the phone, father-in-law resting in one room and Ateesh catching up on his sleep in his room. As I sat soaking in sounds from all sides, my phone rang. It's my sister and mom on the other side, wishing Happy New Year. I don't know any other supreme form of happiness and contentment. My dad would have probably smiled from heavens knowing all is well with his clan below.

2013 also saw me cooking more at home. We were definitely more creative this year in trying all kinds of cuisines and TV / Internet played a big role. We also went organic for most part of year, only to find it all too tiring to look for everything organic. Organic market is still maturing and I feel there's a long way to go before it becomes every home's reality. Until then, we buy organic wherever we can, out of convenience but don't starve ourselves if we can't find easily either.
One other minor but yet noteworthy remembrance for me this year is this. The year saw me wearing less of western and more of Indian. In last 10 years, I wore the maximum salwar suits in this year. Reason ? I grew from XS to L in a span of few odd months, for various reasons. And as I painfully learnt that it's easier to hide behind a Saree or a loose fitting Salwar Kurta than to revamp your western wardrobe altogether for several notches (stitches) larger size. So, now when I think I have stabilized at this larger self of mine, I am back to shopping for clothes and it's a richer feeling to know I am buying more at the same price as XS. This blog will serve as a reality check as I definitely don't want to visit this in few years looking at L - XXL.

Like many in this country, I started to take some interest in politics for the first time in 2013, since Aam Aadmi Party entered the political scene and won millions of hearts in their maiden electoral battle in Delhi. I started following AAP and feel hopeful that if not for this one group of passionate folks, lot of common man issues would have never figured in the other political parties' agenda. I hope AAP grows from strength to strength and may they always have the wisdom and courage that's needed to reduce the level of corrupt practices in this nation. May they lead the example and let everyone be inspired. I just hope they don't buckle under pressure or do unwise things in haste. That could spell doom for them. But for now, I am hopeful.

As I publish this blog, it's already 2014 and I am excited to welcome the New Year with a much more content and happy self that has no resolutions but only commitment to my work, my family and my friends.

Cheers and Happy 2014

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Bit of Everything: Old is Gold - Or is it ?

A Bit of Everything: Old is Gold - Or is it ?

Old is Gold - Or is it ?

As I sat outside the Operation Theatre waiting for my mother's surgery to finish, memories of her younger self, when she would be full of energy and without an illness kept clouding my vision. It was only 15 years back when she had run from Pillar to Post, from one medical Department to another for my father's cancer treatment, gave her own blood to save him (and saved he was, for a good 10 years) and came back home to dinner, without an iota of tiredness and without an aching bone in her body. We always assumed she was fit for life and had unlimited stamina. But as I now realise, for a woman of her fitness and the ssupremely good habits and discipline of lifestyle, even she is aging and experiencing old age symptoms just like everyone else. She has aching knees, suffers from high BP, wears dentures and has just been detected a diabetic 2 yrs back, which doctors think is remarkable, since she's gorged on sweets and milk all her life and always burned the body sugar into energy all her life. And the latest is that the numbness of 2 fingers that she had been experiencing lately, turns out to be a cryptically defined syndrome called CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) and here she is in the OT for a hand surgery to release the Carpal Ligament, that was pressing on the median nerve, creating the numbness of fingers. She'll be fine in another few weeks but why should this happen at all.

Not that I haven't seen older people before. Grand parents I thought were born old. I could never picture them young and frolicking. But to see your own parents gradually age in front of you and see the various small or big ailments creep into their once healthy bodies and shake their own confidence, makes me believe in the inevitability of thing called Life. We, as humans can probably control the causes only to an extent. Otherwise, how is it that perfectly healthy people suffer strokes or develop cancer. Science, God bless the scientists, indeed comes closest to God I think. How else could the dentures be made or pacemakers be fitted or kidneys be replaced and in our case, numbness of fingers be surgically treated. It gives me hope for my mom to lead a better old age than probably what my grand parents experienced. And it makes me rethink of the sedentary lifestyle we lead in urban cocoons and concrete jungles and if we will have a better or worse aging. Only time will tell. And then, perhaps I will read this blog again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Birds of Basai - 14th Nov 2010

With a teaser thrown at us last week about sighting Pacific Golden Plovers and a Jack Snipe and several Curlews at Basai (courtesy Mike and KB), the adrenalin rush was higher even before the group could reach the Basai temple point. Around 20 of us met on an unusually warm for mid Nov yet pleasant morning to watch "Birds of Basai". The muhoorat sighting was a lovely male Red Avadavat at almost an arm's length right at the start of the bund road.

Most of the Basai fields wore the post-harvest golden look letting the birds throw a
spot-me-if-you-can challenge for the group. While we looked long and hard between the golden hues of fields to spot Pacific Golden Plovers, they remained elusive throughout.

However the other migratory and resident birds more than obliged to make up and we had a unhurried yet splendid birding, counting over 80 species in over 3 hrs.

Interesting sightings included several Olive-backed Pipits, a Rosy Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit and a possible Tree Pipit. Flocks of flying Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Common Snipes were seen in the wet fields around. Wood Sandpipers were in plenty and few Marsh as well.

Thousands of Ruffs creating swarms and landing in fields was a sight to behold. Several Bar-headed Geese flew overhead as we spotted a Eurasian Wigeon pair on the far side of fields. Several Northern Shovellors and a Common Teal were seen swimming with resident Spot-billed Ducks. A little Ringed Plover and a possible Kentish Plover were spotted in the golden fields.

All 3 Ibises - Black, Black-headed and Glossy were plenty in numbers. Large numbers of Glossy Ibises that are present has probably not been seen in a long time here.
Despite their resident status, Black-winged Stilts and Red-wattled Lapwing numbers were simply mindblowing and I thought is worthy of finding a mention in report.

A Family of 3 Sarus Cranes (with apparantly a Juvenile) was another delight just as Neetu spotted a pair of Red-headed Bunting for all of us to stop in our tracks and marvel at them. Citrine, Yellow and White Wagtails were also seen in abundance. Eurasian Marsh Harrier was hunting for it's breakfast and one beautiful creamy headed female sat in the fields for some time to allow us to scope on it. Several birds spotted in smaller groups were Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Temminck's Stint and while we were returning, a Eurasian Curlew flew in and gave some of us very good time to marvel at it's long curvy beak.

Several Bluethroats, Isabelline Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike and Clamorous Reed Warbler added to the delight. Flocks of Common Starlings were busy in golden fields while Grey, Purple and Pond Herons standing as sentries on the bund kept a vigil.

Finally, in true Delhibird tradition, lavish spreads of Breakfast were gorged on.
Few enthusiastic birders then headed for Sultanpur from where pictures of Dark-throated Thrush have been sent by Pankaj.
Please add any other interesting sightings from Sultanpur.

Birds almost regularly seen at Basai but which surprisingly eluded us were Black-necked Stork, Pied Avocets and Eurasian Thicknee.

Happy winter birding to all ...
Soma Ateesh

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Family Trip to Valley of Flowers - Sep 2010

Trip Report (Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangharia-ValleyOfFlowers)During the 1st week of September 2010, we set off on a trip to see Valley of Flowers, something which has been on our minds for a long time. Since it was a family trip with, I kept my birding instincts as curtailed as possible but even without making any significant birding effort, the limitless mountains and the endless streams running along vast stretches of greens provided me with ample list of lifers and many beautifully coloured Himalayan non lifers.

The route we took was Delhi-Rishikesh-Chamoli-Joshimath-Govindghat-Ghangharia. We camped at Ghangharia for 3 days from where trekking for Valley of Flowers begins. Excessive rains for next 2 continuous days forced us to remain in our tents and we had to cancel our trek to Hemkund Sahib trek. Several pictures of uphill and steep zig zag trek to Hemkund didn’t help in raising our spirits either though Brahma Kamal beckoned loudly from all the pictures and videos we saw of the enigmatic flower. I wonder why those pictures of Hemkund trek are hung everywhere – to showcase the beauty of surrounding hills or to scare people by showing the entire treacherous path in one shot. Anyways, to make up for the lost trek, we spent a day in Auli and that was truly worth it.

Rishikesh to Joshimath/Govindghat
We reached Haridwar very early morning by an overnight train from Delhi. Haridwar Railway station is sea of humans with not an inch of space on floor. At 3am, there were people of all shapes and sizes and colours resting on the floor covering the entire station floor like a swarm of bees. Last I had seen such a jampacked station was Tatanagar.
We hired an autorickshaw from station to take us to Rishikesh from where we hired a Sumo for Joshimath. With half the town still asleep, driving to Rishikesh passing through Rajaji range can give you goosebumps. I imagined a herd of elephants coming out of nowhere and showing themselves up but obviously that was not to happen (by the way, that has happened once with us before, so I wasn’t that unjustified in my imagination).

Finding a Sumo for Joshimath was a breeze for almost every vehicle big or small seemed to be heading towards Joshimath only. So, we threw our bags in the rear and settled for our day long drive. At dawn we stopped at a small restaurant for breakfast and saw a bunch of Ashy woodswallows fluffed up and huddled together on a wire swaying with the cold breeze. Himalayan and Red vented bulbuls flew between bushes as did group of house sparrows. Purple sunbirds were also seen. This was probably the only point till where we saw sunbirds in abundance. As we headed upwards, I noticed there weren’t too many sunbirds which I thought was peculiar. On the way, spotted a Verditer Flycatcher(L) out of moving Sumo and was wondering if I could get to see more of these at leisure later.
There were numerous landslides along the way - some big and some small. There was a big one near I am-forgetting-the-village which kept us stranded for approx an hour. We spread ourselves on the edge for snacking and found a common greenshank down below in a small body of collected rain water. 2 Hoopoes flew by.

The BRO (Border Roads Organisation) cleared up the road quickly and we again resumed our journey. Mountains looked resplendent in their green attire and hundreds of small and large milky streams flowing through their veins. Hardly 2 hrs into the journey and we got to know that road to Joshimath was closed and there was high likelihood we would have to put up in Chamoli but luckily for us, the BRO opened it within 2 hrs. BRO had gained our trust for it’s efficiency by now.

We reached Joshimath via Devprayag-Rudraprayag-Srinagar-Chamoli-Karnaprayag-Nandprayag-Joshimath. Our final destination before the trek was to be Govindghat (19 kms) from Joshimath which we were supposed to head to next day but we decided to stretch our travel same day from Joshimath and decided to drive directly till Govindghat 1st day itself.

Govindghat is a small but bustling hamlet nestled along beautiful Alaknanda river in a valley and acts as the starting point for trek to Hemkund sahib and Valley of Flowers. This is the last motorable point and beyond this, only mules and humans are allowed. (Dogs don’t need permit or roads anywhere, so they do accompany you everywhere and so do local cattle)

Govindghat to Ghangharia
I birded in nearby bushes in Govindghat early morning before beginning the long trek. Several Grey-Headed-canary Flycatchers(L), Oriental white-eyes, Blue-whistling Thrush, Himalayan Bulbuls, Large-billed Crows, a possible Asian-brown flycatcher(L), several unknown warblers with yellow supercilium and yellow underbelly which I couldn’t identify. I missed my birder friends a lot.
Suddenly between all of these, there was an unmistakable black and white little bird with white forehead. It just looked so mesmerizing and pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Later identified as Little Forktail(L).
We started the trek for Ghangharia early morning after a good dose of Bread-Omellete, Aloo paratha, chai and daliya (porridge – Yes you get it at most of the shops here).

The early part of trek is quite filthy with all mules around but as we progressed upwards, the pathway became clearer with lovely butterflies all around. Another Verditer Flycatcher flew in the bushes. Grey Bushchats sang along the way.
3 Kms and 3 hrs into the trek, we realized our urban legs were not meant for full 13 Kms long trek. We had mentally compared it with Vaishno devi trek and assumed to find more paved way but this was different. With no paving for most of the trek, you end up stepping between one big boulder and another and praying for some level ground.
No amount of bushchats’ singing helped and we decided to take to most primitive form of transportation known to humans – Mules.
With rain gods deciding to shower us incessantly for the remaining of our trek, it turned out to be a decision taken well in time. This was my first tryst with Mules and at the end of trek, Mules were true heroes of the trek in my eyes. What would we have done without the unassuming, sure-footed and sturdy beasts of burden.
Our spirits soared as we glimpsed the Swiss tents at Ghangharia. This is where we were supposed to camp for next 3 days. Ghangharia is a quaint little village dotted with beautiful Silver Firs, Pine, Deodar and other mountain vegetation which I can’t put a name to.

Ghangharia to Valley Of Flowers
Next day we started with packed lunches for our trek to Valley of Flowers. Entrance gate to the valley welcomes you with a beautiful quote (See the attached pic for it).

Valley is a world heritage site and you can go there only on foot. No mules or porters or even cattle (can you believe it ?). Thanks to these small mercies, all the pathways in valley are quite clean and devoid of bad odour. A little before the entrance, Alaknanda flows through Ghangharia village and we spotted several White-capped Water redstarts and a pied wagtail here. Lots of house sparrows on the village house ledges. Another Hoopoe flew by and sat at a Moss laden Deodar tree.
Bang at the entrance to the valley, several Oriental white-eyes flitted about as did Yellow-bellied Fantails. A flycatcher which I thought was a Rusty-tailed flycatcher was spotted.

A little further into the trek, I spotted first of my most beautiful lifer of the trip – Chestnut-tailed Minla. Beautiful orange crown and lovely wingtips showed up from various bushes but they never came out fully in the open for a photo shoot. Satisfied and hungry at the same time, we moved ahead to the little iron bridge over Alaknanda. Sat there for a while and spotted a Plumbeous water redstart patiently having it’s breakfast. An juvenile apparently of Blue Whistling Thrush jumped around the trek.

Most of the flowers had finished in last week or so due to excessive rains. So the colours we expected in Valley was not to be but yet, the entire expanse covered in light and dark green and beautiful white flowers is a sight to behold. After crossing several boulder laden tracks and admiring the flowing river below and straight cliffs, we finally reached the Big Rock which is a sort of landmark where most of the travelers rest. We were resting and admiring the beauty in front and had just decided to unpack our lunches when a low but clear metallic sound came from low bushes around. Soon a lovely orange head flew in and came and sat very close to us. Red-headed Bullfinch. Soon, we found not one or two but 5 – 6 of these breathtakingly beautiful birds. They kept foraging under the rock cliff oblivious of our presence. While we sat admiring their beauty, dash of pink flitted about bushes and called for attention. Pink-browed rosefinch pair gave us ample time for clicking them in various poses. A lone Great Tit flew between bushes.
Not too many birds to spot here though lovely vegetation. I specially fell for Sliver Firs. They look spectacular. We spent another few hrs in the valley before heading back with heavy hearts. On the way back, spotted more Yellow-bellied Fantails, Great Tits, Grey Bushchats, Spot-winged Tits, same Plumbeous and White-capped water redstart and a lone Brown Dipper.

Just before heading back into our camp passing through a dense area, there was a mixed party of Spot-winged and Great Tits, Bar-tailed Treecreepers(L) and a lone greater Yellownape. Next 2 days it rained non stop forcing us within our tents and 3rd day morning when we got out from tents, it was delightful to see snow on the peaks. We got to know that it had snowed in the valley last night and Hemkund. We finally decided to cancel trek to Hemkund and started trek back to Govindghat.
This time on foot. Rain Gods never deserted us for a single moment forcing binoculars and cameras inside. On the way back, Streaked Laughing Thrush, Plumbeous and White-capped water redstart and a Black Rredstart, amazingly high number of Bar-tailed treecreepers and Spot-winged and Black-lored Tits, Oriental white-eyes, Black Bulbul(L), Grey Treepie, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie(L), Verditer Flycatchers to my heart’s content, many singing Grey bushchats. an unidentified Thrush with white ear coverts along with several colourfully decorated butterflies made an interesting comeback.
We headed back to Joshimath same day for overnight stay.

Joshimath to Auli and back
Next day we headed to Auli via Cable Car. While we waited for minimum number of passengers for cable car to run, arrive, a Himalayan Griffon hovered above. Lots of Slaty-headed Parakeets(L) clamoured while a Pied Kingfisher flew right next to us. A pair of very cute looking Himalayan Bulbuls sat preening each other while house sparrows filled nearly every gully and every nook and corner in the area. For a moment I forgot about declining number of house sparrows. More Grey-headed Canary flycatchers here.

Cable car to Auli is a delight with a Shikra flying right below us. An Indian fox spotted sitting below on rocks sent wild screams within the group. Once at Auli, we didn’t have much to do in this weather (Skiing during winters is the mainstay here), we headed to trek a little for over an hour within the Nanda Devi Bio reserve area. To my delight, this was well rewarded with 3 Spotted Nutcrackers(L) flying about and perching close enough for us to admire them. Another Shikra flew by and chased away a flock of 5 Mistle Thrushes(L). A Spotted Dove sat on a Deodar dozing off amidst noon mountain breeze. Several brightly coloured mushrooms of different sizes from a little button shaped to large Focachia sized.
Time for heading back in cable car and spotting the Fox sitting at the exact same spot below. Apparantly, it’s a regular with all the local restaurants.

Next morning we had to head back from Joshimath to Rishikesh and I decided to focus last time on the flocks of morning chirps. Grey Bushchats, Slaty-headed Parakeets, House sparrows and 2 Yellow-breasted Greenfinch(L). Finally, we left Joshimath for Rishikesh and soon came to a point where the road was shut from last 24 hrs and this time there was absolutely no hope for it to open. So, we had to take a detour via Pauri-Kotdwara-Najibabad-Haridwar. Driving through Pauri-Kotdwara range during velvety night time was an experience worth every penny. We flushed 2 big owls sitting on the road into the adjacent mountains. Not sure which ones though as couldn’t even get as much as a glimpse.

Finally we managed to catch our train to Delhi from Haridwar in time and thus rounded off a trip etched in our minds forever.