Sattal and Pangot, two tiny hamlets tucked away in the Himalayas, are a nature lover’s paradise, says Rhucha Kulkarni
The serenity of mountain lakes nestled amid rolling hills. The joy of spotting a rare bird in a thicket. The peace in listening to the stillness of the night. All this multiplied by seven. That’s the allure of Sattal, a cluster of seven freshwater lakes in the Himalayas, at an elevation of about 4,000 ft.
Watched over by the towering Nanda Devi, Sattal is as much for adventure lovers as it is for birdwatchers. The seven lakes – Garud Tal, Nal-Damyanti Tal, Purna Tal, Sita Tal, Ram Tal, Laxman Tal and Sukha Tal or Khurdariya Tal – and their surroundings are home to more than 500 species of resident and migratory birds, over 500 species of butterflies, around 10,000 species of insects and over 25 mammals. Wilderness flourishes with oaks, pines and rhododendrons painting a beautiful picture. I begin my walk from Garud Tal. My destination is the Studio – a stream alongside Hanuman Tal – to spot some feathered friends or maybe a barking deer. A detour to the village of Chafi affords me sightings of the resident crested kingfisher. Other areas you can explore around here are Shyam Khet village and Ramgarh. Stroll down to the temple of Kainchi Dham along the Kosi river and count the mahseer colonies swimming around.
As I walk deeper into the forest, I spot boisterous babblers and whacky woodpeckers, their frantic calls punctuating the silence. I also see strokes of coloured wings – red-billed leothrixes, white-throated laughing thrushes, slaty-blue flycatchers and white-bellied nuthatches. My guide, a local birdwatching veteran, points out the shenanigans of the extremely rare mistle thrush. The next day, as we drive away from Sattal, the driver suddenly brings the car to a halt, pointing through the window at a large bird swooping down against the backdrop of the craggy mountainside. “That’s the peregrine falcon!” he exclaims, proud to have spotted a rare pair of wings. Birdwatching may be a leisure pleasure for city dwellers but for residents here, it’s part of their heritage.
As I make my way to Pangot, a small, sleepy village tucked away into a corner of the mighty Himalayas, I realise it could claim to have more feathered residents than humans. Surrounded by dense forests, winding walking trails and gurgling streams, the place is ethereal. The hustle and bustle of Nainital, just 17 km away, seems from another planet. I take a walk around the village in the morning. A few shops are still shut and apart from a few cyclists around, the only sound that punctures the sleepy haze is the chirping of birds. A major attraction for bird lovers from across the world, Pangot lives in harmony with its avian neighbours. Birders flock to Pangot, owing to its high propensity to offer glimpses of the three pheasants in the wild – the kalij, koklass and cheer. Other jewels of the village, such as the Himalayan griffon, the rufous sibia, white-throated laughing thrush and great barbet, may play hide and seek with you. If you are an expert, you will spot many more. The mountainous terrain is the perfect habitat for the Himalayan goat, or ghoral, whose death-defying tactics are sure to amuse you.
At dusk, an endearing silence begins to lead me into the night. As I sit under the star-sprinkled sky, I sense the bashful large-tailed nightjar stir in the distance, but can’t spot the rare bird. I promise myself that treat on my next trip of rejuvenation. The author is a travel writer and the views expressed in the article are her own