Almost after one year of my previous break, I got a chance to break free from everything and visit some place wild(ish). Armed with one week of leaves and limited budget I started looking for my options. I wanted a place where I could explore a little and not be bound to a schedule of morning and evening safaris on jeep tracks. As much as Ranthambhore sounded charming, I now want to visit a tiger reserve during summer months (having done previous three during winters). I shortlisted two places in two opposite parts of the country, Thakkadi and Uttarakhand. Both places were being sworn about by birders and photographers alike, both had specialist guides available, both were home-stay kind of places (hence pocket friendly). In the end, call of mighty Himalayas proved to be stronger, plus my work schedule agreed more with Uttarakhand.
Mr. Yashpal Negi’s name is synonymous with birding in Chopta region. He came highly recommended from several sources, trip reports etc.. Also, his home-stay provided a great option for accommodation. While his legendary camp in Kakkaragarh was destroyed during the Uttarakhanad floods, Mr. Negi has rebuilt a small home-stay in a village called Mukkumath (Mukku). Using my Googlefoo, I obtained his number from internet and dialed away. Negi Ji answered and confirmed his availability during the period of my visit. I was to stay at his new camp in Mukku an he was to ensure successful birding. We both kept our words 🙂
As a part of preparation, I got me a fleece jacket, base layer and gloves. I also decided to carry a tripod instead of a Monopod like last year. While Monopod provides the quick support, sometimes you are left wanting for a better support system. From what I had read on blogs and trip reports, Himalayan birds are sadists who love skulking in the thick canopy where sunlight is not available most of the time. Turned out, this was a wise decision. Tripod was indispensable during the whole time. I also carried with me a monkey cap and my new binoculars. Both of these were used heavily during the whole trip. What I wish I should have carried was bathroom slippers. The temperatures over there were freezing and walking on the cold bathroom floor gives me chills by even writing about it.
Negi ji arranged for me to be picked up from Dehradun in his Bolero. Whole road to Mukku is along a river. My knowledge of rivers is limited so from what I understand, upto Devprayag it’s Ganga, and then we follow Mandakini upstream to reach our destination. Passing many adventure camps and insane people who were rafting in the river (temperatures must be close to freezing), we stopped at Rudraprayag for some shopping and a quick tea break. The banks near Rishikesh are dotted with various adventure camps that promise camping and river rafting, and some of these camps looked inviting. However I could not help but wonder the effect these will have on the river ecosystem.
I could feel the temperatures dipping and out came monkey cap. The sun was fast vanishing behind the mighty mountains. As road lights are an alien concept, soon we were surrounded by darkness save for the headlight of the jeep. I realized how skilful the driver have to be to traverse these roads in the night. At some points, I almost yelped in panic. We reached Mukku at 7:30 PM. Negi ji and his family welcomed me and shown me to the room. A welcome hot meal later I buried myself under quilts and blanket. Soon I slipped into fatigue induced sleep.
About Negi Ji’s Camp: It is a simple, clean and no frills accommodation with simple amenities. Each room has two beds. It’s run with his family’s support and you get home made meals at the camp. Meals are simple but delicious. All rooms have attached bathrooms and WC. Geysers are provided in the bathrooms for hot water. Rooms have power backup via. inverter. Over all, this serves as an excellent base-camp for exploring areas near by. You can find many species right there in his backyard.
To be continued…