Sattal, Part 2 – Enjoying the lakes and the birds of the Lake District of Uttarakhand

This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels across a small part of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand in India. We had started in Sattal & spent most of our first 24 hours there birding. (Sattal, Part 1 – First time birding in the forests of the Himalayas).

We had done two great sessions at the Sattal Ashram birding hide. After a great invigorating morning session at the hide, it was now time to do what most tourists come to this part of the world to do. Go lake hopping!

We had booked a car for the rest of the trip. As we waited for our driver to arrive, we had a great freshly made breakfast at the birding camp. The driver seemed lost as this was not a hotel he had heard of. So we asked the staff from the camp to telephonically direct him here.

As we waited some more we played with the dogs at the camp – A small energetic pup  who seemed scared of us initially and a more forthcoming young mountain dog.

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A young pup at the Indian Savannah birding camp
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His more experienced partner gives me a quizzical pose

Finally our car arrived and we made our introductions to our driver, Mr Mussarat Ali who would keep us entertained for the next 6 days with his quirky hindi songs and experiences to match them. As we set off for our first regular sightseeing Mussarat bhai seemed disappointed with our itinerary as we were visiting some of the most off beat places in the region that are not on the usual tourist track. ( He would be a convert to my style of travelling by the end of 6 days!)

The first lake (or rather the first chain of lakes ) we went to was the Sattal. The chain of seven lakes after which the region is named. We drove down to the biggest of the seven lakes and had a peaceful walk around a part of the lake that had a walking path.

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One of the seven lakes of Sattal

Most of the tourist activity was at the near end of the lake where some people were boating and others were trying out a very short zip line. So we walked around to the far end of the lake where we sat down and enjoyed the lake without anyone bugging us.

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Enjoying a peaceful few minutes at the far end of Sattal.

We still had quite a few lakes to see so we reluctantly got up from our quiet little corner by the lake and walked back to where our car was parked. There were a few geese floating around being fed junk by the tourists. The better half said that I shouldn’t ignore them as they are birds too! So I changed lenses and got a photo or two of the geese at Sattal.

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A goose enjoys the placid lake waters at Sattal

We then returned to our car to find that our car had been thoroughly searched by monkeys who had gotten in through a window that had been left open by mistake. Luckily we hadn’t kept any food in the car so all they could run away with were poor Mussarat bhai’s Diabetes medication!

Amused at imagining monkeys dropping with hypoglycaemia if they tried their loot we moved on to the next lake nearby named Garuda Tal. Getting to this lake needed some walking through a path in the forest.

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Walking through a forest path to reach Garuda Tal

There were no tourists here, just a lake side chapel with a half submerged pulpit and a cross on the hillside at the other end of the lake! It was a unique setting for a church. We sat at the concrete pews for a few minutes before returning back through the forest to the road where our car awaited.

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The lakeside chapel at Garuda Tal

We then moved back up the same hill we had descended and past our camp towards the next lake on the agenda – Naukuchiatal or the lake with 9 corners. Before we reached there Mussarat bhai stopped by a great view point. This was apparently the place where paragliding used to take place before a series of accidents put a stop on the adventure sport. It was however a beautiful place to take photos with a series of mountains fading away towards the horizon. So we took a few photos and drove on to reach Naukuchiatal.

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The rolling hills of Kumaon

We thought we had reached the point where we get off as there seemed to be a lot of people by the lake side. However Mussarat bhai told us to wait and drove on past the crowds to the far corner of the 9 cornered lake where there was hardly any crowd.

We then proceeded to walk along the lake by the path along the lake edge. There hardly was any part of the lake shore which wasn’t blocked by abandoned boats or trees growing along the edge. We took a photo or two where we could see a clear view of the lake. Just walking by the lake along a forested path with just birds and dragonflies for company is an experience in itself.

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A rare clear view of Naukuchiatal from the lake edge path
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A brightly coloured dragonfly gives us company
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The leader of a flock of mallard turns to see if I am getting too close!

We then returned to the start of the walkway where Mussaratbhai was waiting. He then took us past the boat touts to the makeshift pier which had the clearest view of the lake. We made him take a few photos of us and returned the favour!

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Our driver Mussaratbhai at the makeshift pier at Naukuchiatal

We then returned to the car and drove back to the biggest lake in the region, the aptly named Bhimtal.

There is a walkway on top of the dam which makes the lake. The sun was by now beating down on us and we walked across the dam to take a few photos of the lake .

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The largest lake in the region – Bhimtal
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The sun shines down on Bhimtal and the temple in the middle of the lake

The better half sighted a bird on a shop at the lake shore. It was a white capped redstart. Like us it was trying to get away from the sun and in no mood to pose in the sunlight. I tried to take a few photos before giving up and moving on.

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A white capped redstart in the shade at Bhimtal

It was way past lunch time and the tummies were starting to grumble and growl. So we returned to our hotel for a piping hot delicious lunch followed by a short rest. There was still the Bell temple Ghorakal left on the agenda for the day. But since it wasn’t very far and there was still some hours of light left I decided to see what was going on at the hide.

There was not much activity that evening at the hide. Just the usual suspects – Laughing thrushes, Doves and Magpies. So after an hour at the hide we decided to move on to see the temple before it got too dark.

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A white throated laughing thrush at Sattal
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A turtle dove in the fading light
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A red billed blue magpie at the birding hide in Sattal
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The Dog at the Sattal Ashram keeping the monkeys away

We then drove to the Ghorakal temple which is famous for being filled with bells. On the way Mussaratbhai told us about the Hindi movies it has featured in, not being a big Hindi movie buff I nodded along ( Vivaah among others for those who care!).

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The bell filled Ghorakal temple in Uttarakhand

We climbed the stairs up to the temple and visited the quaint but beautiful temple. We walked around amazed at the sheer number of bells hanging from all walls and trees in the temple complex.

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Walking around amazed at the bells lining almost all parts of the temple complex

As I walked past one of the courtyards where a religious function was going on around a ceremonial fire. There I thought I saw a cat sleeping on a black bag, Moving closer I realised it wasn’t a black bag but a black dog! I couldn’t resist taking photos of these supposedly mortal enemies cuddled together near the fire.

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A cat and a dog enjoying the warmth around a ceremonial fire
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The more religious better half prays while I walk around taking photos

There was this beautiful view of the hills and Bhimtal with the setting sun providing the final touches. We sat here for a few minutes before driving back to the hotel.

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Bhimtal and the surrounding hills at dusk from Ghorakal

After an early dinner followed by a peaceful nights sleep we got up well before dawn for our last session at the birding hide. It was a session dominated by Barbets!

A quick visit by the Green Magpie early in the morning meant that the day started well. The shy bird posed as well as it could before flying off.

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Green Magpie at the hide named after it

After the Khalij Pheasant show the day before where 8 pheasants had visited the hide, I knew nothing could top that. Today it was just 2 of these beautiful birds. Even though I had taken a lot of photos the day before I couldn’t resist a few more.

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A beautiful Male Khalij Pheasant

Then started the Great Barbet show. A flock of these birds, the biggest of the barbet family decided that they were going to finish all the food themselves. They took turns, gorging themselves silly on the fruits hidden inside the perches till they were too full to eat more.

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A great barbet fills himself with the fruits on offer

Whenever the raucous barbets would move off the other birds would meekly move in to feed before being shooed away by the next great barbet.

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A black headed Jay at Sattal
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A Grey headed woodpecker waiting for his chance
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A pretty Chestnut bellied nuthatch poses on a perch
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Another great Barbet descends to drive the other birds away

By now it was beautiful sunlight and I enjoyed the birds flitting around. With the sunlight came the smaller birds. The streaked laughing thrushes, the oriental white eyes, the green backed tits, the himalayan bulbuls, mountain sparrows all seemed to materialise out of nowhere with the sun. I didn’t need any more invitation and the camera clicked away to glory. I even managed to spot the Red billed Leiothrix with one eye from the day before!

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A streaked laughing thrush arrives with the sun
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An oriental white eye flies away after feeding
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A spotted dove enjoys the bath
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A green back tit looks for leftovers
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A himalayan bulbul flaunts his hairdo
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A hill sparrow feeds at the birding hide
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My friend from yesterday the one eyed Leiothrix

The hide is lined inside by photos taken by the owners. One of those was the blue faced Barbet. I was told that those descend down later in winter. I was thinking that I might have to wait until my next trip here to sight those when lo and behold one descended on the hide as if having read my mind!

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A blue faced barbet makes a surprise appearence

That sighting was the cherry on the already multilayered cake. I had sighted an amazing number of birds just sitting at the hide. I knew that this was a place I would want to return to in the future.

Happy with the mornings photos we returned to our hotel for a hot breakfast. In my enthusiasm for birding we hadn’t taken any photos at the beautifully kept hotel gardens. So we righted that wrong without any delay.

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At the multilayer garden at the Indian savannah birding camp
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The Indian Savannah Birding camp – A place I am certain to return to

We found Mussaratbhai who complained that the young pup had chewed up his slippers in the night! We told him we would get him new ones if he wanted since it hadn’t been a good start for him, having lost his medicines and his slippers! But he laughed it off and we left the birding camp after playing with the little devil Pup  for some more time!

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Playing with the footwear chewing devil!

It had been a great start to the trip ( for us and not for Mussarat bhai!) and our next destination was the small village of Gagar where I had booked a wonderful place called ” The White Peaks”. It would certainly live upto its name and reputation.

But that is story for another post , another time as I have rambled on far too long in this one. (You can put that down to the beauty of the lakes and the birds!)

Till next time.

Bye!

 

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