Dachigam National Park is one of the must-see places when you go to the Kashmir, specifically to Srinagar. Supposedly named after the 10 villages that were relocated for the purpose of its creation, the park was given “national park” status in 1981. It lies a mere 22 kilometres away from Srinagar, and has a spread of 141 square kilometres. The topography of the park in itself is fascinating, for it has some wild differences in altitude at certain spots: in some areas it is already an impressive 1,700 metres above sea level, but this can rise to around 4,300 metres. The former is called Lower Dachigam and the latter is called Upper Dachigam, with the Dachigam River’s trout-filled length winding its way through both sections.
The difference between altitudes translates to some difficulties in going to see the animals in the higher locations, which should generally be visited only from May or June to August. The harsh drop in temperature following those months makes the upper locations fairly unkind to tourists. On the other hand, coming here during different seasons may have its rewards: such a huge piece of land with such a wide range of altitudes has different faces depending on the time of year, and each face has its own merits.
The park boasts a good range of species, from both the black and brown Himalayan bear species to all sorts of leopards, including snow leopards and leopard cats. There are several species of deer, fox, and marmot as well. Furthermore, the park is host to a huge number of migratory birds, and well over 150 avian species may be seen in it, including the Kashmir flycatcher, the curious bearded vulture, golden eagles, and no fewer than four species of pheasant. Of all the animals tramping its grounds, though, perhaps the most significant at the moment is the Hangul, also known as the Kashmir stag.
The Kashmir stag is a huge red deer, with males sporting enormous antlers that can reach up to 12 tines in all. It was already considered endangered a few decades ago, with the population in the wild being estimated at 3,000 or so individuals, but massive poaching has led to worse things for the species: at present, it is said that the numbers are only at about 500 or so, and that Dachigam is the last wild habitat with a Hangul population. As such, the Hangul are a major draw for those who come here.
Dachigam National Park yields different experiences at different times of the year, as mentioned earlier, but you should try to come in October if you are visiting the Lower Area. This is because October is the mating time for Hangul, and you are likely to hear their mating cries all over the place. Furthermore, October is also the time when the black bears are seen in Lower Dachigam, hurrying to feed on as much food as they can in preparation for winter hibernation. The red and gold beauty of fall is also seen in the flora during this month, making it a perfect scene for nature lovers.
Dachigam National Park may be visited at any time of the year, though, so you need not limit yourself to this season. There are not really any facilities for overnight stay, so you had best stay in Srinagar, then take the 22km ride to the park. The park is open from 5:30 to 18:30 hrs and has trek guide facilities: this is the best way to see the flora and fauna on the premises.