While it is quite appropriate for everyone to think of Uttarakhand as a home of temples, pilgrim trails, spiritualism, jungles and snows the fact is that this region is also the home for a wide and interesting variety of fauna and flora.
It may be rather difficult and requiring a lot of special preparations to be able to directly observe some of the high altitude wild animals like the musk deer or the ghoral, but the vast variety of flora and fauna are relatively easy to observe and study in the lower and mid Himalayan ranges.
Uttarakhand is home to may species of deer – the magnificent Sambar with heavy antlers, which is called Jarau in the hills, the beautiful Chital, the rare Barasinga or swamp deer, the Kasturi or musk deer, so named because the buck has a gland beneath the skin of the abdomen that secretes musk, the Kakar, rib-faced or barking deer which is a very pretty little animal, bright chestnut in colour with forked horns, and many others.
Other interesting animals are the Goral of the antelope family also known as the Himalayan Chamois, the Bharal or wild blue sheep, the Ibex, a handsome animal and usually greyish in colour but now rarely seen in the Uttarakhand mountains, the brown and black bears, the agile Himalayan Thar, the Himalayan Fox, a fine beast with a thick coat of fur, indigenous sheep etc. With these, there also are the killers, the Himalayan leopard and tiger who are being squeezed into the diminishing forests. The foothills near Haridwar, Kotdwara, Ramnagar, Dhikala have large herds of elephants , some of them easy to observe in the Corbet national Park and Rajaji Park. And if one is lucky, the tigers of Corbet fame may be sighted as a matter of chance.
Flowers and trees
The flowers, shrubs and trees are wide in variety, colourful and fragrant in this land of Uttarakhand – blue poppies, pink and purple primulas, asters, potentilas of many colour, varied alpine flowers, the heavily perfumed brahma kamal, rhododendrons with large ruby-red flowers, fragrant white syringa, cotoneaster with its red berries, sweet jasmine, lillies of different kinds, acacia, cypresses, pines, oaks, deodars, firs, spruces etc.
Medicinal and aromatic plants – Junipers, Digitalis Purpurea (fox glove), its leaves are used in curing heart disease, Gentiana (gentian), the flowers are purple, intense blue, white and yellow (root of which is used in medicine to stimulate digestion); Pyrethrum (feverfew) has aromatic yellow leaves which are used in insecticides, Seasamum Indicum (sesame) has small oily seeds which yield a tasteless oil used in cooking and some cosmetics, Mentha Viridis (spearmint) the oil obtained by distillation from the fresh herb in flower is good in cases of cholic, nausea etc. ( this para is here with the help of some botanist friend)
Birds, birds and birds of Uttarakhand and indeed there are many – Cuckoos, Himalayan Magpies, Kingfishers, Orioles, white-capped Redstarts, Robins, Shrikes, Swallows, Swifts, Thrushes, Tree Creepers, Yellow and pied Wagtails, Warblers, Water Ouzels, Woodpeckers, black drongo and many more. The Munal, an exotic pheasant with brilliant plumage, which has been adjudged as the “Bird of the state” by Uttarakhand, is found at above 2439 mtr to 3658 mtr. The well-known Chakor is very common among the partridges, and in the extreme north, the raucous note of the black partridge is often heard. The Himalayan Snow Cock is found on or about the snow-line. Amongst Pigeons, the blue rock and the wood Pigeon are very common. Birds of prey such as Eagles, Falcons, Hawks and Vultures are frequently seen.
Around the lakes, bird watching is good, especially Naukuchiatal (27 km from Nainital), Asan Barrage (32 kms from Dehradun) and Dodital (32 km trek from Uttarkashi). Another special place for the bird-watchers is the Har-ki-Doon Valley (54-km trek from Jarmola).