In winter, Upper Dachigam is entirely inaccessible and the temperatures in Lower Dachigam also drop abysmally to -100C. Between late November and early February, the area is entirely snowbound. The best time to visit is May to November. In November, you can see hangul stags with their magnificent antlers fully grown. A visit to Upper Dachigam is best restricted to periods between May to August while March to May is ideal for bird watching. Early mornings and late afternoons are when animals are most active and may be seen feeding or drinking.
Visitors to Dachigam could choose to make Srinagar a base where there are a number of government and privately run hotels as well as houseboats catering to varying budgets. To experience Dachigam completely and stay overnight, there is some lodging available in both Upper as well as Lower Dachigam. Tourist Huts costs Rs.125 (Double) and Rs.40 (Dormitory bed).
In Lower Dachigam: Panzgam: 3 rooms (6 beds). Laribal: 1 room (2 beds. Dormitories (20 beds)
In Upper Dachigam: Sangargulu: 2 rooms (4 beds). Gratnar: 6 rooms (12 beds)
For reservations contact: Chief Wildlife Warden, Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. Tel.: 0194-75411.
By Air: Srinagar airport is 32 km. from the park.
By Rail: Jammu (315 km.) is the most convenient railhead.
By Road: Srinagar town is an accessible 21 km. away from Dachigam and is well connected to major cities and towns in India. There is only one road that runs 10 km. within the park through the Numbal Beat in Lower Dachigam. It is partly metalled, the rest of it being a kuccha jeep track. You can take a vehicle upto Lower Dachigam, but from here onwards, you would have to travel on foot or on Zanskari ponies.
You may see large troops of the Himalayan grey langur that feed on the barks of trees, poplar being a favourite. The trees themselves are giveaways of the langurs' whereabouts with the branches showing markings from being chewed on. Jackals, hill fox, the yellow throated marten and wild boar are scavengers that you might come across feeding on the remains of a hangul.
In autumn, you see the orange-brown chinar and hear the rutting calls of the hangul stags. In spring, the hangul befriends the langur that feeds on trees and drops half-eaten items to the waiting hangul on the ground. The Himalayan black bear Selenarctos thibetanus emerges from its winter sleep and searches ravenously for ants and insects under stones, scavenges on leopard kills and also wanders about the steep slopes in search of newborn hanguls. At higher altitudes, the rare Himalayan brown bear Ursus arctos isabellinus, an endangered species, can be found. The longtailed marmot Marmota caudata lives in burrows and you will often hear its shrill screams echoing through the valley. Leopards are the main predators in Dachigam and the hangul becomes easy prey in the winters when the surroundings strip the animal of the advantages of camouflage. The wild boar is not a native of Dachigam and was introduced here by a Maharaja for hunting. These are not very tolerant of the extreme cold and their population seems to be dwindling.
In winter, cinnamon sparrows and the black and yellow grosbeaks make an appearance. The sharp call of the grosbeaks and the chattering of the black bulbuls break the stillness of the white snow-covered land. Most of the birds, including the monal pheasant, move lower down to the valleys in winter, feeding on the few seeds and berries that remain. Babblers, buntings and laughing thrushes are seen hopping amidst the shrubs and grasses. The Streaked Laughing Thrush is one of the most common birds of Lower Dachigam. The golden Oriole and scarlet and yellow minivets emerge with the tits, warblers and finches. Pygmy Owlets and woodpeckers, notably the Himalayan Pied Woodpecker (a black and white bird with a red vent and a red cap in the males) lives in tree-holes. In Upper Dachigam, the avian fauna is entirely different in composition. The redbrowed finch lives in the birch forests and redstarts, wagtails and the Himalayan rubythroat can be seen on the banks of the Marsar Lake.
The park stands at altitudes ranging from 1,700 m. to 4,300 m. above sea level. The area has great topographical diversity and is full of thick woods, steep rocky ridges, gentle grassy slopes and deep gullies.
The area forms half of Dal Lake's catchment area and plays an important role in supplying drinking water to Srinagar. Marsar Lake lies between ridges that stand 4,000 m. high and is fed by perennial springs as well as the streams and rivulets that flow down the ridges. The Daghwan stream arrives at the park from the Marsar Lake carrying waters as clean and fresh as the source. The water becomes muddy only briefly during spring when snowmelts cause this colouration.
In spring, the forests in the lower valley blossom with wild cherry, pear, plum, peach, apple and apricot lending pastel dimensions to the delicate greens. Broad-leaved trees are the predominant types found in the main valley including oaks, elms, willows and poplars. Off-white flowers of the shrub Parrotiopsis jacquemontiana that belongs to the witch-hazel family, border the side valleys or nars. Walnut and Indian horse-chestnut trees punctuate these slopes. Birch trees and blue poppy along with medicinal plants like Saussurea are found in Upper Dachigam. In autumn, the willows, poplars, elm and mulberry trees are easily distinguishable from the colours they take on. The chinar is the last to shed its autumn leaves before the onset of winter.
Take a leisurely stroll along Numbal Beat in Lower Dachigam to view wildlife, without any serious trekking.
Drognar and Munyu are the lower nars or side valleys worth visiting, especially in late spring as young calves of hangul and the rare serow may be seen here.
Sangargulu Valley is a trek that you can attempt to view wildlife in Upper Dachigam and you can see the koklas pheasants in Gretnar.
On the northern ridge of Dachigam, the Mahadev peak rises to a height of 3966m. It is one of the highest peaks.
It would be wise to check on the current political situation in Kashmir before making a trip to Dachigam. Owing to political unrest in Kashmir, foreigners are advised to contact their embassy in Delhi prior to the trip. Access to Jammu and Kashmir is restricted for foreign nationals; so permission must be sought from the Indian foreign office before leaving for the region. For further details, contact: Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO), Hans Bhavan, ITO, New Delhi – 110002.
Permits are required from the Chief Wildlife Warden in Srinagar.
Being so close to Srinagar, Dachigam is ideal even for a visitor who wants to have a short holiday, with only a day or two to spare. Carry woollens and also bring your own sleeping bags rather than rely on local hires.
The area is best seen by trekking. Hiking shoes and a raincoat would be a must at all times. Limited equipment is available at Srinagar. Carry your own food and water as nothing will be available on your trek. Please check if the routes are open from Lower to Upper Dachigam before you set out as the area is often snowbound.
The Chief Wildlife Warden, Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar –190006. Tel.: 0194-75411.
Indian Society for Himalayan Studies, Rengco Campus, Hazratbal, Srinagar – 190006. Tel.:0194-77280.
Jammu and Kashmir Environment and Wasteland Development Society, 14, Ranbir Market, Indira Chowk, Jammu – 180 001. Tel.: 0191-42903.
Maharaja Hari Singh, who recognised the area's importance as a source of drinking water for Srinagar (and also saw it as useful hunting grounds!) first protected the area in 1910. It was after independence that Dachigam became a sanctuary and it was upgraded to a National Park in 1981. Between 1910 and 1934, ten villages were relocated outside the park, giving the place its name 'Dachi-gam', which means 'ten villages'. The Mughal rulers used Kashmir as a summer retreat and during the period of British rule, the native king would not allow the British to own land in Kashmir, which is the story behind the houseboats that Kashmir is now so famous for.