Flora And Fauna
Due to the inaccessibility of the region and relatively fewer human habitations, the flora and fauna in the district are abundant. The forest cover is in the region of 60 – 80%,, housing a bewildering variety of trees, flowers, wild animals, birds, fish and butterflies.
Trees of various kinds are found in different altitudinal ranges, for which they are best adapted. Between 1,000 – 2,000 m., the forest cover is almost exclusively of pine. The pine flowers between February and April, the seeds being shed in October. Pine trees are tapped for resin and their dry leaves used as manure. The biggest pine tree in Asia, with a height of 60.5 m., is found at Khoonigad, en route to Arakot from Mori.
Between 2,000 m – 3,000 m. are found forests of deodar, oak and rhododendron. Deodar (from the Sanskrit, deva – daru, divine – tree) is used for building temples. The wood from oak and rhododendron is utilised for agricultural implements while their leaves serve as cattle fodder.
Beyond 3,000 m., forests of spruce, birch and fir are widespread. The bark of the birch tree (bhojpatra) was used in ancient times for recording manuscripts, some of which are still in excellent condition. Between 3,500 m-4,500 m. occur the bugyals, with a rich variety of flowering shrubs.
The bugyals are especially noted for their wild flowers, which carpet the hill – sides for miles on end. Of these, the most beautiful is the rare blue poppy, of which Frank Smythe had this to say -‘In all my mountain wanderings, I have not seen a more beautiful flower’. Also called ‘hemkamal’ or snow lotus, its silky – blue petals radiate serenity. Another celebrated blossom is the Brahmakamal, or ‘the lotus of Brahma.’ Often used for religious observances, this large flower is sweet – smelling and found in the higher reaches beyond 3,000 m. The flowers of the Rhododendron family, red, pink or white, set hillsides ablaze between February and April. Syrup from the flowers is extremely tasty, but some varieties are poisonous.Several medicinal herbs and plants are found at higher altitudes and in the valleys. Near Nelang village, extensive tracts of padam can be found. The powdered wood of this shrub is used for ‘havan’ purposes because of its perfume. In the Dayara range are found atish and guggool, used in medicine manufacture. The crushed leaves of the Chiraita shrub are believed to banish fever in minutes. Another useful plant is the Semru, which exudes a milky substance that produces light when ignited.
The jungles and forests harbour a rich variety of wild – life, some of the chief categories of which are given below:
Among the felines found are the snow leopard, leopard, tiger, leopard cat and civet cat. Of these, the most elusive is the snow leopard, with a coat of pale misty grey.
Of the bear family, both the Himalayan Black Bear and Brown Bear are present. They are good tree climbers and can be quite aggressive when disturbed.
Among the antelopes, the most prominent are the bharal, serow, musk – deer barking deer (kakar) and sambhar. The bharal is found at altitudes of around 3500m such as Nandanvan,and is extremely agile and nimble. The musk deer are being hunted for musk – pods and are now quite rare.
Among reptiles, a wide variety of snakes are seen, many of whom are worshipped as nag devtas. Another striking specimen is the monitor lizard, a good 2ft. in length, called goh or gumla in the local dialect.
A large number of rodents, such as squirrels, marmots and rats, can be observed. Marmots are common in the Har – Ki – Dun area, where their presence can be detected by their high – pitched, chittering voices. They store food in their burrows and hibernate through winter.
The wide diversity of bird – life is distributed according to the altitude. Among the pheasants found here are the kalij, kokla, chir and monal. The monal with its resplendent plumage of metallic green, glistening purple, startling red and jet – black, is a sight to behold. It moves about in small groups and takes flight when one almost stumbles upon it.
Among partridges, the Himalayan snow cock, kala titar and chakor are frequently sighted. The kala titar or black partridge frequents shrubs near cultivated land. The chakor loves open hill slopes and also visits cultivated fields in search of grain.The pigeons and doves that inhabit the area are the harial, the fakta, and the malyo or blue rock pigeon. The harial is a yellowish – green bird found in oak forests. The fakta is a large dove while the malyo has a slaty grey colour with a metallic lustre.
The non – game birds generally sighted are the magpie, thrush, paradise fly – catcher, parakeet, golden oriole, sunbird and robin. The birds found near water courses are the brown dipper, plumbeous redstart, spotted fork – tail and wagtails. Various swifts, skylarks, swallows, warblers, bulbuls, mynahs and other smaller birds add to the rich bird – life of the district.
Fish are plentiful in almost a11 the lakes and rivers, except at high altitude. Trout in Dodital and carp in Nachiketatal are in abundance. Besides, the mahaseer, kalhana and goonch lurk in the shadowy depths wherever river – water collects.
Butterflies are generally seen in bugyals and near flowering shrubs. Some of the prominent are: Peacock Pansy: Golden brown with large spots, it is found in low lying, moist areas.
Blue – Peacock: Deep black and metallic blue in colour, with red spots, it makes a striking appearance.
Tawny Raja: This species has a dark brown tipped outer wing, with inner zones of light brown colour.
Red Lacewing : It is bright brown in colour with a dark brown lace – like fringe.
Large Silverstripe: It is commonly seen on flowering shrubs, having yellow wings with brown polka dots.
Great Orange – tip: Its wings are half white and half brown in colour.
Red – base Jezebel: It is brown with white, yellow and red markings.
Yellow Pansy: Found in the lower reaches, it is brown with four large yellow patches.
Red – Helen: It is reddish brown in colour with one white patch on each wing.
Saturn – Moth: This is a beautifully coloured nocturnal creature, found at higher altitudes.