Chopta - Tungnath
View from Chopta
This birding area covers the lower half of Ukimath Tehsil in the Rudraprayag District of Uttarakhand. The altitude of the terrain here varies from 800 to 4,000m as you travel north from the Sub-Himalayan ranges to the Lesser Himalayan peaks of the Garhwal Himalaya. The area is drained by the Mandakini River and its tributaries like Madhyamaheshwar, Kali Ganga and Mandaniganga rivers creating a land of deep valleys, high ridges and steep mountains. This land is covered by wet temperate mixed forests, subtropical forests and subtropical mixed forests interspersed with alpine meadows (bugyal) at higher altitudes.
Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple in the world at 3,680 m (12,073 ft) and lies just below the Chandrashila peak. Tungnath is part of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary (Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary) and is the home of the much sought after Himalayan Monal - the species voted as the most beautiful bird of India. Plus, winters will surely reward those who want to see the Snow Partridge from close quarters.
Below Tungnath lies the Chopta area (2,680m) which is covered by pine, oak and rhododendron coppices amidst lush alpine meadows. Consider yourself unlucky if you do not spot Koklass Pheasant at this location. Lower down at Makku Bend and Makku Farm the meadows disappear and are replaced by dense mixed forests containing oak and rhododendron. As you travel west to Makkumath, the landscape becomes a mix of agricultural land and forest patches. A great place to see rare finches and, maybe, a nesting Pied Thrush!
As you wind down in elevation you must stop to see the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide at its preferred cliff face dining spot before you continue your journey to meet the beautiful Mandakini River at Kakragarh (Kakragaad). An early summer visit will reward you with multiple sightings of the mysterious Spot-winged Starling which breeds in numbers in the area.
The Rudraprayag area represents wet temperate vegetation with Banj Oak (Quercus leucotrichophora) being the dominant species across the higher elevations. Other dominant species include Rhododendron arboreum, Pinus roxburghii and Lagerstroemia parviflora at different heights. Key vegetation includes: Acer caesium, Acer oblongum, Aegle marmelos, Aesculus indica, Alnus nepalensis, Bauhinia variegata, Berberis asiatica, Betula alnoides, Betula utilis, Butea monosperma, Buxus wallichiana, Cassia fistula, Carpinus viminea, Cedrus deodara, Coriaria nepalensis, Cotoneaster bacillaris, Cupressus torulosa, Daphniphyllum himalense, Debregeasia salicifolia, Desmodium elegans, Euonymus pendulus, Euphorbia royleana, Eurya acuminata, Ilex dipyrena, Indigofera cassioides, Inula cappa, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Juglans regia, Lyonia ovalifolia, Myrica esculenta, Neolitsea cuipala, Neolitsea umbrosa, Olea glandulifera, Persea duthie, Phoebe lanceolata, Pinus roxburghii, Picea smithiana, Populus ciliata, Prinsepia utilis, Pyrus pashia, Quercus floribunda, Quercus glauca, Quercus lanata, Quercus leucotrichophora, Quercus semecarpifolia, Rhamnus purpurea, Rhamnus virgatus, Rhododendron arboreum, Rhus wallichii, Rubus nepalensis, Senegalia catechu, Sinarundinarai falcata, Strobilanthes wallichii, Symplocos chinensis, Symplocos ramosissima, Syzygium cumini, Taxus baccata, Terminalia bellirica, Thamnocalamus spathiflorus, Toona ciliata, Ulmus wallichiana, Viburnum cotinifolium and Viburnum erubescens.
The main avian attractions of the area are Snow Partridge, Himalayan Monal, Koklass Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, Golden Eagle, Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), Upland Buzzard, Himalayan Owl, Spot-winged Rosefinch, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, European Goldfinch, Ashy Wood-Pigeon, Fire-capped Tit, Spotted Laughingthrush, Variegated Laughingthrush, Nepal Wren-Babbler, Pied Thrush, Long-billed Thrush, Scarlet Finch, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Golden Bush-Robin, White-browed Bush-Robin, Coal Tit, Fire-fronted Serin, Spot-winged Starling, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch and Yellow-rumped Honeyguide.
Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture
How to reach
The area offers multiple destinations suitable for birders to set up base to explore the different parts. Choose a middle elevation like Makku Math (2,100m) if you plan to cover both high and low altitudes or stay around Chopta (2,680) if your main interest is birds and animals of high altitudes.
Dehradun is the most convenient start point for the long uphill climb to the birding areas.
Chopta: Chopta is 250 kilometres from Dehradun via National Highway 7 and takes about 8 hours to reach by road.
Makku Math: This is 225 kilometres by road from Dehradun and the ride can be completed in about 7 hours.
Where to stay
1. Sparrow House Birders' Camp is a home-stay at Makku village (Makkumath). Not only is it strategically located, it comes with one of the best bird guides of the region - Yashpal Negi!
Tel: +91-9412909399 and +91-9720709499
2. Duggalbitta (2,360m) is on the way to Chopta and is a good location to set up base, especially in winter. There are some hotels/home-stays in Duggalbitta
3. Chopta has a wide choice of accommodation. Most birders choose to stay here.
4. Mandal (1,720m) is 24 kms south-east of Chopta and is also an alternative site for birders visiting the area.
Tungnath: 30°29'19.3"N 79°13'01.6"E
Chopta: 30°28'56.9"N 79°10'52.7"E
Duggalbitta: 30°29'08.2"N 79°10'44.0"E
Makkumath: 30°28'46.2"N 79°08'08.6"E
Kakragaad: 30°29'24.0"N 79°05'05.2"E
Best time: October to June. Parts are snowbound between November and March. Winter temperatures can go down to -15°C and summers are pleasant.
Tip: Do go down to the Kedarnath Musk Deer breeding centre at Kharchula Kharak. It is a good place for some rare birds.