Dachigam National Park is a High-Altitude National Park in Kashmir region of Jammu and Kashmir State of India. Hemis National High-Altitude Park covers an area of about 141 km2. The Park’s Altitude ranges between 5500 ft to 14100 ft above mean sea level with climatic conditions varying between sub-arctic and arctic. Summers are short, rainfall is low and snowfall is in abundance. Winters dip temperatures to -40 degrees Celsius.
The Park stretches between 34°6′16.57″N latitude and 74°59′51.32″E longitude and lies within the western part of the Himalayan Mountain Range and is enclosed by two steep ridges. The Dachigam National Park is divided into two large segments – Upper and Lower Dachigam regions depending on their altitudes. The Lower region averages around 5500 feet altitude and the Upper region is perched at 14100 feet elevation.
River Dachigam flows through the Park originating at the Higher Dachigam and meandering all the way to the Lower Dachigam and is the chief source of water for the entire Park. The landscape of the Park comprises rocky ridges, deep gorges, high-gradient slopes and mostly alpine pastures – which are vast stretches of land that lie above tree-limits and below permanent snow region. Incidentally, Jammu and Kashmir State has the largest area under Alpine Pasture – others being - Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. The area under permanent snow is about 7.56 percent of the total geographical area of these five states. Alpine pastures serve as grazing grounds for a large number of live-stock including sheep, goats, buffaloes and horses upon which economy of the hill people depends.
Hangul or the Kashmiri Stag is a subspecies of the Red Deer and is native to Kashmir which is also why it is the State Animal. The Deer lives in herds of 2 to 20 in riverine forests and high mountains and valleys of the Himalayas. At the start of the 20th Century, about 5000 Deers were known to have existed which have diminished to a mere 150 by 1970 due to habitat destruction and poaching. Spanning ten years, a joint effort of Jammu and Kashmir State and the international organization of Environment Conservation –World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – launched and implemented the ‘Project Hangul’ – a plan to conserve and restore the Hangul species– which proved very successful and brought up the count from 150 to 340 Hanguls by 1980. Despite all efforts, the Hangul remains an endangered species – running a risk of becoming extinct. This Kashmiri Stag – the Hangul is home only to the Dachigam National Park. And this is the primary reason for tourists to throng the Park each year.
Dachigam National Park attracts tourists for its unspoiled natural beauty with a huge variety of flora and fauna. Apart from the Hangul, the other animal species that are native to the Dachigam Park include the Wild goat (markhor), Leopard, Himalayan Grey Langur, Yellow-throated Marten, Himalayan Black Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Musk deer, ibis (long-legged wading birds with curved beaks) and Himalayan Marmot and Himalayan Weasel and Otters among others. Snow leopards are found only on the higher altitudes of the Dachigam and sighted only during winter months of December and January.
There are 150 species of avifauna in Dachigam and include Crimson Tragopan (known as Omo and Bap in Bhutan), the iridescent Monal Pheasant (bright coloured birds) with its glittering plumage, the Blood Pheasant (listed as ‘Least Concern’ by the UN) and the Koklass Pheasant (high-altitude bird). The Golden Eagle and the bearded Vulture or Lammergeier are seen circling the skies in the park. Cinnamon Sparrow, Black Bulbul, Himalayan Monal, Golden Oriole, Minivet, Pygmy Owlet, Woodpecker, Babbler, Redstart, Wagtail, Koklass Pheasant, Chough, Orange Bullfinch, Kashmir Flycatcher, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Streaked Laughing thrush, Himalayan Ruby throat, Wall creeper, Black-and-Yellow Grosbeak, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Titmouse are some of the birds seen in the Park – a bird-watchers delight!
The park has a rich vegetation cover, which comprises of various species of plants and trees that are hard to find elsewhere. Dachigam is a coniferous forest interspersed with alpine pastures, waterfalls and scrub vegetation which is usually covered with bright flowers such as blue Poppies most parts of the year except winters when they are covered with snow.
Under the ‘Protected Area proposals’ of National Interest, the Wildlife Institute of India has recommended extension of Dachigam National Park from existing 141 km2 to 400 km2 by including the adjoining areas and buffer zones like Dara, Brain, Khrew, Khanmoh, Shikargah Conservation Reserves and Thajwas Wildlife Sanctuary into Greater Dachigam.
In the continued Endeavour of protecting the Hangul, the Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Department have decided to have GPS enabled collars for Hangul.