Dachigam – Holidaymakers in Kashmir have another must-see item they can’t afford to miss — the Hangul, the only surviving species from the Asiatic Red Deer family.
All tourists need to do is to drive down to Dachigam National Park, around 22km from Srinagar, where the “critically endangered” deer can be spotted during specially organised safaris priced at only Rs 125 a trip.
The state today threw open the 141sqkm park, the last sanctuary of the brownish and two-horned Hangul, to visitors as part of a larger plan to boost eco-tourism. The deer’s numbers have fallen to around 150 from 2,000 in 1947.
“Tourists are enjoying the drive. Hangul and other animals live in wilderness, so it is a matter of luck to spot them but there are so many things to watch here,” said Rashid Naqash, wildlife warden of central Kashmir.
Visitors were thrilled, too. One of them was Howrah resident Rajeev Chaudhuri, who, along with his wife and two children, was among the first to savour the ride. “It is extremely wild and serene here, unlike some of the other places I visited in Kashmir over the past few days. It is great to be here and it is so beautiful around,” he said.
Officials hope the park’s other animals, like musk deer, leopards, black bear and langoors, will also be big draws.
Three battery-operated cars for the safaris will take visitors deep inside the park on rides that last about 90 minutes each. Only two trips a day are being offered at present, but the number will be increased once more such noiseless cars, which have zero-emission levels, arrive.
Entry to the park, located against the backdrop of towering mountains, was restricted and only those with special passes were allowed in. Now, tourism authorities are developing spots inside the enclave, which could interest nature lovers, at a cost of Rs 30 lakh.
Visitors loved the trips inside the park. “There are lots of birds apart from the enclosures housing leopards and bears. The trout farm is also spectacular,” said Chaudhuri.
Under the eco-tourism drive, 16,000sqkm of wildlife area will be developed over the next few years. A Karnataka firm, Jungle Lodge’s and Resorts, which operates the safaris, has been hired to prepare a blueprint.