Dachigam National Park, located 22 km from Srinagar, is popular as the home of the rare and critically endangered Hangul or Kashmir stag. A former game preserve of the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, the park has been a protected area since 1910. Located among the Himalayan Mountains, the park is spread over 141 sq km. The park was the outcome of the then Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja’s efforts to create a game preserve and catchment area for Harwan reservoir. The reservoir supplied clean drinking water to the city of Srinagar.
Dachigam literally means ‘ten villages’. As many villages were relocated out of the forest as a part of the efforts to create the game preserve and catchment area. Under orders of the Maharaja, several species of trees, especially those preferred by wildlife were planted and efforts were made to increase the winter fodder available to wild animals.
The park is situated at altitudes ranging from 5500 ft to 14,000 ft. Due to the variation in altitudes the park is demarcated into upper and lower regions. The park’s terrain ranges from gently sloping grasslands to cliffs and sharp rocky outcrops.
The park boasts of over 500 species of herbs, 50 species of trees and about 20 species of shrubs. Besides Hangul, Dachigam is also famous for its populations of musk deer, leopard, Himalayan Grey Langur, leopard cat, Himalayan Black Bear, yellow-throated marten among others. It’s a paradise for bird watchers. Himalayan monal, golden oriole, pygmy owlet, koklass pheasant, Kashmir flycatcher, Tytler’s leaf warbler, streaked laughingthrush, Himalayan rubythroat and many other species can be found at Dachigam.
Dachigam national park is also known for its scenic locales. Flowers and greenery carpet grasslands and meadows except during winter, when the entire forest remains blanketed under snow. The sight of blue poppy blooms covering the grassland is a sight to behold. Wildlife enthusiasts believe that one visit to Dachigam is insufficient to enjoy the natural beauty of the forest since the park changes its appearance with the onset of each season.
The autumn rutting of Hangul should not be missed. Fierce male competition for mating characterizes the rutting season and the forest echoes with the mating calls of the deer.
After Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, Dachigam was managed by the State Forest Department. Jammu and Kashmir government notified the area as a sanctuary in 1951 and as a national park in 1981.