Cold and clear, the morning was perfect for a walk. We pushed aside a dry thorn bush which served as a gate in the wall next to the road and stepped on to the steep path which led up to Messar Kund. The gate was very close to our hotel in Munsiyari. We had figured that it would take us an hour for this walk, and we could be back in time for breakfast.
There was a gentle climb to start with, as the stony path rose through a mixed forest of Himalayan white oak (Quercus leucotrichophora) and Rhododendron arboreum. At this height the rhododendron was still putting out new leaves. It always amazes me that the colours of spring are those of autumn in reverse. The new leaves start off bright red, and, as they get the sun, they slowly begin to produce chloroplasts, and change to green. In between, the red and green mix to give wonderful yellows. In autumn as the chloroplasts die, the reverse change occurs.
The path kept getting steeper. We stopped above the trees to get this lovely view of Munsiyari. On a clearer day we would have seen the Panchachauli massif from here. I admired the forest: a mix of oak and rhodo, on this slope, with the long needled chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) on the neighbouring slope. It wasn’t only the rhodo putting out new leaves, the oaks were doing that too. There was still some smoke down in the valley, but here the air was clear. We took off our jackets and put them in my backpack. A few sips of water, a handful of nuts and raisins, and we were ready to climb again.
The next part was steep, and looking at it, I stowed the camera in my backpack. There were white and yellow wildflowers growing between the stones, but I didn’t stop to photograph them. Suddenly, after a short steep walk, we were at a meadow with a beautiful clear lake beyond it. The ground up here was damp. The previous night’s rain had been heavy, but it had successfully doused fires and cleared the smoke from the air. The air was crisp, cool, as the sun peeked over the treeline above us. We sat on a stone above the fall and looked out at the valley below. The view was interrupted by branches.
I walked around the huge boulder at the edge. Two different kinds of lichens grew on it. The dark green one was flecked with colour. I suppose this is the variety of lichen which can leach minerals from stone and bind it to organic molecules. They are an essential part of the cycle of life out here. The amazing shape of the white lichen probably tells us that it has been growing on this rock for a long time. I looked at the rock carefully; it had round eye-like inclusions which made me think that I was looking at an example of Augen Gneiss. That would make it among the oldest rocks in this region, formed almost two billion years ago. The lichen is a mayfly in comparison.
It was much faster going down. We stopped to watch a white throated laughing thrush search for food. It was manic, we kept losing sight of it in the flurry of leaves it scattered as it looked below them for food. It is a species in search of genus; it was once the Garrulax albogularis, then became Pterorhinus albogularis, and recently has been renamed Ianthoconcia albogularis. The shifts in name reflect the ferment in classification of birds due to the ever expanding data on genetics. It seems to like the middle heights in this season; we’ve seen the bird quite frequently in the last two months at heights of 1500 meters and above. We were down very quickly, less than the hour we had estimated. Time for us to scatter leaves; time for our breakfast.