A trip to the Himalayas
- Dates: April 2023
- Location: Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan, China
- Participants: E.A. Koblik of the Moscow Zoological Museum, the staff members of the Severtsov Iinstitute of Ecology and Evolution RAS and the Lomonosov Moscow State University
This joint expedition of the staff members of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution RAS and Lomonosov Moscow State University (including Zoological Museum) was not accidental or spontaneous. A well-coordinated team of mammalogists, ichthyologists, and ornithologists from these institutions has been working, a lot and fruitfully, since the 2010s in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan of the People's Republic of China, at the junction of the Tibetan Plateau and densely populated indigenous China. This is a region of interpenetration and mixing of the cold Tibetan “tundra steps”, the coniferous mountain forests of the eastern macro-slope of the Plateau, and the lower-level subtropical landscapes heavily developed by man. Therefore, this entire region is known for its enormous faunal diversity of both species and higher systematic groups of animals of open arid lands, taiga-type moist forests, and even natives of tropical biomes. It is inhabited by a lot of endemics and subendemics, which are mostly relict representatives of the ancient groups, whose descendants had dispersed to the north to have become the ordinary inhabitants of the Russian steppes and taiga.
The planned research in China has been temporarily postponed a couple of years ago due to Covid-19, but an idea arose to visit instead the Nepalese Himalayas, an area similar to Central China in many landscape and faunal characteristics and no less interesting. I have happened to visit the Himalayas three times since 1998, and I convinced my colleagues of the fruitfulness of this idea.
A group of 7 participants (most of them were full members of the Russian Association for the Himalaya and Tibet Researchers) started in Nepal on April 23. The trip lasted three weeks and was mainly reconnaissance in nature.
After a brief acquaintance with the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, we visited the Langtang National Park not far north of the capital. We managed to climb up to a height of 2500 m by hiking trails and get acquainted with a piece of the park covered with mountain subtropical forests. Despite the help of the porters, we could not get to the dark coniferous forests of our interest, as we did not have already enough time and energy.
We made the next rush to the west, namely, to the valley of the Kali-Gandak River, separating the mountain ranges of two eight-thousand-meter mountains, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. A quarter of a century ago, there was only a pack trail there, along which I and several colleagues have made a multi-day hiking trail from the Tibetan principality of Mustang (located north of the axial ridge of the Himalayas, we had to fly there by a small plane) to the subtropical city of Pokhara. Since then, a road has been built there, but because of its poor quality and traffic jams caused by rockfalls and landslides, we crawled up to the Mustang by bus for more than eight hours.
The researchers had to split up for the sake of time, with one group surveying the high-altitude (up to 3,500 m) steppes on the border of the Upper and Lower Mustang, whereas the other remaining in the coniferous forests at the bend of Kali–Gandak, right on the centerline connecting the eight-thousand-meter mountains. Despite the beginning of May, the climate turned out to be harsh over there: the snow has just melted at the top, there was no foliage or grass, and the rodents of our interest have not yet come out of hibernation. Everything turned green in the forest zone, but it was still freezing in the morning, it rained now and then in the afternoon, and it was a hail sometimes and very often a heavy fog there, as the cloud descended right in the gorge. But when it was becoming cleared up, the scientists used to look surroundings with the magnificent views of the snow-covered Himalayas against the background of a deep blue sky!
And of course, we could not refuse from a visit for at least a day and a half to Chitwan National Park, a pearl of the protected areas of the lowland part of Nepal. We happened to get acquainted (and I personally refreshed my memory) with the tropical savannas and gallery forests filled with a variety of birds, large mammals (deer, wild boars, rhinos, monkeys), and large reptiles, including the monitor lizards and two species of crocodiles. We took a jeep tour, canoeing, and several hiking trips, including a visit to an elephant farm. In contrast to the cold Mustang, the temperature in Chitwan sometimes reached for more than 40 degrees in the shade, but this did not turn out to be a big hindrance.
In total, the researchers were lucky to watch the representatives of about 180 species of birds, more than 20 species of mammals, and at least 10 species of amphibians and reptiles in the wild. By the instructions of the Russian Geographical Society, about a dozen water samples were taken from different watercourses for analysis of their microplastics content. We gave two lectures at the capital Tribhuvan University and established good contacts with the dean and staff of the Zoology Department of that University. The participants of the expedition also noted that the hospitable Nepalese received them with an amazing cordiality!
It is the author’s pleasure to express a special thank to Nadezhda Neupokoeva, the “resident” of RAIGiT in Nepal: our impressions of the country won’t have been so exhaustive without her help in organizing logistics and wonderful excursions that opened up the history of Nepal for us. And we hope that cooperation between Nepalese and Russian zoologists will continue to make it possible for us to visit that amazing country more than once for the research purposes!
Photo by the author