A Yearning to Save Wolves.


(This blog was written in 2016 when I began my pursuit of wolves)

I am smitten and this is unchartered territory for me. This whole yearning, trailing, nearly obsessive wolf thing, I got going here. Somewhere in my subconscious, I still carry this image of Farley Mowat transporting jerry cans of vodka in the guise of aviation fuel as he prepares to fly out in search of wolves alone, in sub-artic Canada. He lived like the wolves, urine marking his territory and eating mice when there was no caribou.

I can picture Jiang Rong*, the young Chinese student, during his harsh posting in inner Mongolia, stumbling on the pack of wolves that inspired his most fascinating novel in the thick of the Chinese revolution.

You may have heard of Mark Rowland, the philosophy professor, who kept a wolf called Brenin−posing as a pet dog−in the US for the whole duration of its lifetime. Rowland got away with it. Running and living with Brenin, nursing him through sickness, Rowland finally, gave him the noble burial he deserved and went on to write about lessons learned from the wild. I never wanted this book to end. That just about sums up my limited reading on wolves; all of which sound like romantic fiction but isn’t.

As much as I enjoyed these true accounts, by very real wolf adoring people, what set me off on the wolf trail is a mere conversation in a remote Himalayan village, which I had visited with my family. There were suggestions of smoking out wolves from dens and killing of cubs for a price. All hearsay but nonetheless, one conversation led to another that left me all the more bothered and restless. I have always been a sucker for the underdog. As you probably guessed, the wolf in my narrative is one and I think it deserves a second chance.

There was one problem. I was clueless on where to begin. For starters, I had never heard of a Himalayan wolf till then. I am neither qualified nor trained to a conservationist. But I am beginning to wish I were. It’s a sure pass to visit areas that are wolf habitats or off limit, and also work with experts in the field. It was too late for regrets. I made a deal with myself. I decided to go look for wolves and convince myself they exist before chasing ghosts. The determining factor would be actually spotting one. I needed a sign. The chances were bleak. No one I personally know has seen Himalayan wolves** or knows anything about them. Or, unusually, had any good counsel for me.*** Was I chasing rainbows? A few local folks in the area thought so. “It’s impossible,” they said. “You need to stay in one place long enough.” “Don’t believe what so and so says.” “You may see dogs.” “Come back next winter.” “I guarantee you won’t see one where you’re going.”

I had a single day, a single window to try and stay true to the wolf and myself. I turned a deaf ear and marched on regardless, in search of my elusive underdog. It wasn’t easy. On a cold evening, I travelled to an unfamiliar village, the base for my ascent to a high altitude lake at approx. 15000 ft. Starting out at 3:30 am, I trekked under a star-dusted sky accompanied by Kunga, a local. The territory was new to both of us. In no time at all, we were both cold and lost. I was clambering up−sometimes on all fours−a 60º scree slope that felt more like 75º. I moved on mindlessly, like a determined, migrating beast. By the time I ascended to the top, I was so breathless I wondered if was high-altitude or plain exhaustion that would kill me first.


Then, in one instant, all thoughts and doubts were erased. I stood frozen to the spot. There, before me, in the first light of dawn, I saw running one after another across the dry lake, a pack of what looked like wolves. Not one but three or four. Could they be dogs? They certainly looked like wolves. Almost immediately, I heard a short bark to my right and then, a howl.

I felt the surface of my skin suddenly chill in response to my first wolf howl in the wild. I turned to see a solitary wolf, classically silhouetted on a rock, head thrust back towards the sky, communicating our presence to the rest of the pack. In a matter of seconds, they were all gone. Just like that. My mirage disappeared as rapidly as it had emerged leaving only footprints. Luckily my companion saw them too. We looked at each other, idiotic grins morphing our faces. I got my sign. A whole pack full! Suddenly, I was hungry for more.


**The Himalayan wolf is a newly discovered species distinct from the Tibetan wolf. (Wikipedia)

***I am extremely grateful to Mr. Chauhan, Range Forest Officer at Kaza who encouraged me to make the effort and also to Spiti Ecosphere for providing me volunteering opportunities to interact with locals and understand their perceptions towards wildlife.

My new story about wolves in two continents got published in Sanctuary Asia magazine . 

7 Reasons Why I Inevitably Head Back To Ranikhet To Recharge

Considering  I  live in Mussoorie, it sounds a bit irrational that I should seek another hilltop to escape to; but there’s something to be said for wanting to get away from it all and I find  Ranikhet is the place for me. Here’s why.

1. There aren’t many places on earth I can see the Himalayan range from Bandarpunch in the Garhwal, spanning across Trishul, Nandadevi, Panchaculi, in Kumaon, all the way to Apa Nampa in Nepal. After a good dousing of rain, the clouds settle and the air gets wafer-crisp. That’s when the peaks start revealing themselves. I can’t begin to describe how dramatically the colour of the setting sun sets the ice-cream peaks aflame.  Come September, right through February, you can see the whole range, dawn to dusk. Imagine that! It’s reason enough for me!

Himalayan range upclose
Himalayan range up close

Himalayan sky at dusk
Himalayan sky at dusk

Himalayan snow peaks behind the foothills
Himalayan snow peaks behind the foothills

2. Connectivity is erratic. Which turns out to be a good thing since the idea is to switch off from the everyday onslaught of data.  Going to Ranikhet feels like checking into a spa where without paying spa rates. With the exception of my camera, I travel light into Ranikhet and feel better for it when I leave.

Himalyan Babbler after a dunking
Himalayan Babbler after a dunking

A differnt hue of Himalaya
A different hue of Himalaya

3. I can enjoy the simplicity of pastoral scenes that are becoming rarer by the day.  I know I’m in Ranikhet when I see women carrying enormous  piles of grass on their heads and sickles in their waistband.  Or visit smoky tea shops where the tea and ‘fen’ taste better for reasons I can’t quite pin down.  I love seeing village girls neatly turned out in school uniforms, their hair plaited with red ribbons, cheerfully walking miles, to school.  I  enjoy the sound of cowbells as much as I like chatting with locals who treat me like an old friend even time I visit.

Village woman from Ranikhet
Village woman from Ranikhet

Women working the fileds in a Himalayan village
Women working the fields in a Himalayan village

A Typical Kumaoni house
A Typical Kumaoni house

4. Wildlife comes to me. I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to enjoy nature. Jackals, foxes, martens, Sambar, Barking deer and Serows, pheasants and leopard have literally crossed my path. As a nature lover, I  can’t help but spew rhetoric about being awakened by the sweet melody of whistling thrushes on my rooftop.  Or sipping chai in my garden watching the sunlight bounce off the iridescent head of the Flowerpecker. Or listening to the Francolin clearing his throat before every call.  And hearing a carpenter drill only to discover it’s a Yellow-naped woodpecker.  Or check out the latest leopard kill on the golf course. And seeing a jackal and a Steppe eagle soaking in the winter sun side by side! Or following butterflies that look so exotic, it’s a miracle they aren’t extinct. Need I go on?

Himalayan Khaleej pheasant
Himalayan Khaleej pheasant

Himalayan butterfly
Himalayan butterfly

Moth hawk
Moth hawk


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5. There is no home delivery.  No Mc Donalds, Pizza Hut, or Café Coffe Day outlets here as yet. Definitely no malls. And yes, I’m grateful for the “unspoiled ” flavour of the place. There are any number of restaurants and a proper market; so one won’t starve for want of sustenance. For those of us who have homes here, our small soirees end long before city-wallas begin their nightlife.



woman drying food on roof

6. Every house has a fruit tree,  flowering pots or a vegetable patch.  It could be the humble geranium in a rusty tin or the ‘kaddu’ drying on the rooftop; they make Ranikhet homely.




jacobean lily


7. Not too many tourists. Funnily enough some of the reasons I love Ranikhet are the reasons why it’s not a  popular holiday destination. Lucky for me!

mt silo