Pakistan’s diversity is remarkable in every aspect. From landscapes to weather and from its forests to the flora and fauna, Pakistan truly is a country full of colors. On just an ordinary day with random thoughts floating through my mind, I recalled a visit to one of Swat Valley’s exotic villages in the far north that connects with Kohistan range. The village offers one the most beautiful forests of Pakistan with veins of fresh water flowing all across. Beyond the tree line are the grasslands mostly occupied by the nomadic communities known as Bakarwaal. But it’s not just the beauty of forest or the grasslands that came to my mind. It was in fact the mesmerizing encounter with a beautiful bird that maneuvered through the open sky and passed within 50 meters as I was absorbed in the nirvana of surroundings. Frightened at one moment due to its sudden air-drag, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Known for its habitat in high altitude grasslands and human-shy nature, Monal is still for many, a fantasy bird in the real world.
A strikingly colorful member of the pheasant family, Himalayan Monal has iridescent rainbow-colored plumage. The male has a gorgeous metallic green head-crest, a reason why human species become a direct threat to its existence. A chestnut brown tail, light brown wings and a white rump are visible features in flight.
I once read a book by the 12th century Persian Sufi poet, Fareed-ud-Din Attar R.A, titled as, “Conference of the Birds”. The book was about the pilgrimage paid by a group of birds each of whom represented a human weakness, to their lord known as Simorgh. At the end of their journey, led by the wisest Hoopoe, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection.
All through the book, apart from the commonly known birds, Simorgh being a mystical character left a very prestigious impression on my mind. Each time, I would read through the word Simorgh, Himalayan Monal would be the only bird that could fit the elegance and grandeur of Simorgh described in the book.
Himalayan Monal is a highly communicative bird. It makes use of several calls to express meaning to its surroundings and especially its mate, other birds in its foraging group, or intruders. Monal’s breeding season begins in April when they are at higher altitudes. During this season, the male will sing throughout the day as opposed to morning calls in the rest of the year. Once a female in the vicinity notices the calls and visual display that includes bobbing his elegant crest and swinging around, the bonding begins until they become a pair and start scraping a nest in the ground. A monal female would lay between three and five eggs. Only the female is responsible to incubate the eggs alone and the male will stand guard throughout the twenty seven (27)-day incubation period.
When the summer starts, the Himalayan Monal ventures above the tree-line to wander on the grassy slopes as opposed to winters where they are mostly found in coniferous and mixed forests to take shelter from the weather. It is a high-altitude bird that remains between 2,100 and 4,500 meters above sea level.
In Pakistan the bird is most common in the province of KP but can also be found in Kaghan Valley, Palas valley of the Indus Kohistan and AJK. The Himalayan Monal is not considered a threatened species and can be found as much as five pairs per square mile. However, major threat to the species is poaching, as the crest is valuable to certain communities and is considered a symbol of pride. But a developing threat to the species is overwhelming pressure from the hunters who pursue the bird as a game for its meat and use the feathered-body as stuffed specimen to be demonstrated in their households and gifts to friends and family.
That day, when I saw the bird for the first time, the surrounding environment suddenly became incomplete after it vanished beyond a neighboring mountain. The freedom to dominate the skies and using the available land that suits the bird is, exactly what we as humans would like to have. I guess, it must be the humans’ inborn jealousy to deprive this bird of the freedom, which man desires for himself. Since having trouble in achieving that, it won’t let this beautiful bird exercise its basic right too.