Ashwini Bhatia



I have lived and worked in the Himalayan region of upper Dharamshala for almost two decades. When I first arrived here I lived in a wood cabin above a lake surrounded by cedars, oaks, pines and rhododendrons. The woods hosted a large number of birds and I woke up every morning to the song of the Blue Whistling Thrush. That made me want to know more of the bird life and I started carrying with me a field guide (Collins Birds of India) on my walks. Soon I was able to recognise many of the most common birds in my area.

My interest in the flora developed very late. Over the years I had seen several wild flowers grow but apart from rhododendrons, wild pear blossoms, and begonias, I did not know many by name. That changed in 2014 when I started photographing butterflies and plants on my daily walks. The mountain path I continue to walk each day to work takes me through a mixed wood of conifers and broadleaf trees and is flanked by shrubs and wildflowers on both sides. That gave me a lot to work with and in the evenings I poured over books at home to identify what I had photographed during the day. It was very time-consuming and difficult work.

It all changed when I was invited by Dr Garg to join this group sometime in the second half of 2014. I started posting the plants I did not know or was uncertain about and the replies came almost immediately from experts. When they didn’t come quickly, Dr Garg sent reminders and it was all very efficient. I was thrilled and asked many questions–there was so much to know. It gave a great impetus to my learning and now barely a year after joining the group I walk on the very same path familiar with most of the plants. Apart from the expert advice I also received a lot of encouragement from the senior members and participated in many a lively discussions.

There is still a lot to be studied as the flora here is vast and species numerous. But being part of this very active group and knowing that I have the luxury to dip into its collective knowledge pool encourages me to continue exploring.



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