During my summer holiday visits to my hometown in Himachal Pradesh, I was mesmerised by the strange illustration of a male pheasant that adorned our wall. It was a western tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus), Himachal’s state bird — one that very few people have actually seen in the wild.
Each district of Himachal Pradesh seems to have its own name for this colourful bird, lovingly calling it phulgar, jyaazi, or pyaara. Locals near my hometown call it jujurana or the “king of birds” and believe that god created it by collecting the feathers of all other birds in the world. In English too, this bird is referred to by its more descriptive name, black-headed tragopan or the western-horned tragopan (referring to the ‘horns’ that emerge during courtship). This shy, elusive bird is one of five species of tragopans found in the world, and one of two tragopan species found in the western Himalayas, in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. It is endemic to these high-altitude montane forests and is not only protected in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, but also found in a special conservation breeding facility at Sarahan in Himachal Pradesh.
Fascinated by this bird, in 2018 I decided to film and document it. An expedition team was born to achieve this seemingly bizarre goal inside the Great Himalayan National Park in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh.