Swallowtails by the roadside

LachungLachung is the jump off for the beautiful┬áLachung valley which contains the Singba Rhododendron sanctuary, Yumthang alpine meadow and hot springs, the Dombang vale and the beautiful outpost of Shiv Mandir. The many small quaint bed & breakfast type lodges line both sides of the road in Lachung. Once the Lachung monastery was visible from all over town, but the new found economic boom has resulted in raw, brick and RCC buildings blocking off the view. Lachung is one of the best places to see the high altitude butterflies – even when you are rushed for time.

In the narrow roads, if you are coming from across the Lachung Chhu, the vehicle has to climb up to the main road junction at the State Bank of India and back twice and turn to face Yumthang. Just as our Gypsy turned, a flurry of fast yellow butters flew off from the rd side drain beyond. I was instantly charged up. They looked a little like Lime butterflies but had tails – I could hardly wait for one of them to settle down. When they did, there was no doubt – they were Common Yellow Swallowtails or Papilio machaon. This butterfly is the Common Swallowtail of Europe and the British Isles, and it occurs in our country in the Palearctic zone – the upper part of Himalayas where conifers and rhododendrons are to be found! The swallowtails were sitting on the sandy bottom of the drain and sucking the moisture.

Common Yellow SwallowtailPhotographing them was a trial. They would zoom to a spot, hover for a while and perch enticingly. Just when you line up your camera and get it focussed it moves or flies off. My first snap had no CYS, the second, third and fourth caught it as a blurred figure in flight…. it took ten minutes of patient waiting to get them. But yet they made my life miserable by unpredictably moving forward to find a nicer spot to probe. So one of my shots has the butterfly on edge in the image. Aargh, great viewing but no really good shot before its time to go.

Common Yellow SwallowtailWatching them was a pleasure! There, all of us stood watching the butterflies performing for us.They swooped back and forth to the same spots, hovered awhile, selected a place to alight, probed awhile with wings held half-open. The Swallowtail has a furry body with nice pointed tails, different from the spatulate tips of the Common Mormon and its mimicry models of the plains. The wings are an intricate network of black on yellow-green background. The Swallowtail has a dark band along the termen of the hindwings with a set of black-bordered blue spots and an orange patch on the tornus which are quite catchy to look at. The Swallowtail is not the flashiest of Indian papilionids but I found it growing on me very fast. I found greater pleasure watching its graceful flight than I had found watching the Great Mormon or the Blue Peacocks some months ago!

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