Oct 29, 2018

Rajasthan birding - RTR & DNP

Rajasthan – this name brings to anyone’s mind thoughts about desert, camels, oasis, sand dunes and people in colorful attire; while there’s much more to Rajasthan than just these. Sample these – huge forts, palaces, a hill station, wildlife parks, bird sanctuaries and mouth-watering taste of food. Desert National Park (DNP), Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (RTR), Sariska Tiger Reserve, Keoladeo Ghana National Park or the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, Tal Chappar (TC) wildlife sanctuary are some of the prominent wildlife habitats that host the critically endangered but magnificent Great Indian Bustard (GIB) to a good population of Tigers, Blackbucks, Caracals, Bustards, Cranes and a whole lot of more that can only be seen by exploring the vast state.

Ever since my friend Raja Bandi moved to Rajasthan, there was an open invite for me to visit and me along with Kannan and Harish sir ensured the invite was used judiciously by touring Rajasthan and exploring the wildlife for a good two weeks. Also, should I say, I shopped till I dropped ensuring my baggage over ran its limitation on our return journey 😊. We did this circuit ex-Jaipur by hiring a local cab, a Qualis with a jugaad AC set-up to beat the heat of the desert land.

Jaipur - Ranthambore - Jaipur - Jaisalmer - Desert National Park (Khuri/Sudasari) - Kuldhara - Phalodi(Khichan) - Bikaner - Tal Chaapar - Sujangarh - Jaipur - Bharatpur - Jaipur for a good two weeks enduring the hot days and the chilly nights, particularly harsh were the three nights we stayed at the Desert National Park.

We did couple of safaris in Ranthambore National Park in jeeps/vans on the routes as our vehicle was allocated and the impression was that of a traffic lined up city with vehicles choking up the small town as well as the routes in the park and in the very usual sighting of a tiger somewhere, the scene would be nothing less than a chaotic rush. The guides, drivers and most of the people who visit the park have just one thing on their mind – Tiger. Anything else is irrelevant to most of the folks and I’m not sure whether it’s a collective failure of the system or it’s just the inadequate knowledge that people possess. Ranthambore is quite popular for the numerous sightings and has been in equal news for many reasons like human-animal conflicts, prosecution of tigers, missing tigers etc, etc and etc… Overall, like many other tiger reserves in our country, Ranthambore is crippling caught between human interferences, policy holders, touts (resorts, operators) and a very dilapidated system managing it and between these are also present saviors, just like a cloud with a silver lining.

Aside the distressing stuff, the rides we took were in different zones almost every time and each with a different kind of habitat having a unique feel. While other folks on our shared vehicle were unhappy with not seeing a tiger, we were relishing all that we could see amidst the dust and the chaos created by vehicles. Harish sir even took up the task of educating a group of young folks about wildlife and birdlife and changing their mindset to observe and enjoy all that is seen in the wild because there is so much on offer. We did not see a tiger and we were not disappointed with it.

Next day, we set out on our long journey to DNP from Jaipur, a long, very long journey by road in an old warhorse, Qualis that was in decent condition despite its age. We took nearly about 12 hours to cover the 600 odd kms. The entire stretch of highway is laid out neat, but you need to watch out for vehicles that are driven at high speeds and cattle/wildlife that spring on to the road in a bid to cross them. Having a local driver at your side gives you the advantage of halting at restaurants/dhabas for the best of food and we did relish the Rajasthani cuisine wherever we stopped.

At the Sudasari Eco camp in Desert National Park, we had a local shepherd, Rizvi, as our guide who is also notified as the Tourist guide through which he earns money to run his livelihood, a classic example of involving local community in conservation. He accompanied us for the next two days where we ventured out in search of the highly endangered Great Indian Bustard, as DNP is one of the places where more than 80% of its existing population survives. as well as other bird species that are found in the region. Along with the bustards, we did sight the Laggar Falcon, Imperial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Desert Courser, Indian Courser, Long-legged Buzzard, Variable Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and numerous other inhabitants of the desert.

The Desert National Park is one of the last sites in India that hosts a good number of bustards in the wild. When I say good, do not interpret it as something great and to be more relative we say 6 birds, that's roughly 5% of the total bustard population in Rajasthan and roughly about 3% of the total bustard population in India! If the numbers isn't making sense, digest the fact that less than 200 individuals of the GIB are surviving in the world/India and they may go extinct soon if their natural areas are not protected! That would be a disaster losing such an magnificient bird that was once in the reckoning to be the national bird.

After spending a good two and a half days at DNP, we moved towards Bikaner birding all along the way at a small water body near DNP, Khuldara – the deserted village, another waterbody near Pokhran and Vijayasagar lake at Khichan for the Demoiselle Cranes that flock this lake in thousands that itself is spectacular to watch.

With some good birds sighted along the way, we reached Bikaner at nightfall and stayed at Jitu’s place – Vinayak Guest House – a birder’s haven...

To continue...

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