Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Trip Report – Thar Desert (covering Tal Chhapar, Jorbeed, Karni Mata Temple, Kheechan and DNP)

Day one – 12 Dec 2015 (Saturday)

Drove from Delhi in the morning on Delhi-Jaipur highway, thick fog. Took a left turn at Neem Ka Thana for Seekar.  Reached Taal Chhapar before the sunset. Barheaded Geese, Imperial Eagle, Black Bucks, White-eared Bulbuls, Grey Francolins, Variable Wheatears, Common Hoopoes, Southern Grey Shrike, Indian Rollers, Lesser Whitethroats, Red-naped Ibises, House Sparrows, Small Minivets from the road.

Night stay at Forest Rest House being run by private contractors (who have no interest in birds – Sharad Shreedhar was an happy exception in the past). Sh Surat Singh Poonia was very helpful.  Meals made by FRH is below average though expensive, without any Rajasthani flavor.

Day Two – 13 Dec 2015 (Sunday)

Drive on the well laid down dirt tracks inside the sanctuary was a joy. Vast expanse of the dried up grass carpet was a light golden ocean waving in good breeze and sunlight. Spent  more than 7 hours inside and drove back to the FRH for night stay.

Birds – several flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks, possibly Asian Short-toed Larks with a few Bimaculated Larks, Southern Grey Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Desert Wheatears, Isabelline Wheatears, Variable Wheatears (two races), Paddyfield Pipits, Long-tailed Pipits, Tawny Pipits, Egyptian Vultures, Tawny Eagles, Steppe Eagles, Laggar Falcons, Common Kestrel, Lesser Whitethroats, Kashmir Flycatcher (Harkirat Singh Sangha was  doubtful about its ID), Cinereous Vultures, Montague’s Harrier, Marsh Harrier, White-eared & Red-vented Bulbuls, House Sparrows, Indian Silverbills, Common Babblers, Brahminy Mynas, Rosy Starlings and other common species. Spotted Creeper is now famous for this area.

Efforts should be made to encourage the local people whose houses are located between the road and the sanctuary to provide Home Stay to the birders and other tourists.

Day Three – 14 Dec 2015 (Monday)

Left Tal Chhapar and drove towards Bikaner (for Jorbeer) via Bidasar, stopping every now and then for birding on way. Locals must be admired for feeding wild birds near all temples small or big. Such a place was Benatha, where we saw huge concentration of doves, pigeons, mynas, bulbuls, sparrows, babblers, peafowl feeding together.

‘Ram Ram Sa’ written on roadside small dhaba attracted our attention and we relished hot paramtha with curd (all home made by the owner). I request friends to encourage such type of eateries.

Jorbeer Vulture Conservation Area : reached by noon and the sky was full of vultures and vultures, hundreds of them. The entire road from Camel Farm to Bhojanshala is full of birds on both sides. We tried to find out Vinayak Guest House location where we were expected to stay, but failed. Later one one Forest employee told that the guest house was located in Bikaner and not near Jorbeer, so we spent time till evening at Jorbeer and saw plenty of vultures and other raptors.

Birds : besides usual wheatears and pipits, hundreds of Egyptian Vultures, Griffon Vultures, Cinereous Vultures, Steppe Eagles, Tawny Eagles, possible a couple of Greater Spotted too were busy in feeding on the dump. Red naped Ibises, egrets, Common Starlings and Hoopoes were also enjoying. Plenty of stray dogs. Was told that when the wintering raptors migrate back and leave the site, the dogs keep the field clean of dead animals. Of course, Punjab Ravens too.

Drove towards Karni Mata ka Temple.

Karni Mata Temple : famous for rats, stayed at a hotel for night halt and relished ‘Bajre ke roti with Saankhre ka saag’.

Day four – 15 Dec 15 (Tuesday)

Entered the mandir and rats, thought the floor was icy cold, were slowly scampering everywhere. Took rat-tasted Prasad. This happens only in India.

Jorbeer again – drove back towards Bikaner and spent a few hours at Jorbeer, where we met and interacted with Dr Anil Kumar Chhangwani and Ram Nath Kumawat with their research team. Pale-eyed Pigeons too. Yellow-legged Gren Pigeons.

By noon time, drove towards Kheechan.

Kheechan : reached in the afternoon, sunny day, were thrilled to see thousands of Demoiselle Cranes resting along the water reservoir. Keshav Raj (incharge of tickets and safety of the cranes) was very informative about these cranes. A few wintering ducks in the reservoir.

Reached Sevaramji’s house opposite to Chugga Ghar. Such a cheerful and expressive person. He kept us enthralled by his a to z knowledge about the cranes and history of the place. Stayed at his place for the night.

Day Five – 16 Dec 2015 (Wednesday)

Next day morning, by 9 AM, Demoiselle Cranes started arriving. The sky was full of them. The atmosphere was reverberating with their calls. What a sight! Scores of bird lovers reached the roof of Sevaramji’s house and he was offering them tea, free of cost. He accepts donations though. We were free by 11.30 AM. We left Kheechan for Desert National Park. Sevaramji has one room with two beds and attached toilet .. basic amenities only, but he is planning to build more rooms. People can stay at a nearby Kurja Resort.

Reached Khuri by evening and night stayed at Khuri Fort resort. Food has Rajasthani flavor, though not many tourists.

Day Six – 17th Dec 2015 (Thursday)

Drove towards Sudasari. Cream-coloured Coursers, a pair of Great Indian Bustards, Black-crowned Finch-larks, swarms of larks including Great Short-toed and Bimaculated, Desert Larks, could be more lark species too but we were short of time. Three Punjab Ravens, wheatears were fairly common, and so were Tawny Pipits.

Drove back via Sam sand-dunes to Jaisalmer and from there to Philodi-Kheechan and by 8 PM reached Nagaur.  Night stay.

Day Seven – 18th Dec 2015 (Friday)

From Nagaur, our destination was Pushkar Teerth. Reached there and spent some time. Darshan at Brahmaji’s temple. At Ajmer, bowed to the Dargah Shareef. The large jheel was a joy to watch. Drove towards Sambhar lake.

Sambhar Lake : 3 Common Shelducks, dozen of Flamingoes – Lesser as well Great. Other ducks, Pied Avocets, 80-100 Painted Storks and equal number of Grey Herons. Unfortunately there is no guest house or hotels in the vicinity so we had to drive towards Jaipur for night stay.

Day eight – 19 Dec 15 (Saturday)

Drove back to Delhi, the hell of traffic snarls.

Planning to be do Desert trip again as soon as possible, for a longer duration.

Pix to follow.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Trip Report – Rishikesh-Chopta from 21 Feb to 28 Feb 15

Day one – Saturday, Feb 21
Drove from Delhi to Rishikesh via Meerut, Roorki, Haridwar, Chilla. Evening walks along the Gangaji and Ram Jhoola; night stay.

Day two and three – Sunday/Monday, Feb 22 and 23
The course at the Yoga camp was quite familiar, so we took a break and walked upto the water fall near Garud Chatti.. Birdwatching around Mohan Chatti.

Day four – Tuesday, Feb 24
Drove from Rishikesh via Garud Chatti bridge over the Ganga; passing Shivpuri, Vyasi, Devprayag, Shrinagar, Kaliyasor, Rudraprayag, Agastyamuni, Tilwada, Chandrapuri, Bheeri.

At Bheeri or Bhiri, we took a right turn to be on the ever climbing hill road. At Bheeri, a traffic jam caused a delay of one hour; yet managed to reach Yashpal Negiji’s Birdwatchers’ Camp at Makku village by 6.30 PM.

Heard Mountain’s Scops Owl’s calls intermittently at night.

Had dinner  and went to bed.

Day five – Wednesday,  Feb 25

It was raining since morning, light drizzle and snow falls at Baniyakund (Chopta region), so movement was restricted to the room and ‘now and then’ peep to the nearby bushes where both bulbuls, two species of sparrows, streaked laughtingthrush, chesnut-crowned laughtingthrush, common stonechat, grey bushchat, grey-winged blackbird, black francolin, spot-winged grossbreaks, pink-browed rosefinches, snow pigeons obliged us with decent views. Dinner and sleep. Mountain Scops Owl was still calling at night.

Day six – Thrusday, Feb 26
Sky was partly clear, no rains. Yashpal Negiji took us on a gentle climb down to his village, seeing flocks of Spot-winged Grossbreaks, Snow Pigeons, Grey-winged Blackbirds, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Spotted Forktails, white-capped river redstart, Plumbeous Red starts, Yellow-rumped Honey Guide, white-throated and chestnut-crowned laughting thrushes, Golden Bush Robin, Common Buzzard, Kaleej Pheasants, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Himalayan woodpeckers, Red-billed Blue magpies, Grey Treepie etc.

After eating late breakfast of ‘Mandua ki roti with chatni and ghee’ drove towards Chopta despite snow covered road; soaked myself with the life-giving wilderness from Makku to Makku bend watching birds like Rufous Sibia feeding on the flowers of buraans. Snow on the bugyals and road was everywhere; at a few places 3 to 4 feet high. Piles and piles of snow – vast white carpet all around; even driving was not so easy at some stretches.  Lunch at baniyakund; ‘raayii ka saag’ was delicious.

Birds obliged again – I was lucky to sight Alpine Accentors, Altai Accentors and a Mistle Thrush I presume. Plenty of sibias, Himalayan Whistling Thrushes and other common speices.

Returned by the sunset, dinner and rest.

Day seven – Friday, Feb 27

After morning breakfast, drove back. Negiji was with me so lot of birds on way  including Black-throated Accentor, Rock Buntings, Chestnutbellied Rock Thrush and other common species. Reached Haridwar via Chilla canal.

Day eight – Saturday,  Feb 28

Drove to Rajaji National Park and took the first jeep safari inside from Chilla. Pugmarks of the big cats, several sightings of spotted deer, sambar, wild boars, Crested Serpent eagle, Changeable Haw-eagle, white-eyed buzzard, Grey/Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, woodpeckers, treepies, Indian Rollers, Black-headed Orioles, vultures, red jungle fowl and other common species.

Left for Delhi at 1200 noon stopping ror a while at Bheemgauda barrage to see Grey-headed Fish-eage, several Great Crested Grebes, numerous Mallards, pochards, geese and ducks. Took late lunch near Mujaffarnagar and reached home by 7 PM.
Yamunotri Trip Report – 9th May to 11th May 15

9th May 15 – Saturday. Weather sunny and hot.

I will not give the evocative description of the eco-pilgrimage I made  to the Yamunotri, my third such trip.nMay be I will give the coldly precise one. Okay, I will try to keep a balance between my poetical outpourings and censorious comments on the eco destruction.

After negotiating the torturingly long and over-crowedly cumbersome chaotic river-fuls of vehicular traffic with plenty of iffs and buts, whys and should-be’s, through Delhi to Ghaiabad to Meerut to Mujaffarnagar to Roorki to Haridwar; it was a much needed and expected relief to our oxygen-thirsty lungs and greenery hungry eyes when we reached on the Bheemgoda barrage and drove towards Rishikesh barrage via Chilla canal road. My most favourite road in the northern India so far. Alpine Swallows swooping down on the waters of the Ganga made our lips turn into smile-widening mode. Other avian friends delighted us equally. The drongo-cuckoo was learning his countings in an ascending scale.

Small patch of the road in Rishikesh upto the one that leads us to Narender Nagar was full of unfriendly noisy  Vikrant auto-rickshaws. How do these sadhus contemplate in these places? Why the Ashramwalas don’t demolish their ashrams and climb further up? Leaving these places to the commercially-minded traders and businessmen and equally nature-blind tourists?

If the flow of the river stops or becomes stagnant at Haridwar/Rishikesh,  the Ganga here will become a sewerage .. as bad as is the Yamuna in Delhi. But who cares? Our present religious heads are no more spiritually enlightened but commercially oriented… only bait for them is money and publicity (as the case with all so called experts). There are exceptions too.. but who cares?

Once on the road  to Narender Nagar, it was a joy to see the woods, trees, hills, rivulets and birds…Passing by the Kunjpuri temple bend, we were driving towards Chamba… brief halt at Kothari Dhaba for lunch and tea. The slope from the dhaba to the passing rivulet was full of garbage .. all unbio-degradable wrappers and covers and bottles… who cares?

Driving past Chamba on the road to Gangotri and Yamunotri, we stopped at Kandisaur for night halt. Nearly 400 kms in a day.

Paradise Flycatcher was the highlight.

10th May 15

Morning we woke up to the bird calls. Wire-tailed Swallows were perched on the wire and calling. After quick breakfast, we were heading  towards Dharasu Bend..there we took left turn towards Badkot and Yamunotri.

On way, we stopped when we saw two Sadhus drying some leaves in the sun near a small waterfall.. On being asked, the elder sadhu told me that those were the bhang leaves to be smoked later as charas. The sadhu told us all without any inhibitions,  explaining that it helps them to walk miles and miles without feeling heat or cold or tiredness… When I asked him more about their ‘on foot’ trip, his answer was that he prefers to be travelling single or double because “Ek niranjan, do sukhi; Teen main anban, char dukhi” (The One (Brahman) is pure Being, two (Purush and Prakriti)  are happy; three (the jeeva, the maya and the agyan) are quarrelling; the four (the divided and fragmented beings seen through separated egos) are sad). Happy as it made us, we offered him a big currency note, which he happily accepted and offered his blessings. For some reasons, he reminded me of Rahul Sanskrityayan’s First class traveler.

On way, seeing a parked van with a banner “pilgrimage on foot from Haridwar to four Dhams and back”, I stopped the car and asked the young looking man who was eating his breakfast with 6 or 7 others including some  women about their trip.  He happily explained that the van (Maruti Omni) carries their kitchen and other stuff while they all walk and stops on way whenever rest is needed… I admired and appreciated their efforts.. This is van-dwelling travelers, a new trend in India to be encouraged more and more. I request my friends whenever they see such groups, please appreciate and encourage them.

At a village, saw a group of  young boys and girls, all dressed in their best. Stopped to enquire the cause. Was told by the most charming girl of them that her niece was being married and they were waiting for the groom and his party to arrive. I looked at the shirt of a young man .. that caries the painting of Salman Khan, who was recently awarded jail term but was also granted bail by a higher court. I asked the reason why he was wearing this second-degree bollywood hero on his shirt and not the paintings of folk singer Negi, environmentalist Sundar Lal Bahuguna or chipko movement leader Chandi Prasad Bhatt.. the man looked down without answering but I am sure he must have thrown away the shirt at the earliest opportunity available. The charming young lady smiled torrents of approvals at me and was mesmerized how the driver of a Haryana Registered Car was knowing so much about their local culture heros. Happy surprise at their faces made me accelerate the car a bit suddenly, holding the front two wheels few inches high off the ground below.

After driving on smooth road sandwished with the pine-forest on both sides, we observed a young man covered in currency note garlands and wedding make-up, being photographed by his cousins and brothers and friends. When I asked, one of them happily told me that they were going to the ‘bride home’ for wedding… so this was the baraat the other young ladies were expecting to arrive… I asked the groom why he was looking sad and depressed instead of feeling elated and happy, he could manage  a very  faint smile but others burst into laughter. Car engine also laughed noisily in the second gear from neutral one.

We stopped at a secluded tea-stall, long in length but narrow in width. While tea was being fixed, was updated by the tea-vendor that a leopard had killed a woman who approached the feline unknowingly while cutting the grass for her cattle. But the big cat was not a man eater, she was simply protecting herself or may be her cubs too…. as no other case of human attacks was reported afterwards.

I appreciated his respect for the leopards. ..that is my way of encouraging love for wildlife.

Suddenly a few yards from me, a car coming from the opposite direction halted, the driver waiving his right hands outside the window for me to stop. I too braked. He came out .. must be of my age.. and asked me to get out..After making sure that the unhappy looking  man was safely harmless and in utter need of some emotional help, I got out of the car and asked him ‘why’ with my facial gesture.

He pointed to his co-traveller.. a lady.. in jeans and shirt with modern hair style. Still she could be a heart throb,  though in her late fifties. The man, apparently her hubby told me that his wife had been distracting his mind from the road by her ‘red wattled lapwing like’ nonstop criticism on something he had committed in his past many hours before. I looked at her face. To my happy surprise, she gave me her sweetest smile and apparently felt delighted at her hubby’s dramatic way of expressing his love and attention for his wife (and also his sincere apology). I looked at them both without uttering a single word..feeling myself speechless... the lady swiftly sprang to her feet and came out of car and hugged her man in the most mesmerizing manner. I quickly retreated back to my seat and ignited the engine. At the happy ending of an otherwise  Shakespearean tragedy, I heard a Himalayan Blue Whislting Thrush outpouring his best musical notes from a nearby pine tree branch. A pair of Oriental Turtle Dove alighted not far from their vehicle on the roadside to glean grass seeds or perhaps to collect nesting material.

We drove ahead leaving the couple in their softest romantic display.

Drive  from Badkot to Syanachatti was smooth, but from Syanachatti to Janakichatti, the landscape turned from beautiful to mesmerizingly soothing.. Deodar trees and other mixed forests were teeming with bird calls. Crossing Ranachatti and Hanuman Chatti, we stopped at Janakti Chatti. Checked into a hotel along the river Yamuna.. it began to rain with thunders. Snow peaks were visible.

Night halt at Janakti chatty hotel.

11th May 2015

Visit ed Yamunotri temple. Sprinkled water as a token of our respect  to the river and the mountain. While the men and women were interested in ritualistic performance, religious pandas were interested in earning their mone, no one was interested in spiritualism.  Our feathers friends -  Brown Dippers and two species of Riverchats, tits, vultures, Large billed crows, laughingthrushes made their presence felt.

But we were distressed to see the insensitiveness of the priests as well as tourists to maintain the cleanliness of our holy places. Hope someday, someone in the administration will take notice and do something real on ground. I don’t expect anything worthwhile from our religious heads as they are more money minded than a trader, and nothing from the so called pilgrims as they are more interested in washing their sins rather than respecting the sacredness of our nature.

The punya goes to the cattle .. donkeys, horses, mules, ponies. One of them, due to not many tourists to carry on his back, was rolling on his back kicking all his four legs in the sky. See him in the pic.

Drove back towards Badkot, Dharasu and Utarkashi. Night halt at Netali in a hotel on the bank of river Bhagirathi.

Trip Report to Gangotri in next part.