Wild Rajasthan : Through my eyes

Discussion in 'Travelogues from North India' started by iamsomnath, Jan 14, 2018.

  1. iamsomnath

    iamsomnath Where is the remote?

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    Tawny Eagle :
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    THE PLANNING


    I was preparing a wild-life trip of Rajasthan , away from the crowded tiger-parks for a long time. Whenever one thinks about the birds of Rajasthan , the first name that comes to mind is Keoladeo-Ghana of Bharatpur , and it was the first name that I struck off from the list because most of the common birds there have been covered well by me elsewhere, hence for me it was looking for newer opportunities.


    The first name that came to mind is of “Tal Chappar” , an erstwhile dust bowl with sparse vegetation and a population of Black-bucks and some raptors, now bloomed into a restricted grass land teeming with birds , mainly thanks to the conservation efforts of one Soorat Singh Poonia , a forest official. An overnight train journey from Delhi and you are there, hence presumably at arms length , an idea which will prove grievously wrong, the stay at the fabled Forest Rest House was an added attraction. Ram Singh ( Ramubhai ) who is a third generation wild-life guide was recommended by many and I booked his service for two days.


    The next stop had to be Bikaner , a city under the shadow of a huge fort, often passed by the tourists. My main target was to get the three types of vultures that would complete my vulture-list of India. The wise and energetic Dr. Jitu Solanki would be my guiding light there for a couple of days, and from there, I will be venturing into arid and endless “Desert National Park” where the self-taught and incomparable Musa Khan will hand-hold me for 4 days, and would guide me to the countless treasures of his land.

    On my way back I would have a couple of days stay at touristy Jodhpur and would fly out of Delhi back to my City of Joy.

    So, the logistics were taken care of and Sukanya, my wife and Shouryya & Shritama , my two teenaged kids along with me started to count the days down.



    INDIAN FAILWAYS AND TAL CHAPPAR 1st day , 23 -24 Dec’2017


    An early morning flight brought us to a very sunny Delhi ; we checked into a hotel at Panchsheel Enclave and went out to explore the Red Fort a bit. Traversing around a million of tourists and having a sumptuous meal at “Kake-da-dhaba” , after braving a hungry line of diners for 45 minutes we returned to the hotel in the evening when the first text pinged it’s ominous arrival in my phone. My 11 PM train would now start at 7 in the following morning , there goes the chance of an early morning arrival and safari at Tal-Chappar. The message had the ominous ring (pun intended) of being the harbinger of more bad news.


    Anyway , we decided to stay the night at the hotel. At around 3 in the morning , the second text came deferring the train to 12 in the noon, thus potentially wasting the whole day for us. That pushed the panic button and once I clicked it a few more times , I found myself with my earlier tickets cancelled and with a fresh set of Sleeper Class ticket at “Salasar Super Express” which would bring us at TC during the midday , somehow salvaging half a day and an evening safari for us.


    We boarded the train from stinky and dirty “Sarai-Rohilla” station and munched our way through various snacks to Ratangarh station , quite late at around 1.45 PM. Throughout the journey Ramubhai was in touch over phone and took order of the lunch that we would have upon arrival , and then would start with the safari.


    Just outside the station a dusty Bolero was waiting for us , driven by a rugged youth, who was extremely economical with speech ,and somehow communicated in monosyllables that some Tau or chacha of the DFO has chosen this very morning to breath his last, and this extremely sad event has compelled the entire populace of TC to go in mourning. Hence Ramubhai would not be available for the safari and he , the Ice-man will show us around.

    A 45 minutes long ride , which resembled more like a drag race took us to the FRH. En route I could watch a few Egyptian vultures, Steppe Eagles and other raptors perched here and there, also could see an Indian Courser crossing the road in front of us , barely avoiding the marauding Bolero by an inch.


    The much fabled Forest Rest House is a testament to all the good intentions going horribly wrong. Built by an eminent architect , beautifully and thoughtfully constructed in 2007 ( ? ) , now leased out to someone by the Forest Department , and maintained by a royal regiment of one Cook and one understudy of the Cook , this huge structure has fallen in dusty disrepair and complete absence of service.


    We were welcomed into the FRH with the heartening news that we would be having no lunch, for no plausible reason and Ramu , who sounded extremely apologetic on phone, suggested that the village shop keeps cakes and biscuits and we better make the use of them. We dived into our food bag , and had a few bites of whatever snacks we had and started for the safari which would start at the gate next to the FRH. As soon as we reached the gate we encountered a gang of college kids , perhaps two bus full , who rushed into the forest , all brandishing there phones , with the common intention of somehow clicking a selfie with a Black-buck.


    The Forest Department is perhaps awake to such demand because just beyond the gate a couple of Blackbucks were patiently waiting , seemingly for some biscuits from the tourists in exchange some selfies. Once the crowd lost the charm of these tame Blackbucks , they started a great chase of the Black-buck packs , thereby drowning the entire forest , which is extremely beautiful in itself covered with golden grass, in savage mayhem. I instructed Ice-man to drive ahead of them , which he did with great alacrity, mainly because he is more of a racer than a safari driver and after sometime we were at some rather vacant spot of the forest. I tried a few tester for the Ice-man and he confirmed in no time that he doesn't deign to have any information about any birds which are inedible.


    So I took it upon myself to dig out some birds and it was clear very soon that the entire forest has become disturbed due to the ongoing ruckus made by the crowd and all the birds/animals have either gone away or skulked .

    Now upon my suggestion that we should try our luck somewhere , Iceman drove us out of the jungles , exited through the gate and drove a few miles down , through some dusty villages to a place called “Gaushala”. At this place they dump the carcasses of the cows and some scavengers are expected. But as luck would have it , all we had were some dogs fighting each other for the dead-meat and at around six we returned to the FRH , all beat-up and feeling like dead-meat ourselves. On our way back we picked up some apples and chikoos, along with some peanuts-in-shells.


    While Sukanya and the kids retired into our room at the first floor , I went to the kitchen in search of a cup of tea, where I met with Girdhar the cook, who has the strict demeanour of an Army General, and promptly upon meeting informed me that nothing can be served in the rooms and even the bed teas are to be had in the Dining Hall. Thus educated & disciplined, and after the first cup of tea in aeons I met with Ramubhai , who welcomed me with a smiling face and told me that he will accompany us for the next full day which would start at 7 in the morning , quite late by any standard but perfect for Rajasthan , being situated at extreme west of the country where the first light comes only around that hour of the day.


    We took an early dinner and turned in for the day. I silently thanked the other members of the team as they chose to laugh out the ordeals of the day. Our bodies were tired but spirit was high and I had hopes that an early morning start would enable us to beat the revelers who would surely come in numbers again, and some sighting might be in the offing.



    MORNING DOSEN’T SHOW THE DAY , TAL CHAPPAR DAY 2 : 25th December



    The morning started sans any intruders to the tranquility of the forest. Had to climb down to the kitchen for a cup of tea and the safari started in no time. From the very first moments it became clear that Ramubhai knew about the terrain . It is this local knowledge that makes or breaks any guide and Ramubhai started to find the birds out of the bushes. First a Laggar Falcon , a cherished lifer , then an Eastern Imperial Eagle, next a Steppe Eagle , the count started to grow.

    The beauty of the terrain of TC is that due to large expanse of the golden grass , in the background of the spare vegetation and azure blue sky , it is rather easy to shoot birds , because they almost always perch upon quite open branches of the trees. The days started to roll on , had an Indian Fox , then another couple of them. Much to my chagrin we had to return to the FRH for breakfast. It is an usual norm on birding trips that breakfast is taken on the field to minimise downtime. There is great scope of improvement in this regard at TC.


    The breakfast consisting of puri and bhaji was quite delicious. But the time taken was sizeable and upon hitting the road , we drove to Gaushala , again to encounter nothingness. We saw a nest of a Raptor from quite a distance through Binocular. Here one point I must say that Ramu is a very responsible guide. He never allows his guests to venture too close to the birds lest they get agitated, a trait which I really appreciate. To my pleasant surprise we bumped upon a fellow birder/IMer named Himadri and as both of us were in the mood of bird-chasing , we said goodbye to each other after a few pleasantries, with a vow to catch up later somewhere in more relaxed circumstances.After 11-30 the light became too harsh and we returned to the FRH.

    The FRH was in the meantime completely decked up for some sort of social function, a large number of cars were parked around the FRH compound, sumptuous meals were being cooked , large decorative tents have been erected and about 200 ladies and gentlemen were thoroughly enjoying themselves. We jokingly said that they must have been the parents of the college-kids of yesterday. Anyway they had pretty much the same effect of completely ruining the serene atmosphere which we sampled for precious few hours of the morning.


    Post lunch, which was again quite tasty vegetarian fare, Ramubhai took as to a salt pit nearby. To my surprise they were teeming with water birds. Shot many of them , from a very close range, the highlight being the “Pied Avocets”. We scurried some known spots for Indian Eagle Owls but in vain. At around 4.45 we returned to the forest again, it was quite settled by then and I bagged a few Bar-headed geese, foraging on the grassland instead of the usual water that they favour , some raptors like Monatgue's Harrier , Long legged Buzzard and Common Kestrel. Then the sun turned crimson , our day came to an end. Ramu offered me a morning safari , for which obviously I was supposed to pay extra, to specifically search for the elusive “Spotted Tea Creeper”, but I had the information that they are easily visible during September , October and in December their sighting was highly infrequent. So I decided to move very early to Bikaner to start the safari there, a decision which proved very fruitful later on. So we crashed in the bed quite early.


    Here I must sum up that Tal Chappar , as little as I have seen of it , is still a paradise for birders. The species are many but I have not seen them in great numbers. For someone like me who has plenty of Blackbuck images from other places, and who is not too keen to photograph them , TC is a bit of let down. Ramubhai is a very capable guide and a very spirited guy. He can perhaps perform even better if one stays somewhere else other than the FRH.The outsaid stays nearby are much more economic, fast and convenient. Now it’s time to bid adieu to TC , which has given me some pretty satisfactory sighting and photo-ops , in spite of the rather less time that I could spend there in the end.

    This will be a longish TR with details , so will post the next part shortly

    Endangered Luggar Falcon
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    Blackbuck male
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    Indian Fox
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    Southern Grey Shrike
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    Pied Avocet flying
    [​IMG]

    Tal Chappar grassland
    [​IMG]
     
  2. viveksheelsingh

    viveksheelsingh Well-Known Member

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    _/\_ _/\_ .. very well indeed sir. pleasure reading it. pics turning out to be show stealers so far.
    college gangs - why the eff do they come to desert safaris ? whats in there for em ? I had once encountered a gang from chandigarh in a jim Corbett resort, who completely spoilt the entire day for me. When they entered the safari - they were chanting random slogans - which scared away even the monkeys... Stupid f***s.
     
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  3. iamsomnath

    iamsomnath Where is the remote?

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    Thanks. They are part of the India package perhaps.
     
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  4. Sachin Jatkar

    Sachin Jatkar Well-Known Member

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    Nice start dada..
     
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  5. iamsomnath

    iamsomnath Where is the remote?

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    Thanks bro.
     
  6. pushpinder

    pushpinder Guru

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    Excellent write up.....

    And as always, sooper pics!
     
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  7. Alpha

    Alpha Going to Neverland

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    nice start !!
     
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  8. iamsomnath

    iamsomnath Where is the remote?

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    Thanks Doctor , thanks Alpha and other friends.
     
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  9. Suneesh Sharma

    Suneesh Sharma Love my Iron Beast

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    Beautiful captures :)
     
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  10. rameshtahlan

    rameshtahlan Super User

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    Fantastic

    happy landings
    RT
     
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