Tag Archives: birding

The tall, beautiful and a mate for life!


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They are the true ‘love-birds’. Always found in pair and always remain loyal to each other. Hardly we recognise bird species with these qualities but our guide or naturalist- as they liked themselves to be called as, was more than beaming in explaining Sarus Cranes to us in this manner. But it was really so amusing to hear all this, though we had already heard about crane couple ‘singing’ and dancing together and seen some amazing photographs earlier too.

Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur has been one of the favourites to watch this amazing bird, although they can be found in Gangetic plains. There number is decreasing constantly everywhere, including Keoladeo, due to various threats. Hence it was on top of my bucket list while going to this amazing bird sanctuary. Our naturalist cum guide Gajendra Singh told us that there were hardly around six pairs left in the park.

We weren’t that lucky on the first day. We could see a pair but it was quite far in the fields (pic above) and due to a stream flowing in between, there was no way to get closer to them. I was still able to get a slightly closer view through my telephoto and look of its dark orange head was exciting enough.

Its an amazing bird without any doubt. It is the tallest flying bird in the world, standing at six feet (taller than me). Its wingspan is bigger at almost eight feet. How fascinating it would be to watch this bird fly!

Also Read: The giant turtles of Keoladeo National Park

We were luckier next day morning. Early mornings are always the best time to watch birds. Company of an energetic guide helped. What helped more was the fact that we were on cycles and hence were able to go to interiors of the park where a cycle rickshaw or a tonga wouldn’t have been able to. We were able to locate a pair at a distance. I will always suggest to go inside the Keoladeo National Park on a bicycle.

Since it was a dry patch, it was possible to go closer. Another benefit of going to a bird sanctuary is that you can dare to go closer to the birds for nice close-ups. Although there is always a fear that they might fly away, but then that’s a chance you need to take. Something you are not allowed to do in a wildlife sanctuary.

Our naturalist Gajendra Singh was busy telling us about Sarus crane, as how they will mate for life with a single partner. They are always found in pair and rarely in large group. He also told us that if any one in the pair dies, the other one will stop eating food and thus give life too- something which we were not able to corroborate factually, although I have heard of this from various people.

I left others behind and started moving in the field closer to the pair. I was clicking while moving forward and also taking care of the ground below- small pools of water, marshy area, thorny bushes and any chance encounter with an unwanted reptile.

My idea was to get as closer as to get a good close-up shot using my telephoto lens and also not too close to scare them away. They indeed noticed me coming close, but didn’t fly away. Just kept moving further.

For a layman like me, it was tough to distinguish between a male and a female. Another interesting thing about this bird pair is that they both (female as well as male) incubate the eggs for a period of 26 to 35 days.

Sarus Cranes are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list, mostly because of the loss of habitat, i.e. destruction of wetlands due to human population pressure, expansion of agriculture, ingesting pesticides and lot more.

There are said to be 25,000 to 37,000 Sarus cranes globally with there population limited to Indian sub-continent, south-east Asia and northern Australia. It is sad to know about their reducing numbers as they are known for their ability to live in closely with humans. They live in open, cultivated, well watered plains, marsh lands and lakes. Such areas suit them well for foraging, roosting and nesting.

Going closer to the pair and returning back to others and our bicycle took too much of time. But I was still content, wanted to go more and more closer, but didn’t want them to fly away hence marked my limit and turned back.

It wasn’t like I didn’t want to go further, but having spent two hours already and now after watching a pair of Sarus crane so closely, I knew I could call off the visit without any regrets. And in any case, in any wildlife trip you can’t see everything in a single visit. I already had two.

Where: Home to a host of migratory birds and large number of domestic birds, Keoladeo Ghana National Park is located in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. Park is on the outskirts of Bharatpur city. Park gate is right on the Agra-Jaipur national highway about 20 kms from Fatehpur Sikri and 65 kms from Agra.

Park is open from sunrise to sunset. Unlike other national parks there are no safaris, no motor vehicles allowed inside. We can walk inside the park but that takes too much time and one won’t be able to see big area while on foot. There are cycle rickshaws as well as tongas. Best option is to take a cycle. Also take a guide as they will be able to tell you about the park and its birds. Guides also come with a high powered binoculars to watch birds at far off places. Rickshaws, tongas and guides have per hour rates while cycles can be hired for the day. There is also an entry fees for every visitor.

Also see: Perfect host for a birding trip

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Perfect host for a birding trip


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For many people visiting to a wildlife sanctuary or a national park, what matters most is a good trip to the park, but it certainly helps if you get a comfortable place of stay after a tiring trip to park. Sunbird  hotel at Bharatpur gives many reasons for a pleasant stay.

Outside the rooms said to be two best on the property

Too many plus for a hotel which normally won’t fall into the big brand category. Actually, to my surprise it was few of those hotels which hardly gave any reason to complain or even dissatisfied with. When we checked in, the staff said that we were being given the two best rooms in the property and we couldn’t have disagreed. For a place like Bharatpur, this hotel has one of the best location you can ask for. Property is just five minutes walk from the main gate of Bird sanctuary.

Hotel is located in the area called as Saras circle and most of the hotels in Bharatpur catering to tourists coming to bird sanctuary are in the same area.

Spacious room with an extra bed

We booked two rooms and had asked for extra beds in both the rooms at he time of online booking. To my pleasant surprise, at the time of check-in the extra beds were already in place in both the rooms. My experience so far, even at many five star hotels has been that they will place the extra bed only by late in the evening. But here, they were already in place. It actually helped all of us to immediately stretch ourselves after a long road journey.

A garden right in front of our rooms

Rooms were very spacious, clean and good. Right in front of our rooms was a beautiful garden that constantly gave us a nice cosy feeling of being close to a bird sanctuary. Actually, whenever we stepped out of room, we felt like having a slice of the bird sanctuary. Full marks to design of the hotel in this regard. You might feel like seating outside your room lazily on a chair and enjoy the surroundings or just read a book.

A meeting room in the garden

Actually from outside, you don’t get the feel of the property. You just can’t imagine that it would be so big inside. But once you move inside further from the lobby, you get to see the space. There are four cottages around this garden and four rooms including the two deluxe rooms we stayed in.

One of the cottage around garden

Rooms are neat and clean with wardrobe, study table, a sofa, safe and tea-coffee maker and a 32 inch LCD television, but you hardly feel like switching the TV on in this place.

Another view of the room

Hotel has been aesthetically designed with traditional Rajasthan interiors. Moreover, rooms have photographs or beautiful pencil sketches of various birds found inside the Bharatpur sanctuary. It always gives you a feeling of the place you are in.

Photos and sketches of birds in the rooms

As far as food is concerned, we didn’t have meals here, so can’t say anything about it. But buffet breakfast was part of the tariff, so we had it on all days and was satisfactory. It has to be acknowledged that it is tough for a hotel to manage breakfast when it is so close to a wildlife sanctuary, because most guests will be either having an early breakfast before going to the bird sanctuary or will have a late breakfast after returning from sanctuary. But staff managed it very calmly and kept fulfilling all requirements. But having said that, food is perhaps the only department where they need to improve a bit.

Staff was in general very courteous and forthcoming. Overall stay gave us a relaxed feeling. Surely looking for another visit.

Location: Hotel is located at Saras circle which comes as soon as you enter the Bharatpur city. While coming from Fatehpur Sikri, when you reach Saras circle a road goes straight into the city and another one, the Agra-Jaipur national highway turns left. Hotel Sunbird is just 100 metres away from the circle on this road. Main gate of bird sanctuary is further 200 metres from the hotel.  Fatehpur Sikri is just 20 kms from Bharatpur.

P.S. Bharatpur doesn’t have too many good independent restaurants. Most of talked about restaurants are attached to one or another hotel. We tried to find some independent good food options, but were not satisfied. You need to keep that in mind.

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Lot more than flamingos at Sambhar

Though flamingos were my primary interest and they were who actually pulled my all the way to Sambhar, but wintering at Sambhar is not all about flamingos. Flamingos might be very high in count and attraction but there are many other birds coming for winter migration. As I said in my last post, there are more than 70 species of birds coming here every year.

Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake
Pied avocet at Sambhar Lake

So while I was busy admiring flamingos at Sambhar lake, I couldn’t have failed to notice and try to click few other migratory birds. Pied avocet (pictured above) was the among the first one to come across and was quite attractive because of its distinctive beak and black & white appearance.

Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake
Northern shovelers and gadwalls at Sambhar lake

Though there were some northern pintail and pochards as well, but I could manage to get close view of only these northern shovelers and gadwalls.

Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake
Black-tailed godwits in flight at Sambhar lake

Black-tailed godwits gave me some very nice shots while  flying as above and some wonderful reflections like below. It was indeed one of my favourite photos.

Black tailed godwits make a good reflection
Black tailed godwits make a good reflection

Among the pink glare of flamingos, these migratory birds also had their marked presence. Actually besides the lesser flamingos, eurasian curlew and black-tailed godwits have also among the threatened species of birds of Sambhar.

other migratory birds at Sambhar
other migratory birds at Sambhar

Among the common birds often found on backyard shorelines to be seen here were black-winged stilts (below). This thin legged bird is often considered to be cutest among the waders.

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a pair of black winged stilt at Sambhar lake

And, then when I covered whole distance from ramp (where I parked my bike) to the railway track, then across the railway track on a high tension power line, I suddenly saw this crested lark (below). It looked so fascinating and keen to give me some cool poses.

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Crested lark

I finished with the flamingos and was on my bike again on way back to the main city. I crossed the salt fields and deserted railway stations. Just when I though that I had finished everything at Sambhar for this trip, then suddenly few metres before the railway crossing I noticed another marshy area to my right and there were more birds and in fairly good numbers.

a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake
a flock of marsh sandpipers flying over the Sambhar lake

A flock of flying marsh sandpipers caught my notice and in a flash my bike was parked and camera was out. They looked so fascinating in their flight.

a group of Bar headed geese
a group of Bar headed geese

Also with them was a small group os bar-headed geese. I had recently seen them in Kankwari Lake in Sariska and it was easy for me to recognise them. I tried to go closer but they were quick to avoid and flew away at a distance (below). So cute! Isn’t it!

bar-headed geese in flight
bar-headed geese in flight

In the same group of bar-headed goose, I was also able to notice two Brahminy shelduck. This distinctively beautiful bird migrates from south-east Europe and central Asia and winters in Indian sub-continent. But I could see only two of them.

a pair of Brahminy Shelduck
a pair of Brahminy Shelduck

With this shot of marsh sandpipers, I reluctantly switched off my camera and was back on my bike.

marsh sandpipers
marsh sandpipers

It was indeed a great mini photo-tour. Quite satisfying for me in terms of number of birds as well as number os species, that I was able to capture in my images. The feeling made the return journey a bit less tiring.

and finally… the pink flamingos

Moving ahead from Devayani, I was asking every other guy the way to Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal. The way wasn’t far from Devayani. Just half a kilometre ahead was a railway crossing and the just before the railway line was a dusty path going inside the salt fields along side the now unused railway track. There were many structures in the area, all of them actually remnants of a very well-planned rail network meant for the salt extraction. It looked like a no-man’s land. I kept on moving ahead till there was a way. Till that time I didn’t even had an idea that how the chatri of Daadu Dayal looked like. Track wasn’t easy, but still negotiable and enjoyable. Then, I suddenly saw a man out of nowhere and asked him about the exact location of the cenotaph, and luckily also about the possibility of birds.

Chatri (canatoph) of Daadu Dayal
Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal

Thankfully enough, that man told exactly about both the things and all of a sudden I had wings in my wheels. My primary interest was in birds. Cenotaph was bit ahead in the salt fields and I needed to walk. Bird site was towards left. I unhesitatingly turned towards the lake. I was so anxiously waiting for that moment. Already had pink salt and pink sunset as prelude to this. There was a ramp being built to connect the village directly presumably to the cenotaph. Ramp actually bifurcated the water body which sheltered the birds. I parked my bike on the ramp and then walked alongside the mud-mounded wall to separate the salt fields from the normal water body. And then I was filled with joy on seeing this-

Flamingo colony close to railway track
Flamingo colony close to railway track

That was how the flamingos looked from the distance while lake water was filled with different types of waterfowls. I laughed out at the fact that this was the same railway track from where I and Sohan Singh turned left towards the salt fields last evening. We were searching for birds, hardly aware that they were just on the other side of the railway track, but were not visible from that side as track was on high earthen mound. Now, they were, right in front of me.

I kept moving closer to the colony-

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closer-

Sambhar Flamingos9

and yet more-

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until they decided to move away a bit farther-

Sambhar Flamingos12

I will admit that my primary objective to go to Sambhar was to see some pink flamingos. The reports of their dwindling numbers were already making rounds for past many years. So I wanted to be there at the earliest available opportunity. Had seen flamingos earlier at few places in India, including Chilika and Rameshwaram. But Sambhar was ought to be quite different from others.

I was so amused that passengers travelling from Jaipur to Jodhpur via train can always enjoy these birds next to their coaches. These images were so interesting-

Saline wetlands of Sambhar have supported large population of flamingos and more than 70 species of other wetland birds. Flamingos have been found to breed in this area. Sambhar is said to be unique ecological habitat for winter avian migrants.

But this place has many challenges which actually threaten its very existence. What can be a bigger irony than this, that though Sambhar Lake was designated as a wetland of International importance under Ramsar convention way back in 1990 and was also marked as an Important Bird Area (IBA) but this is neither a bird sanctuary, nor a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. Hence there is no protection to this site under wildlife protection act. Isn’t this disgraceful to these wonderful creatures-

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After Great Rann of Kutch, Sambhar Lake is the second largest wintering and breeding ground for flamingos in India. Its an ideal habitat. Its vast spread of open waters allows most aquatic birds to land in flocks and find for themselves enough space to remain aloof and separated with no resource competition.

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fall in line!

Sambhar has both-Lesser flamingos as well as Greater flamingos. But there has been considerable decline in number of Lesser Flamingos in last few years.

Flamingos were aware of my presence and they kept moving from one place to other. There were other disturbances as well- grazing cattle, dogs, trains, humans, as this part of the lake was right adjacent to the Sambhar town. What was interesting that they all moved in unison.

Fly away
Fly away

Feeling threatened they will fly together, not high enough-

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and then land to a safer place-

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Even while walking in shallow waters, their movements were very swift-

Sambhar Flamingos19

All together-

Sambhar Flamingos20

But what looked most fascinating was their flight. Normally they will daily take rounds of the region in afternoon and then come back in the evening-

Flying high
Flying high

But what gave me best shots of the day was a little game between dogs and the flamingos. Two young dogs first kept playing with each other in the water and then all of a sudden they thought to give the flock of flamingos a chase in shallow waters of the lake, although very aware that it was very futile. But than it was all in the game and to my delight, I was able to get some satisfying images of their flight. See for yourself (click on images to have full view and enjoy)-

These were some low moments but there was also few high and close ones-

I kept on clicking and clicking till I touched the deadline to leave for the return journey of another 350 kms. Otherwise, it was never enough for me-

Sambhar Flamingos28

Sambhar Flamingos29

… and as if saying goodbye to me-

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I will surely be back, for more time perhaps. But still this isn’t all from Sambhar…

Birding in a tiger reserve

I am not a birder specifically, but being interested in wildlife I love bird watching as much as I love sighting tigers. Both give you equal chance to play with your camera. All the tiger reserves and national parks per say (other than specific bird sanctuaries) too have rivers, lakes, ponds and other water holes which are shelter for waterfowls and migratory birds. Jungle themselves are best places to see the birds. Having been to few bird sanctuaries, this was first time I specifically kept time to see birds in a tiger reserve and I was certainly not disappointed. Hence, comes this fourth post from Sariska visit.

Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh
Kankwari Lake surrounded by hills of Rajaurgarh

Sariska is a big national park and has many perennial sources of water which in turn become good harbouring ground form birds. Hence, when you are close to a water body, it makes easy for you to locate birds, rather than when you are in jungle as then you are always moving in a safari and desperately looking for bigger animals. It is tough to locate birds while on move, unless you are an expert in movement and sounds of birds. I am neither. Hence I tried to give some time close to lakes to see birds. One is the Kankwari lake, which is right at the base of the hillock on which Kankwari fort is built. Other lake is close to Sariska gate on right side of the main road leading to Pandupole.

The lakes or the water bodies of the Sariska Tiger Reserve also have many crocodiles, as is normal with this region. Ranthambore too has man crocodiles and Sariska and Ranthambore share the same topography.

Sariska Tiger Reserve has almost 225 recorded bird species which makes it ethereal for bird watchers. Among them are many rare species as well. Few are even endangered ones. While there is a large number of resident species, it is also a good wintering ground for many migratory species of central Asia. I was delighted to see a big colony of Bar Headed Goose at Kankwari Lake. This bird migrates from Central Asia and is said to one of the world’s highest flying birds. It is distinguishable by two black bars on back of its head.

There were also Brahminy ducks, as they are commonly known in India. This Ruddy shelduck also migrates from southeastern Europe and central Asia. This is quite distinctive due to its colour.

A Brahminy duck
A Brahminy duck

At Kankwari lake, I was also able to see a group of Black headed ibis on the other side of he lake as they probably didn’t want to get disturbed.

Black Headed Ibis
Black Headed Ibis

There were also painted storks and a black-necked stork high up on a far tree. Clicking storks in flight is very fascinating because of their size and amazing flight.

While returning from the Kankwari fort, we also got to see few spot billed ducks distinctive due to  a yellow spot on the tip of the beak and orange-red spots at the base of the beak.

Also were fortunate to locate a Golden-backed woodpecker on a tree. This bird is so agile that it is tough to click it, still I was able to. Although it is quite common but too beautiful, not to click a photograph.

Golden-backed woodpecker
Golden-backed woodpecker

At the other lake, I was also able to see Eurasian Spoonbill. This migratory birds is identified with its spoon shaped bill.

Eurasian Spoonbill
Eurasian Spoonbill

Another interesting sight was of Yellow footed green pigeon. They get so camouflaged with the colour of the trees that it is tough to spot them, but they really look beautiful. These common green pigeons are residents of Sariska.

Overall it turned out to be a good sightings in limited time and was quite enjoyable. There were few more like cattle egrets and command pond herons and others.

SO, next time you are in Sariska, keep your eyes open for birds as well. Mansarovar Dam near Tehla gate is also a big wintering ground for migratory birds. So when, you go to Neelkanth Temple, you can keep some time to visit this dam also for a bit of birding. There is a also a lake at Karnakawas.

Any question? Please write me and I will be pleased to answer to best of my knowledge.

 

Winter play for migratory birds at Chilika

Chilika is one of the milestone places in India. It is the largest brackish water lagoon. Now what is brackish water? It is the water which is saline or salty but not as salty as the sea water. It happens when the fresh water mixes with sea water. There are 52 rivers and rivulets that fall in the lake. Secondly, Chilika is also a lagoon, and it is not just largest coastal lagoon in India, it is also second largest lagoon in the world. As if it was not enough, it is the largest wintering ground for migratory water-birds anywhere in the Indian sub-continent.

A early morning boating on a local boat in Chilika lake.
A early morning boating on a local boat in Chilika lake.

Chilika is spread in three districts of Odisha- Puri, Ganjam and Khurda. Puri side is mainly popular for Dolphin tours from Satpada. Satpada is around 50 kilometres from Puri. It is on northeast of Chilika lake. Tourists can book dolphin tours from Puri itself. Once you do that you can be transported from Puri to Satpada by bus or you can go to Satpada by any public or private transport and than take boats for a ride in Chilika. OTDC organises connected tours as well. Once you reach Satpada, you can go to jetty to take up boat.

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Tourists on Satpada jetty

Chilika lake also has biggest population of Irrawaddy Dolphins in world. Every year in February a census is done to determine the number of Dolphins in the area. In 1997 the process of counting started. Firstly it was a broad estimation than it was done systematically every year. The number has been increasing constantly and it is around 160 at this time. Environmentalists say that increase in number of dolphins is an indicator of improvement in the ecosystem and quality of water.

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A sea gull and a Irrawaddy dolphin

Boats from Satpada will normally take tourists to a island called Rajahamsa (राजहंस). Its while going to this island and coming back that we have chance to see the dolphins. This island is 18 kms from Satpada and it is actually located at the mouth of the Chilika lagoon. Rajahamsa is actually a narrow strip of land with one side towards lagoon and another towards Bay of Bengal.

Rajahamsa island
Rajahamsa island

Island has developed into a small business hub for various tourism related activities. Locals will even try to sell ‘original’ pearls extracting them from shells live.

A cruel way to get 'pearls'
A cruel way to get ‘pearls’

But this Satpada side of Chilika is known only for dolphins. Migratory birds often don’t come here.  Migratory birds are mostly located o other side of Chilika. Their base is at Nalaban island which is located in 15.5 sq km area. Nalaban is a sanctuary area. It is estimated that among the 9 lakh waterfowls coming to Chilika every year, almost half put base in this sanctuary area.  Birds also reach to areas like Mangalajodi and Bhusandpur.

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Tourists at Nalaban island and the watch tower on the back

Most of the migratory birds coming to Chilika make their winter homes at various islands in the lake. Besides Nalaban there are Krushnaprasad, Kalijai, Somolo, Honeymoon, Breakfast and Birds island. One can see  Dolphins in this area as well.

A pair of dolphins with fishermen boats in the background
A pair of dolphins with fishermen boats in the background

Most interesting part is that one has to go deep inside the lagoon through a boat to watch the migratory birds. There are country boats but they won’t take you much far so you need a mechanised boat. You need time to enjoy the birding at Chilika. Since islands are scattered in the lake, therefore it is not possible to see all of them in one go. One can watch birds on the way. But you need few days in hand to enjoy the birds and the beautiful ecosystem of Chilika.

Chilika lake was the first Indian wetland to be included in the Ramsar Convention in 1981. Later, due to poor conservation it was included in Montreux Record which is a list of threatened Ramsar sites, but in 2002 it was removed from the Montreux list after lake was rejuvenated and restored. Chilika is also known for its fish farming due to rich fish, shrimp resources.  Locals are lot dependent on fish produce from the  lake. It is estimated that around 1.5 lakh fisherfolk live around the lagoon.

A fisherman adjusting his net
A fisherman adjusting his net

How to reach: For watching Irrawaddy Dolphins, one has to go to Satpada, 50 kms from Puri and than take a boat ride from the jetty. For watching birds, there are three places to go inside the lagoon- Barkul, Balugaon and Rambha. All these three places are located between Bhubaneswar and Berhampur.  Hence these can be accessed by road and rail connectivity between Bhubaneswar and Berhampur. Balugaon and Rambha have railway stations on South East railway. Nearest airport is Bhubaneswar. Balugaon is 96 kms, Barkul is 105 kms and Rambha is 130 kms from Bhubaneswar.

Local people going places in Chilika
Local people going places in Chilika

Best time to visit is obviously November to February as for most of the birding sites in India. Barkul, Balugaon and Rambha have Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) guest houses for stay. Few other hotels have also come up in the area in recent years. At all these three places you can hire boats run by OTDC as well private operators. Private operators will always bargain.