Tag Archives: National Park

Keoladeo : Tips to travel inside park for some serious bird watching!


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Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur in Rajasthan has always been the numero uno of India’s bird sanctuaries. One of the oldest and the most acclaimed one. It is also close to hearts of all birders as it was the playground of India’s most known birder, none other than Salim Ali for more than half a century.

Visiting this park is always a thrill for serious bird watchers. Watching birds here need some good planning. I will be discussing tips for good experience of bird watching at Keoladeo in few posts. Here is the first one on means to travel inside the park and the charges associated with them.

Morning mist in Keoladeo

Firstly, it is a bird sanctuary, not a tiger reserve. Hence no safaris are needed here. Since we don’t have normal wildlife, else than deer family, reptiles and predators are very rare (unless some big cat moves in from any nearby forest), hence it is safe for tourists to roam around. Since it is all about birds, than we probably want to enjoy a closer view of them and don’t scare them away, hence no motorised noise-making vehicles are allowed inside. This is quite sensible.

Forest department has some battery operated vehicles to move inside with their work. There is also a Tourist rest house inside the gate of the park, but not deep inside and actually before the second check post of the park. This is also close to the Salim Ali bird interpretation centre. Tourists staying in that RTDC rest house might take vehicles to carry the luggage. Overall, it is in our interest to enjoy the park in as much less noise as possible. After all, we are here to listen only to the birds. Isn’t it!

Jungle Babblers

Secondly, park is open from sunrise to sunset but obviously, you won’t be enjoying birding in a glaring sunlight in noon. Best times are in the morning and in afternoon, just after the sunrise and just before the sunset. Those are the times, when bird take flight and light is best for photography. In noon sunlight will fall directly on water, making it more glaring. It also gets too hot for the tourists to enjoy bird watching. So we should adjust our time accordingly. The good thing is that, unlike other national parks, we don’t have to worry about getting out of the park in stipulated time.

Sarus made of Swarovski at interpretation centre

There are four ways to enjoy the park- on foot, on bicycle, on cycle rickshaw and on tonga. Now there is very inverse experience per each way. Walking will be tough and time-taking as well as tiring but it will take you to trails where you won’t be able to reach through a cycle, or rickshaw or a tonga. Those will be the places, where you will see most of the birds, as they will be least disturbed with tourist traffic. Inversely, tonga will be least tiring, but it has limited access to the trails. I had some close shots of sarus crane, when I was on foot, deep inside the park, where there was no access to even cycle. But problems with walking is that you won’t be able to cover the longer distance inside. And some migratory birds make their colony deep inside the park. Even the Keoladeo temple is far in the middle of the park. You need time to access all this.

Ways to travel in park

My best bet is to use a bicycle. It gives you three benefits- speed to cover the distance inside the park, second- freedom to stop and start at will, and lastly, with the bicycle you also have liberty to park it anywhere and walk inside on the trail, where it is not possible to take the bike or when you want to be closer to the birds. It gives you the option of having best of both worlds. One thing is for sure, you need time to enjoy the park as birding needs patience. Don’t move inside with a very tight schedule. Also, you need to plan for atleast two trips inside, if not more than that, so that you can move to different deeper areas inside.

Also Read:  Tall, handsome and mate for life!

Dr Salim Ali immortalised at Keoladeo

There is another way besides these four, and it is boating. Keoladeo has a few water channels, which are accessible through boats and forest department runs a few boats for tourists to enjoying birding while boating. But the problem is lack of water. The water to the sanctuary is actually the water overflown from Ajan Dam reservoir which reaches here through Ghana canal. Gambhir river feeds the Ajan Dam. Water level in reservoir is also lot dependent on rains, so is the bird life in the Keoladeo park. Keoladeo has been facing acute shortage of water for years now. This has hindered the movement of boats. For few years even number of birds had fallen because of this. So this boating option might not be available for most of times, even during the entire season.

Whistling ducks at Keoladeo

As about charges, for walking you just have to pay the entry fee. It is 75 Rs for Indians and 500 Rs for foreigners. Sale of tickets is generally stopped one and half hours before the sunset. Cycle charges are 20 Rs and 40 Rs for two different categories of cycles. That charges are for day. Rickshaw charges are 150 Rs per hour and Tonga 300 Rs per hour. Sometimes you might even find a battery operated electric van for the charge of 300 Rs per hour. If you are lucky enough to wind some water in channels and boats running than boating charges are Rs 75 per person per hour. You can hire an entire four seater boat for Rs 300 per hour and an eight seater boat for Rs 600 per hour. There are also handy cam charges mentioned, as high as 600 Rs but in these times of advanced smartphones capable of recording HD videos, these handy cam charges look pretty ridiculous and actually discriminatory. There can be argument for hefty charges of professional video or movie camera charges but handy cam charges are just unnecessary.

Guide charges are 250 Rs per hour for a group of 5 people and 400 Rs per hour for groups bigger than that. Guide is essential for group bigger than 10 people. Most authorised rickshaw pullers and tonga persons also double up as guides (unofficially) owing to their experience and some training that they get. That is the point, where you can bargain on guiding charges. But an official guide or naturalist what they are called as will always come with a powerful binocular to show you the distant birds, unofficial guides won’t have that. Actually, I have experienced both the things. Once we have used the services of our rickshaw puller as a guide and next time took a naturalist with us on bicycle. With no disrespect to the rickshaw pullers and their efforts, there is a marked difference between two experiences. Obviously, the naturalist guides are better trained and have more focused vision, better communicating skills.

Also Read: Perfect host for a birding trip!

Welcome to my territory!

Have you been to Keoladeo? How was your experience of travelling inside the park? Please share your views in the comments section below!

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Some wild moments in Sariska!

SO finally the cliché of the visit. Earlier four accounts- Bhangarh, Kankwari, Neelkanth and the Birds were quite fascinating and actually different from usual routines of visit to the national park. But then what about the wild inside you? Bhangarh might not haunt you but not sighting a tiger in the tiger reserve is certainly going to haunt you to a certain degree for a considerable duration of time. Purely on that terms Sariska has been third time lucky for me. My first trip to Sariska was almost thirty years ago when tiger safari was not a fancy idea, and second one 17 years ago when tiger was always second in my thought. (What was the first?)

Sariska Safari1
Foggy entry through the Sariska gate to the tiger reserve

But then as I have always said that though its always fascinating to watch a tiger in the wild, but not watching it doesn’t creates a sort of disappointment until I have given full time to the jungle. I thoroughly enjoy the jungles sans tiger too, as the most true wildlife enthusiasts will actually do. In that sense as well, safari in Sariska was quite satisfying.

Sariska Safari2
Reflections!

Jungle was as beautiful as always. But interesting part is that no two jungles and no two visits to the same jungle look the same. The  three hour safari had its moments of joy, admiration, awe and pure love. I am revisiting the safari only on those moments, and they are absolutely not in any particular order.

Well, we had the tiger sighting within first 25 minutes into safari, so once we had it, it made the rest of safari time relaxing and anxiety free. Tiger sighting was close but not from front as he chose to just walk in front of the cavalcade of the safari vehicles.

So here are the few glimpses of the mighty cat-

But this sighting was not without a drama and slightly unpleasant one. I always believe that one should enjoy the wildlife that comes their way during safari. It can be and it should be your luck to see an animal, not your right. There has been long debate about use of radio collars on tigers. Still they were accepted as way to track them and save them from poaching. But to use radio collars to help tiger sighting in safari is a bit ugly practice. Here too, while we were waiting for the tiger at a nullah, a supposedly VIP came on another safari vehicle along with a radio tracker, who kept on tracking the exact location of tiger and thus the whole group of six safari vehicles kept following the tiger guided by radio tracker. Look for yourself-

Talking about cats, I have not been so far fortunate to see them hunting in the wild. But we got to see a kill of a leopard who hunted a sambhar and then dragged him up on a tree. Leopard was not there but the kill was still hanging up on the tree-

As per numbers, it is the deer family which rules the jungles. You can find them everywhere and actually observing their behaviour patiently is also very interesting-

Another scene worth remembering from the safari was the cheetal-monkey play. Deer-monkey friendship is always take about in jungle tales. It was so warming to see them play and then drink water together from the same pond-

I had already written in earlier posts about the number of peahens and peacocks in the region. Same was here inside the park. They were everywhere- playing and dancing. How beautiful this bird is!

Talking about birds, here is another one, a Jungle Babbler that I will not forget for its sheer sharpness, alertness and daring behaviour-

And while returning see, who was there to see off from the park after the end of the safari-

These forests always remind us of what we are and what we are supposed to be.

Sariska Safari46

Romancing the wildlife at GIR

As the norm is, being to a national park or reserve invariably means watching a big cat. The success of visit always depends on having a sight or not having it. This over enthusiasm of looking for a tiger or a lion actually robs one of the ‘thrill of the unexpected’. Every jungle has its own beauty, even in terms of the wildlife. In search of expected, we miss the ‘unexpected other’ which actually make the jungle beautiful.

So for all those, who return with their heads down after missing on the big cat, here are few ‘non-cat’ moments from a recent safari in the GIR national park and wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat. Known as only haven for Asiatic Lions in the wild in world, this dry deciduous forest has a fair share of other wildlife- 39 species of mammals, 37 species of reptiles, 300 species of birds and more than 2000 species of insects.

Spotted deer (Chital) are almost 45,000 in GIR and are most commonly found. Watching them is always fun and delightful.

Jumping Jack

Chital always make a cute good photograph in whatever they do-

My little food!

Here one male enjoys holding its crown (antlers)-

Holding crown

GIR also has a good number of Chinkara and Four-horned antelope among the deer family and Nilgai (most commonly found in Indian heartland) as you can see one female here basking in glory-

Crowning glory

Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) is considered to be the largest among Asian antelope family but a male Sambhar deer is considered to be the largest in whole deer family few of them may even weigh more than 500 kgs. They look majestic, like this one-

Mighty

But then, a jungle has much more than deer and their predators. Such as wild boars which are considered to be widest-ranging mammal in the world. This big game animal is known as ancestor to our domestic pigs. Its a brave animal, although cat family and wolf are its main predators but wild boars have history of fighting cat family in self-defence.

Boaring experience!

A Golden Jackal (Indian Jackal) in the GIR looking for some small prey-

Foxing a bit

Monitor Lizards are also common to forests of Indian subcontinent. They have been referred to mythologically and historically in many contexts in various scriptures. Might look repulsive to many, but they have been often considered as friend to humans. Here a monitor lizard quickly hides itself into a tree, not interested in showing its face to us-

Hiding the face

And here in a rare photograph, you can see a baby monitor lizard, learning the tricks of the world-

Welcome to world!

A brown fish owl, very closely monitoring our moments. Owls might be common but you need sharp eyes to spot them in the trees.

Not owling!

Last but not the least, another tough photograph of a Indian Paradise Flycatcher. Tough in the sense that they are too quick for you to catch them in you camera frame. A beautiful bird found in the Indian subcontinent is a genus of monarch flycatchers.Looking for paradiseSO, next time you visit a national park or wildlife sanctuary, don’t just look for the big ones. Keep your eyes open for the unexpected beauties round the corner.

 

King Duo – Photo of the Day

Though November has approached, but still day temperatures are unusually high forcing these two male lions at the GIR national park in Gujarat to be in shade for the most part of the day, so that they can conserve their energy for a kill in the night. Watching a lion in wild is a treat and sighting two of them together is a double bonus. So sharing my festival bonus with my readers!

Two Kings

Photo of the Day – Lioness on Prowl

No sight can be more captivating and fascinating then watching the King in its territory. Well here is a queen although… but by no means lesser in beauty and pride. Watching a lioness in wild at just an arm’s length or may be less, with nothing in between except hard breath of both man and animal, is perhaps an experience of a lifetime. GIR in Gujarat gives you that in an open jeep safari. Here is one of those alluring images of a lioness- third that we encountered in two safaris last week.

Lioness_on_Prowl

Tale of two Tiger sightings in Ranthambore

Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan in India is one of the most celebrated tiger parks in world alongwith Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh. Ranthambore has been home to one of the most revered tigress ‘Machli’, a lead in one of the most well known wildlife fights between a tiger and a crocodile. Sighting a Royal Bengal Tiger in its territory is altogether a different experience. I had the chance of doing it twice in two days. On a cold winter day, after a blank morning safari, we had a lucky afternoon to watch tiger T-20 (as the tigers are normally named) in its full glory but not before we had a sprint (ofcourse in our zeep) in the wild upon hearing a call about presence of tiger in the Rajbagh area of park. So here it was, in front of us enjoying his evening stroll in a quite playfull mood, sniffing, relieving and quite oblivious of tens of pairs of eyes glued to him. He was star-eyed… he had star mark on his face above both his eyes. He came, he conquered and he disappeared in the woods…

But it was next day which had more drama in store for us, a real adventure of Tiger in the wild. A thrill in the adventure is when what you love happens at the time when neither it was expected nor anticipated. After a day long visit to the Ranthambore Fort (it is equally majestic), we were returning to forest guest house. There is a long stretch of four kilometres from Sherpur Gate of the Tiger park to the Fort gate. Just opposite to the fort entrance is the main entrance to the core area of Tiger reserve, from where effectively the safari starts. The road from Sherpur gate to Fort is largely frequented by local, villagers, tourists (going for safari as well as fort) as well as believers going to famous Ganesh temple in the fort. Not surprisingly this road stretch is even covered on foot by many daily.
So on this stretch while returning from fort to the Sherpur gate, we were in our vehicle with a guide. We two were on the backside of the zeep. It was near Bhairon Ghati, where I saw a small stream and wondered with my guide whether that too had some crocs in it. But even before, I could finish I couldn’t believe a majestic Tiger behind our vehicle just coming out of woods and going on the road, in the opposite direction (towards the fort).I quickly asked the driver to stop and move it reverse towards the big cat. There was nobody in the sight besides our vehicle and the Tiger itself. Cameras kept clicking for next 20 odd minutes, when the Tiger finally left the road and disappeared again in the woods. By the time few more passers by had joined as spectators. But it was a breathtaking experience. It was only later in the evening when we reached back to the forest rest house, that we came to know that the particular tiger was T-5 who had actually killed a few people in that area. Our adventure grew manifold upon hearing that!

Bhitarkanika National Park reopens for tourists

Bhitarkanika is well known for its fascinating mangrooves
Bhitarkanika is well known for its fascinating mangrooves

Nature lovers who long for savouring the warmth of congenial wetland spots in Bhitarkanika in Odisha’s Kendrapara district would now have to take care of their purse. Visiting the mangrove-infested sites with a shoe-string budget has now become a thing of past.
As Bhitarkanika National Park reopened for visitors on Thursday, 1st August 2013, authorities have effected a steep hike in boarding and lodging for tourists. The rise is manifold and likely to pinch the middle class and lower middle class visitors.
Forest officials said that “For factors beyond our control, the hike was made for better maintenance of government-owned bungalows in Bhitarkanika. The park remained out of bound for tourists and visitors from May 31 till yesterday in view of nesting season of estuarine crocodile.”

Bhitarkanika is known for its crocodiles
Bhitarkanika is known for its crocodiles

The rise in accommodation price has been abnormally high. It runs to five times more than what it was earlier. It has gone beyond the range of affordability of lower middle class people. For a night’s stay in new cottage, one has to cough up Rs 750 while it stood at lowly Rs 150 earlier. The Banni suite would now cost Rs 1,000 as against the preceding price tag of Rs 200 only. The stay in ‘round cabin’ has shot up more than seven times. From Rs 200, it has climbed up to Rs 1,500. The six-bedded dormitory was earlier priced Rs 600 a day while it would now cost Rs 1000. For stay in Gupti tourism cottage, the rate revised to Rs 1000 against the earlier range of Rs 250, said officials. In addition, tourists spending night in Bhitarkanika will have to pay Rs 100 cess towards eco-development fees, while Rs 10 entry fee for tourist remains unchanged. It has now made mandatory for the visitors and tourists to carry with them proof of identity to gain access to the park areas. For issuance of entry permit, production of identity proof document is a must.

Beach famous for its turtles
Beach famous for its turtles

The steep hike in lodging charge would reduce inflow of tourists to this site. Those who savour eco-tourism loved to spend night in wetland sites. With exorbitant range of price for night stay, many would now prefer to stay away from night stay, affecting tourism in these parts. Though staying at Bhitarkanika has been made costlier, it is still on the lower side in comparison to accommodation charges in private-run eco-tourist cottages.
The national Park spread over 145 sq km area covers Bhitarkanika Mangroves. It is a Mangrove swamp located in the delta of rivers Brahmani, Baitarani and Dhamara and ideal for camping, trekking and picnics.