Tag Archives: Pink flamingos

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-

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and yet more-

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until they decided to move away a bit farther-

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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-

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All together-

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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-

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… 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…

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…the pink mystique

It was second day at Sambhar. Last day was interesting with engaging myself in pink salt of Sambhar and then soaking in some refreshing sights of a pink sunset. But as I said, my mind was still lurking in search of the pink flamingos. The other day Sohan Singh had suggested me to go towards the Devayani, where I can probably find the birds. One things I have learnt over the years of travelling is never to feel shy in asking locals about any doubt or any information- basic or may be additional. So, while riding my bike in the morning, I  asked my lodge owner about possible location of flamingos and he suggested me to go towards ‘chatri (canatoph) of Dadu Dayal (दादू दयाल की छतरी). I decided to try towards Devayani first.

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Temples at Devayani

This is third aspect of a trip to Sambhar. It was not in my agenda, at least not before the flamingos, but then as it was deemed to be, I had to explore Devayani first. Besides being home to salt and flamingos, Sambhar is also a religious town and mythologically a very important one. Devayani gets its name from daughter of guru Shukracharya of demons and was queen of king Yayati. This mythology dates quite earlier to even times of Mahabharata. I am not going to dwell upon story of Devayani and Yayati as it is there in scriptures as well as now online. As is believed, that this is the place, where Devayani used to live, hence it got the name. So, Sambhar has got this spiritual and religious value as well. Devayani temple is just two kilometres from the Sambhar bus stand.

Road to Devayani
deserted road to Devayani

Devayani is considered to be a pilgrimage and now there have been many efforts to develop religious tourism aspect of Sambhar. With lots of funds in tow, the area has been renovated and many facilities being developed. Devayani is actually a small artificial lake and there are temples all around. In this way, it is quite similar to Pushkar, though the later one is quite bigger than this. So, there are ghats and temples on all four sides. For long these have been neglected, and now there are efforts to clean the lake and reconstruct the ghats and temples.

Lake and temples around
Lake and temples around

Temples are dedicated to various deities, but the main temple is of Ganges or the Ganga. This temple is said to quite old and is being repaired now. Inner portion of the temple looks quite recently refurbished.

Regular prayers and worships are held at the temple. Every month on many auspicious days special religious events are being held and local people from around the region gather here in good numbers. Although, that morning I was the only visitor there.

For those in need!
For those in need!

Interestingly, this place is called as Devayani and though it is dedicated to a specific mythological character but the main temple here is of river Ganges. I was told that earlier there used to be no temple of Devayani here. Just recently, a temple of Devayani was built because many people will come and ask that where is the Devayani temple (but outside this temple it is written that it is an ancient one! Quite confusing!).

Devayani temple
Devayani temple

On the four sides of lake are said to also four ancient Shiva temples and one of them is this Jageshwar temple. It is believed the the lingam at this temple is very deep and actually no one has been able to know its actual depth.

Jageshwar temple
Jageshwar temple

Interestingly enough, just adjacent to Devayani temple is a tomb and  a small mosque nearby. There was no information on who’s tomb it is or may be religious fault lines prohibit people to divulge too much. But in the medieval times there has been known history of muslim salt traders from Sambhar trading salt at nearby cities. There was even a mosque in Jaipur’s Kishanpole area known as ‘mosque of Sambharias’ (सांभरियों की मसजिद). Irony is that in all the construction and renovation around, no care was being taken of that tomb.

Although I was focused to look for flamingos, this place indeed looked interesting to me and had many things to reflect upon.

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The Pink Salt…

It was long overdue. And, I was actually ashamed of myself for not having being there till now, despite being so close. Of late, it was almost decided in my mind that I would be biking to Sambhar, most probably alone. And it happened so. Almost 750 kms of biking in two days made it possible and enjoyable. Every minute was worth it.

A mound of salt
A mound of salt

Sambhar is between Jaipur and Ajmer cities of Rajasthan. Lake basin is spread at the confluence of three districts- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. You can call this place as one beyond imagination. It is, “a place where horizons stretch to infinity, water and sky merge in a shimmer of gauzy blue and civilisation goes back a long, long time and legends abounds it” (quoted from- ‘Conservation of Sambhar Lake – An important Waterfowl Habitat and A Ramsar Site in India‘ by Sanjeev Kumar, 2008). It has got a touch of pink everywhere- Pink Salt, Pink sunset and the Pink Flamingos. It creates a very different feeling. Salt is what, it has been known for since a long time.

I was also keen in going to Sambhar at the earliest as I am always anxious about future of such places located in a very fragile ecosystem. With already so many apprehensions on record, I didn’t want to rue any missed opportunity later. Hence I was here at Sambhar.

 

Pink Salt8Sambhar Lake is the largest inland saline wetland in India. Its a huge lake covering an area of over 190 sq kms. The lake has been exploited for salt extraction for centuries. Actually desert lands of Rajasthan host a few other salt lakes as well other than Sambhar- Kanod, Didwana, Thob, Lawan and Pachpadra. Sambhar is biggest of them all.

Vast expanse of lake
Vast expanse of lake

Although there were no information available on staying options in Sambhar, I was keen to stay there. Search of options made me to talk to lot of people and one of them was a school lecturer- Sohan Singh, whom I met on the railway level crossing just before Sambhar, when we were waiting for the train to pass and gates to open.  Conversation got friendly and the young teacher himself chose to be my guide for the evening. We straightway entered the Sambhar city and through the premises of the Sambhar Salts Limited, went towards the station and further towards the salt lake.

Railway track bisecting the salt lake
Railway track bisecting the salt lake

There is a railway line from Phulera to Nagaur through Sambhar. This line bisects the salt lake and runs through it for more than 10-15 kms. We crossed this line immediately after the railway station and went inside the salt fields. Biking was a bit tough as one has only to ride on the narrow beaten paths which had got hardened due to regular movements. Rest all land was wet and marshy. Inside the salt fields, we met a private salt extractor- Vijay Chaudahry who gave us an insight about the process of salt extraction as well as local economy and topography. We can easily see the pink salt. Gets whitish only after going through refining process.

Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary
Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary

We also got to know about the various facts and factors involved. It was indeed very interesting. Now look at the photo below to feel the uniqueness of this place-

No water... all mirage!
No water… all mirage!

We can easily see the area beyond the mud wall. Looks like water. Isn’t it? But you will be surprised, as much as I was that there isn’t even a drop of water, its all mirage. Even I couldn’t believe my eyes. It is said that in summers, the whole area will look like a sea, but actually without a water because of this mirage effect.

Besides the public sector Sambhar Salts Limited, there are many private industries extracting salt from the lake. A look at the salt bed of the lake-

This lake has seen days of glory. The Sambhar salt was all popular in the region far and wide. Salt extracted from here was sold in markets of Jaipur or taken to far off places. For different rulers in the region in medieval period, the control of the lake was considered to be major source of revenue. Salt traders of Sambhar were a respected lot. Then Britishers controlled it. And post independence public sector Sambhar Salt Limited was given the responsibility of extracting salt.  Most of the infrastructure here was developed by Britishers, including the rail network, stations, yards, godowns etc. With Sambhar Salt Limited in poor condition and many private players coming in fray, most of the infrastructure is now in shambles.

Sambhar has always been known for its salt. The city used to get its livelihood from it and still depends a lot on it.

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But these are changing times and many other things are at stake as well. What one needs to know, experience and enjoy is this absolutely fantastic ecosystem and help it preserve for generations to come.

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Workers from Sambhar Salt Limited refinery returning to city after day’s work. This british-era rail road car takes them home through the dried lake bed.

This is no mirage but how aptly it guides us to reflect upon ourselves. Isn’t it-

Sun had moved westwards when we reached refinery and went ahead towards the dam on our bikes. I had many things in mind but for now my interest was in fast approaching sunset… how could I even miss this… now may be a… Pink Sunset!

(tune in for next post)

Photo of the day – Pink Flamingos

Its simple spellbinding. Isn’t it! More so when you get to witness such a visual spectacle at some of the most unassuming of places. This is on way back to Rameshwaram from Dhanushkodi in Tamilnadu. A cursory glance towards sea and this was what was to be seen. A huge flock of hundreds of Australian Flamingos, in all their glory.

Pink Flamingos