Tag Archives: Rajasthan

In memory of a Star on International Day of Forests


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Star breathed its last yesterday and it is certainly the most disheartening news to hear on the International Day of Forests. Star, also called as Sitara was actually one of the stars of the forests of Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. As per news reports Star or Sitara, which was named T-28 in forest records died after being tranquillised. Perhaps a tranquilliser overdose took its life. He was tranquillised in attempts to rescue him from a village in Khandar area on the park’s periphery. It is said that this 13 year old male tiger had strayed close to a village where people had surrounded it. Forest officials reached there and in attempts to rescue, tried to tranquillise it.

Ironically, the theme of this year’s International Day of Forests is : Forests and Sustainable Cities and we probably lost Star because of this ever-increasing pressure on forests from the surrounding human settlements. The news of his death reminded me of the day, I had seen him on the safari. Just a short encounter of 11 minutes was enough to get etched in the memory for ever. That’s the reason that news of his death saddened me. Star was named so because it had a 5 point star mark over its left eye and also has bird shaped mark over the right. Rajbagh area of the park was his favourite place to give audience to curious, thrilled, overjoyed travellers from around the world.

It was cold winter day on January in the year 2011. Our morning safari  yielded no tiger sightings. Then came the afternoon safari. Normally in all tiger reserves across India, safari vehicles will have a specified route. There might be three-four or more different zones in the park and a safari vehicle is limited to a particular zone. That means, if you are in zone 2 for the morning safari, your route is limited to zone 2 only. Vehicles are not allowed to overlap the zones. This is done to manage the tourist traffic inside the park and ensure that a particular area or the wildlife in a particular area is not abused quite often because of any particular attraction and tourists are evenly distributed.

Also read: Some wild moments in Sariska!

But on that particular trip, we were guests of the district officials and hence we had a special number safari vehicle which has access to all zones. Although I am not at all fond of sighting sprints of safari vehicles inside the reserve, but that day our driver thought that he had the duty to give us a tiger sighting. Hence around 5.20 pm in the evening he received a call on his walkie-talkie about a tiger sighting and then for next ten minutes we had a bone-churning dash towards Rajbagh, which was quite a distance from that place. That’s where the T-28 or the Star male aka Sitara was on his evening stroll.

There were already hordes of safari vehicles there, might be more than 60 to 70 people around at that particular time. He was already spotted inside the jungle and everybody was waiting for him to come out in open, which he eventually did with full gusto fit for his stature.

Also read: Shh…Tiger is here!He than proceeded to make the marking. One of the favourite acts of tigers to mark their territory.

Have a look: Two cubs on play at Panna- A photo essay

It then cam to the road. Looked in a very playful mood. It was  very interesting to see how these big cats maintained their composure as well as indifference despite of being surrounded by so many humans. They were least afraid but equally attentive. I don’t think they would be unaware of any lurking danger. But they were quite sure of their territory and their command over it, where they were kings. Sitara has history of getting too close to safari vehicles.And, then relaxed itself giving full view to all safari vehicles.After few minutes, it again made the move. Kept playing in the mud.Looking for tiger? Read : Spot the tiger in this wild image!

And then Sitara decided that it was the time to end the day’s audience and it walked away. It crossed our way, moved to jungle on to the right. Even than it didn’t disappear immediately. It kept everybody interested, but didn’t return. After a couple of minutes, it went deep inside. In the fading light, it was soon impossible to keep track of its stripes.Love wild? Read: Dudhwa sans tigers!

It all ended in just 11 minutes- the royal show, but gave everybody around a plenty to cheer about for rest of their lives.

Changing colours? Read: White Tiger – When mutation becomes exhibit!

Star aka Sitara aka T-28 was a young tiger, full of life and glory as well. Having born to tigress T-27, it was first spotted in 2008 but it established itself very quickly among the ranks. Got the name and fame as well when it got the courage to challenge the great tigress Machali. It is being said that in 2009 Sitara and Machali had many territorial fights. Sitara controlled a large territory and despite fights with Machali, also mated her two daughters including Sundari.

But all will be tales now. Goodbye Star!!

Have you been fortunate to have sighting of this particular tiger? How was the experience? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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Guiding their territories : Birds at Keoladeo


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I am continuing with birds and my trip to Bharatpur’s Keoladeo Ghana National Park, sometime back. This time more with just images

Shikra can be easily seen at Keoladeo. It is most common small hawk but an aggressive hunter, can be found almost everywhere in the neighbourhood.

A shikra at Keoladeo
Another Shikra

Like Shikras, marsh harriers are also found worldwide. They are raptors of medium size in the harrier family. Watching them fly is fascinating when they make a V in low flight. Look for them at KNP.

A marsh harrier on a flight at Keoladeo

You know Keoladeo is also famous for its turtles! Read them about here-

The giant turtles of Keoladeo National Park

Darters are also called as snake birds owing o their long thin neck which has a snake like appearance when they swim with their bodies submerged. There are large number of oriental darters at Keoladeo.

Darters or snake birds
An Indian darter scratching its back… while drying its wings

There might be snake birds, but nobody gives more thrill than the reptile itself and actually Keoladeo has many species of them including turtles, lizards, snakes and pythons. Sometimes scary, but always fascinating.

A reptile creates ripples!

Keoladeo national park has been popular for its Sarus cranes. Read more about Sarus at Keoladeo-

The tall, beautiful and a mate for life!

There are many type of herons found in Keoladeo and purple heron is one of them. This large, slender wing bird is migratory in Europe and north Asian regions and resident elsewhere. Looks fascinating because of its strikingly different colour and appearance. Although it is called as purple heron, but its head and neck is chestnut-red in colour.

A purple heron at KNP

Night herons are called so because they hunt at night and early morning and rest during the day.

A night heron cautious of my presence

Keoladeo has been once very popular for its huge population of painted storks. But it also has good numbers of Black stork, woolly-necked stork, European white stork and black-necked stork.

An asian open bill flying high

Planning to go to Keoladeo National Park? Here is a guide to easiest tips: Read-

Tips to Travel inside park for some serious bird watching?

Whistling ducks produce very prominent whistling sound while flying, hence commonly called as whistling ducks. Its a loud two-note wheezy call. There are big colonies of whistling ducks at Keoladeo national park.

Who’s whistling!

Indian grey hornbill is among the most common of the Indian Hornbills and also the smallest among them. It is also called as Dhanesh locally.

Indian Grey hornbill at KNP

Looking for a place to stay around Keoladeo? Read:

Perfect host for a birding trip

There are said to be more than ten types of owls in Keoladeo. And among the easily spotted are the spotted owl. Its also adapted

An eye for an eye!

Laughing doves get their name due to their particular call which sounds like a human laughter. Mauve pink in colour with white shading on the breast. Even if you don’t listen them laughing you can still feel good by looking a hem.

No more laughing!

Bored of English? Want to read in Hindi? Read more about birding

परदेसी परिंदों के नजारे

Pied Kingfisher (below) is among the five types of kingfishers found in Keoladeo. Rest four are common kingfisher, stork-billed, white throated and black-capped.

Tough to locate in dense woods

There are five types of starlings (common, rosy, purple-backed, Asian pied and Brahminy) besides common Myna and Bank Myna found at Keoladeo national park.

Brahminy Starling at KNP

Have you seen some rare birds at Keoladeo National Park? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Urban wetlands we need : Nela Taalab

Ever expanding cities have engulfed much of the natural habitat in their surrounding areas, including the wetlands, despite knowing it well that how disastrous it is. Thus it was a very pleasant surprise for me to find a haven for migratory birds just a couple of furlongs away from my home at the City of Lakes- Udaipur in Rajasthan.  Actually, I had already seen this residential area surpassing a few wetlands in the course of its ‘development’ in last couple of decades. Similar things would have definitely happened in all the surrounding areas.

Time to rest all together!

Having shifted base to Delhi almost 28 years back, my visits to my hometown are occasional. Thus it was courtesy a childhood friend that I cam to know about Nela Taalab, even though it was very close to my home. Went with him to this place for the first time couple of years back. Taalab is actually the Hindi term for small lake or a bigger pond.

An urban oasis

We went again this year few weeks back. It was a delightful experience, better than the last one. Better actually only in terms of the location we were able to access this year for sightings. I am not sure if it was better in terms of number of birds present this year. That is also because there are more colonies developed around the lake. There are more chances of disturbances to the bird habitat.

Many species right here

The area around has also been so-called ‘developed’ with a bund with lights and walkway often used by morning walkers from nearby areas.

Its really close to the residential area

Urban wetlands are quite important, more so when they have developed themselves into habitat for waterfowls and other avian species.

A flock of shovelers on their morning flight

For developers urban wetlands might be a wasteland but ecologically they are the prized lands for urban areas. They control flooding, they are source of drinking water, they are also source of livelihood, they promote human well-being, they improve air quality and they also naturally filter waste from water.

Painting the sky

They also add to beauty of a neighbourhood, adding to its charm -provided they are protected and preserved as naturally as possible. We need to include them in urban lands planning, besides reducing water consumption and harmful runoff.

Flying high among the high-rise

We have tendency to encroach upon the wetlands whenever we are in need of land. This mindless construction leads to degradation, filling and build upon of the wetlands. Needless to say, if they are restored or preserved, they make urban areas more liveable.

Snipes, Black winged stilts and more

It is also essential to include local residents in the wetlands management as that can check the unsocial use of the area, as often anti-social elements find secluded area around wetlands to their liking.

Few more species..

To my pleasant surprise, I was also able to sight some Egyptian Vultures for the first time in my backyard. Egyptian vulture is one among the globally threatened vulture species found in India.

A pair of Egyptian vultures

Egyptian vultures have been included in endangered category by the IUCN Red List. These are resident birds but they have been included in endangered list due to their declining population and one reason for this rapid decline is mentioned as ‘presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac.

Also read: Don’t we need these hills anymore!

A closer look
…another shot on their favourite tree
Then one of them decided to take a round
…second one was left along for some time
…and then it too decided to follow the suit and join its partner.

It is certainly delightful to capture a bird in such a relaxed manner. But it seemed that tree was favourite place for the raptors. As soon as the vultures left, a kite occupied the place.  It perhaps had the best view of the preys in the area.

This kite was first on a bush
The raptor left the bush and reached for the tree
It took the position, looked around…
…noticed something amiss (a prey or our camera clicks)…
…and flew back.

Than there was a cattle egret watching the proceedings very closely

A cattle egret contemplating its next move

Besides the pintails and shovelers the lake also had a big colony of common eurasian coot.

..running on the water!

However carefree, they might look, but they were quite aware of our moves and took no time to move away from we shutterbugs.

Fly away home

It was a contented walk back home, but also with a worry of how long will this place be able to sustain itself. Lot of efforts will be needed certainly.

P.S. Nela Taalab is just a kilometre and half off the NH 8 on Udaipur-Ahmedabad route in Hiran Magari, Sector 14, Udaipur, Rajasthan. A couple of decades earlier, it was an uninhabited area, but now it is very much the part of the city itself.

DO you have a urban wetland area close to your place? Share your views about it.

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Morning lights at Menar – the birds village!

City of Lakes Udaipur is famous for many things but rarely for its birds. Ironically village Menar, 15 kms from Udaipur’s Dabok airport is known for many things including its birds. Menar is also called as the bird village.  More than couple of lakes in close surroundings of the village are known to host a huge number of migratory birds every year. Menar also has a long history which connects it closely to the Kings of Mewar. Rich in culture, this village also has an honour to produce some of India’s finest chefs who have worked in kitchens of many celebrities- home and abroad. Residents of this village have been known as Menarias.

But my recent trip to this village, roughly around 45 kms from my hometown Udaipur, was purely to catch some morning light. Capturing birds at sunrise (for that matter also at sunsets) has been always very delightful.

The Wild Fire!

And, indeed it turned out to be so. With sun playing hide and seek in the clouds and birds, ready to start their day- it was morning worth every minute.

Lakes around Menar get good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovellers in the winter months.

There are two lakes- one inside the village and another at the far end. Later one is better for spotting birds because of its calmness and undisturbed environs.

Early morning movement of the birds

Menar has always been hosting here birds but it has come to the radar of bird watchers across the world only recently.

Now a large number of bird watchers flock here in winters to capture some memorable images. The local community here has played a big role in conservation efforts and popularising this place as the bird village. Volunteers here are called as Pakshi Mitras (friends of birds). They take care of patrolling, rescue and reporting of any attempts of poaching. Many other steps are taken to maintain the ecology of this place as a safe haven for the birds. Besides regular weeding and prohibition of fishing, locals have also stopped using water from these lakes for the purpose of irrigation. These lakes have no other source of water besides the rains. Hence, it is very significant to use the water judiciously.

The water of gold!

As the light gets brighter, birds are off to their daily routine.

Flying in tandem

Besides waterfowls, Menar is also second home to many other birds, small and big including this Bluethroat-

Among the goose family, these Bar-headed goose make a big colony here every year-

Here these common (Eurasian) coots seem to be having a morning meeting before starting day’s business-

Eurasian coots at Menar

Interestingly, Menar also gets fairly good number of Flamingos. Here greater flamingos look in small number but in another lake close by, there are good number of flamingos visiting every year.

How to reach: Little known village of Menar is 45 kms from Udaipur. It is 15 kms ahead of the Udaipur’s Dabok airport. That means while going to Menar from Udaipur, one has to first cross the airport and than move ahead towards Menar. Menar now has a few homestay options for those, who are serious in bird watching and want to spend more time around. But alternatively, you can always make Udaipur as the base and go to Menar early in the morning for bird watching. There are many young people in Menar village who can be your guide for the bird-watching tour of the village. One of them is Dharmendra Menaria who is also pursuing B.Sc. in agriculture.

P.S. Menar is also famous for some of its festivals which include a grand festival to commemorate the valour of local people. The festival is held on second day of Holi every year.

Have you been to Menar? What was your experience? You can share it here in the comments section.

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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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Changing colours of the City Palace : Shades of light and life!


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Shades of light are as mesmerising as the shades of life. How often they go hand to hand! I might seem like being too philosophical but often loss of somebody very close makes you so. Its not quite very often that you are able to watch the changing shades of light during the course of the day at an off-routine place, more so at a place worth a zillion images.

Morning view of the city palace of Udaipur. Its January but the winter this year is not so harsh.

It happened to be so with me when I was at Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur from morning to sunset for a stretch of more than ten hours at the same place. Udaipur is city of my birth and my education.

It gets brighter and bluer as the sun comes to the top. There are many boats taking tourists to small trip on the lake

City Place of Udaipur is one of the prime tourist attractions of the City of Lakes. This more than four hundred years old palace is located at the banks of Pichola Lake in the heart of the city.

Its the start of the second half of the day and light has started to make changes to the colours

The palace is best viewed from the side of the lake. That is where you get the panoramic view of the old city of Udaipur and the City Palace together.

The brightness of the sky gives way to softer tones

The Pichola Lake has got many ghats and these are the places where the old city of Udaipur exists. Ghats are the stairs on the banks of the lakes to let people have easy access to the lake. These ghats were often used by the locals to take bath.

The shades of white turn to yellow…

Ambrai ghat or the historically known as Manji Raj ka Ghat is one of such ghats around lake Pichola in Udaipur. This ghat has a temple of Charbhuja Ji which was originally stated to have been constructed as a palace for the queen mother after she became a widow.

…and the yellow turns to golden…

These ghats are also the reflection of the cultural heritage of the city. They are part of daily life, they are also place for rituals. They are deeply associated with the history and stye have been the silent spectators to the dramatic transformation of the city.

…and even the gold turns to copper, what we say as तांबई colour in Hindi

Be here and you will find small boats filled of tourists taking a round trip in the lake and amazingly clicking the pictures of life on the lakeside.

As the sun sets, the dusk gathers around, its going to be dark soon

Now most of the old houses around the lake have been converted into heritage hotels, catering to a wide range of tourists coming to the Udaipur. Many of them give fantastic views of the lake and city around. Many of the hotels have got lakeside or rooftop restaurants. There are also a number of souvenir shops around these hotels in the area alongside lake.

…its then the lights come to play and give altogether a new shade to the whole surroundings

The visit to Udaipur is often not deemed as complete unless you visit any of its ghats to feel the pulse of the city. Be there, see, interact and get amused! Its worth a lot, just like this interplay of lights on the City Palace during the course of a single day.

Have you been to Ambrai Ghat in Udaipur? Share your experiences in the comments section.

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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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The giant turtles of Keoladeo national park

Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur has been the earliest and most popular of bird sanctuaries in India so much so that until few decades back whenever plans to visit a bird sanctuary will come in mind, name Keoladeo used to prop up almost instantly. But this park, popular for its cranes and once a critical wintering ground for endangered Siberian cranes, is also known for its giant soft shelled turtles. Park has seven species of turtles.

The number of turtles is very good, in few hundreds. There are many myths and folklores associated with these turtles, but indeed there lifespan is very good. In that sense many turtles here are said to be living here for more than couple of hundred years. Now the catch is that this park doesn’t have perennial source of water. It depends lot on monsoon rains and water sourced from near by reservoirs through canals. So when water gets dried up, turtles move towards a pond located besides a historical temple situated right at the second barrier of the park.

Watching turtles at this pons is an exhilarating experience. There is a temple complex, an ashram adjacent to the pond.

Temple complex
There are big numbers of monkeys in the complex as well

There are stairs going to the pond from the temple side. The caretakers of the temple often feed turtles with wheat flour in attempt to bring them towards the stairs for exciting tourists to see them. In return, tourists will pay them tip for their efforts.

Temple caretaker luring turtles with wheat flour

Its fun to watch this lovely creature coming up to the stairs to get some quick food. They are different in age and sizes. Often more than one will come to the stairs.

Three turtles on the stairs

For me personally, it was first time to watch these turtles so closely and it was very exciting to photograph them. Monkeys around the temple often bring a twist to the tale, when they loot the bounty meant for the turtles. Its thoroughly entertaining.

Looting the bounty
Keeping a close eye on the proceedings
Filled in both hands… still looking for more

But despite these side-artists, the main character is still the turtle. Here comes one :

Swimming towards stairs
Gets his food and pulls himself back

Getting some close shots was fascinating, like this one-

…and this one too:

Putting its neck back into the shell…

A closer look of feet and the eyes:

Here comes another turtle to give an audience and also gives a glimpse of its size-

…same way to retreat back, what a power nature has given to this creature-

Holding its food in the mouth…

Neck looks so decorated…

You can spot turtles in the national park at many other places as well. You need not essentially go to the pond to see them…

Enjoying some sun
A bigger one…

In other water bodies of the park..

So, next time you go to the Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur don’t forget to give some of your time to this lovely creature as well.

Where: Keoladeo Ghana National Park (erstwhile  Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary)  is located in Bharatpur city of Rajasthan. Park boundaries almost touch the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border. Park is just 20 kms from Fatehpur Sikri and 65 kms from Agra. Park gates are located right on the  Agra-Jaipur National highway. The turtle pond, as it is famously known is just a kilometre from the park gate and left of the second barrier, which actually is the entrance to the park.

 

Onam to Bathukamma via Ladakh Festival!

It is one of those months, which have festivities right from start till end and that too almost in every corner of the country and with many shades. How wonderful to have all these occasions to supplement the usual zest for travel! And, what a diversity we have, it can be envious for any other country on the planet. Just consider this- the nine days before Vijayadashmi are celebrated as Durga Puja in Bengal, Garba in Gujarat, Ramlila in north and as Bathukamma in Telangana. All these festivals celebrated on same days of calendar have different myths, different customs, different performances, different food but same gusto. Even the ramlilas are different in different parts and so is Vijayadashami.

Festival of prosperity & joy – Onam

Festivities for the month start with Onam in Kerala. Its interesting that in spite of centuries that passed by, various rulers having ruled the land, the mythical King Mahabali enjoys a popularity that no other ruler can boast of! The greatest charm of Onam lies undoubtedly in the coming together of the Malayali folk to welcome the mythical king on his imaginary annual visit to the land. The ten-day long festival begins with atham asterism in the Malayalam month of Chingam and culminates grandly on the day of Thiruvonam. The households bubbling and bustling with energy is a sight reserved during Onam days. As per mythology, King Mahabali decided to leave for the nether world, failing to keep his promise given to Lord Vishnu who came in the guise of Vaamana. As for the delicacies of Onam one would wish it to go on and on. Payasam (the traditional Kerala dessert), the show-stopper among the Onasadya (the sumptuous feast) is itself of plentiful variety. It is very interesting to watch how kids make every festival their own. Children dart in the neighbourhood in search of flowers to make floral carpets (pookkalam) that adorn their courtyards. Traditional arts and games throbs the rustic ambience of villages. The inevitable swing is a unique feature of this festivity. There are many Onam special programmes conducted across Kerala including Kerala Tourism sponsored programs all over the state. Atham asterism was on 25th August this year and  Thiruvonam will be celebrated on September 6, 2017.

 

Snake boat race at Aranmula

Onam has lot many things associated with the celebrations and among them are the traditional snake boat races of Kerala. Aranmula has got a unique place when it comes to the cultural imaginings of Kerala. The boat race held annually on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the local Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival is one the cultural hallmarks of this land. Teeming with rich tradition and rituals immersed in splendor, the Aranmula Uthrittathi boat race is considered more of a ritual than a race. Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the Thiruvona sadya (the grand traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day, which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race. This year the boat race will be on 8th September 2017.

Where: Race is held in River Pamba in Aranmula, District Pathanamthitta of Kerala. If you want to be there than nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 11 km while nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 117 kms.

Regatta of remembrance with Payippad Boat Race

But than Aranmula is not the only boat race of Onam. Two days before the Aranmula boat race, takes place a legendary boat race at Payippad. It is also said to be perhaps the oldest boat race in Kerala. This one is in the northern part of the state though in all famous Alappuzha district. A regatta to commemorate a legend associated with water. The legend is about the installation of the idol in the Subrahmanya Swamy Temple, Haripad. The legend says that the villagers once had a vision, which directed them to a whirlpool in Kayamkulam Lake where they discovered the idol of Sree Subramanya. Held annually on the Payippad River, this boat race is noted for the largest participation of snake boats after the Nehru Trophy boat race. The boat race is marked by synergy, speed and rigour. Thousands swarm to the banks of Payippad River to celebrate the event. This event runs for three days. So if you can’t make it to Aranmula, then try to be at Payippad. There is another boat race on the same day- Sree Narayana Jayanthi Boat race at Kumarakom, one of the best beach resorts in Kerala. Payippad boat race event will run from 4th to 6th September 2017.

Where: Race will be at Payippad backwaters in Payippad, District Alappuzha. To reach there nearest railway station is Haripad, about 5 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.

Pulikali, the tiger dance

There is still something more associated with Onam in Kerala. Come Onam and the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district becomes a hunting ground teeming with prowling tigers and wily hunters. Each tiger has its ferocity writ large on their faces as well as on their bellies. Yes, bellies, for these are not the four-legged tigers you would come across in the wild. Rather, they are all men with their bodies painted as that of tigers with life like vividness. Pulikali (the play of the tigers) is an event that has become synonymous with the festival of Onam in Kerala. Apart from the true colours of a tiger, one would also come across other colours and patterns and even the facial features of lions on the bodies of the performers. The finesse with which the makeup is done with paints is awe inspiring. With the performance being centred on playing hide-and-seek with a hunter wielding a gun, the event is exciting and fun for both the performers and the onlookers. To say the least, it is a riot of fiery colours that is a feast to the eyes. This year Pulakili will be celebrated on 8th September 2017.

Where: Swaraj Round, Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Thrissur, about a kilometre while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 58 km from Thrissur.

Spectacular Neelamperoor Patayani

Onam ends but festivities don’t in Kerala. ‘Neelamperoor Patayani’ is a spectacular event that falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (usually August / September). Visiting Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy Temple during the time of annual patayani festival is a colourful treat to the eyes. The patayani (also called as padayani) celebration at this temple is said to have a history of around 1700 years. The word patayani literally means rows of army. Though patayani is performed in a number of other temples in Kerala, the one held at Neelamperoor is unique. Kettukazhcha (display of deftly decorated effigies) is what makes this festival stand out. A grand procession of huge effigies of swans and other legendary and mythical characters are brought in. The making of the effigies of swans is locally known as annam kettu. At night the ambience is set by a colourful procession carrying the effigies of mythological characters like Bhima, Ravana, and Yakshi, which is a spectacular sight. This year it will be celebrated on 19th September 2017.

Where: To witness this get to Palli Bhagavathi Temple at Neelamperoor in Alappuzha

Glory of Ramnagar Ramlila

Back to mainstream in one of the holiest of Indian cities as per hindu mythology. Varanasi has always been a magnet for the spiritual, the religious, for holy seers and for the hippies. During the ten days of the Dussehra, the city becomes famous for its Ramlila, often considered to be the one of the oldest and perhaps grandest ramlila in world.  Fifteen kilometers from the main city lies Ramnagar, where the Ram Leela is enacted in a unique manner. Unlike the rest of the country, where the enactment is done on single stages, here in Ramnagar the whole town is transformed into a large Ram Leela ground, structures are built and different spaces represent different locations in the story.  The whole Ram lila takes place over a month. For a month, Ramnagar is transformed into a giant stage for the story of Ram to unfold. Permanent structures and parts of the town within a five-kilometre radius are named after places mentioned in the epic, and different episodes of the lila are enacted at different venues every day. On most days, the Ramlila moves – the cast, the Kashi Naresh, audiences and all. Sometimes, the movement is within a larger venue. Sadhus coming to Ramnagar from all over the country during this time and reciting Ramcharitramanas are called Ramayanis and the audience follows the performers all over town.  Even though thousands of devotees, bystanders, tourists throng the town during this month, it is incredible to note that most of the recital is done without the aid of any loudspeakers, electric lights or mikes, and the audience maintains a hushed silence throughout the Ramayani recital. Audiences move around from one location to another in order to see the one of its kind Ramlila. The crowd ranges from a few thousand for some episodes, up to a lakh for episodes like Ram and Sita’s wedding, Dussehra (when a 60-feet high effigy of the Raavan is burnt), Bharat Milaap, and the coronation of Ram (the most auspicious episode). On the day after Dussehra, Varanasi celebrates the Bharat Milaap festival, which commemorates Ram’s return to Ayodhya and his reunion with younger brother Bharat.  This takes place at Nati Imli, and thousands of people flock and gather to see Ram meet Bharat.  People wear tilak on their foreheads and garland the brothers. Watching the entire scene from the background every year is Kashi Naresh (former king of Varanasi) in his regal attire and finery. This year Ramnagar Ramlila will be organised from 5th September to 5th October 2017.

Dussehras of different hues 

Dussehra in Almora, Uttarakhand

A festival so deep-rooted in our mythology is unique in the sense that it is celebrated in so different forms in different parts of country. Dussehra is marked as the victory of Good over evil, but the celebrations have taken various forms at various places. With underlying message the same in all of them, they all are worth a visit to understand the local customs, beliefs and rituals. Mysore Dasara is known for its sheer grandeur and participation. Mysore, or Mahishur as it was called in the past, traces its history back to the mythical past, when Goddess Chamundeshwari of Chamundi Hill, killed the wicked buffalo-headed demon, Mahishasura. The city of Mysore has a long tradition of celebrating the Dasara festival and the festivities here are an elaborate affair and attract a large audience from all over the world. Another unique celebration from remote interiors of the country. The most important festival in Bastar is the Dusshera when all the deities from the surrounding villages unite at the temple of Danteshwari in Jagdalpur, the district headquarters. Unlike Dusshera in other parts of India, here it is not the celebration of return of Rama to Ayodhaya.  Dusshera in Bastar is devoted entirely to the goddess, Danteshwari Devi. Then, Kota in Rajasthan has a very popular Dussehra celebration as well, known for a mixed urban-rural ethos of this religious occasion. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, Kota celebrates a number of festivals. However, this festival of Dussehra bears a distinct appeal altogether. Here Dussehra fair is observed for 25 days. Then, after the whole country winds up the celebration of Dussehra by burning the effigies of Ravana, then the Dussehra at Kullu begins. The festival commences on the tenth day of the rising moon, i.e. on Vijayadashmi day itself and continues for seven days. The birth of Dussehra in Kullu lay in royal fads and it nourished on religious, social and economic factors and ultimately came to be well established, because of the inborn love of the hill- men for fun, frolic, displayed in community singing and dancing. Kullu Dusshehra is a beautiful amalgam of history, culture and customs. Another Dussehra in the hills is in the top list for its traditional style and culture. In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the Dussehra festival starts with the performance of Ramlila which is unique as it is based on the musical rendering of the katha or story of Lord Rama. It is based on the theatrical traditions set by Uday Shankar during his stay in Almora; these traditions were further enriched by Mohan Upreti and Brijendra Lal Sah. Almora’s Kumaoni style enactment has also been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most representative Ramlilas along with places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan and Madhubani. This year Dussehra or Vijayadashami is on 30th September.

Cultural renascence through Bathukamma festival

Bathukamma at Lal badhur Stadium in Hyderabad.Photo/P Anil kumar

Bathukamma is one of the many undiscovered facets of Telangana which are now getting popularity with formation of separate state. The nine day Bathukamma festival is a celebration of womanhood and is an ode to the various emotions that woman feel. Bathukamma, a prominent festival prior to Dussehra is a historic festival embedded with the lives of woman in Telangana. Bathukamma represents the cultural spirit of Telangana and signifies the Goddess Maha Gauri, the patron goddess of womanhood. The Telangana government has declared ‘Bathukamma’ as a state festival. There are number of legends that surround this 1000 year old festival. Festival is most renowned for its large flower pyramids or ‘bathukammas’. Larger the better. Women spend hours building their bathukammas all through two week long celebrations. Once done, they offer it to the deities. The celebration is combined with traditional dance and folk songs. This year festival will be celebrated from 20th to 28th September.

Its all bright at Abhaneri Festival

This is comparatively a new entrant to Rajasthan’s festival calendar. ’Abhaneri festival’ is named after the village Abhaneri in the Dausa district which is around 90 km from Jaipur on the Agra road. This two-day festival has gained immense popularity amongst the tourists around the globe. This year, it will commence from 21st to 22nd September with various Rajasthani & local folk performances like Kachhi Ghori, Kalbeliya, Ghoomar, and Bhawai. Festival was initiated by Rajasthan Tourism in 2008, it is of great significance for Rajasthan. The village of Abhaneri was originally named Abha Nagri, meaning “city of brightness”. The place is popular for the Chand Baori-step well, one of the largest step wells built over a thousand years ago. Be a part of the celebrations at Abhaneri and dip into the rustic charm of traditional Rajasthani music.

Peak of season at Ladakh Festival 

So if you are done with all religious festivals than move north to Ladakh for yearly Ladakh festival. The main aim of organising this Ladakh festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual Instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like Traditional Folk dance and songs of different parts of Ladakh. The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year.Ladakh festival is celebrated from 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its villages. The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh Market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival is for 6 days with regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.

 

EAT, DRINK, MERRY! at Ziro

Ziro Festival of Music is probably one of the most happening fun outdoor music festival in the country. It also showcases the India’s independent music scene. This year the festival will be held from 28th September to 1st October 2017. So far ZFM has featured stellar acts from around the world including Lee Ranaldo & Steve Shelley (SONIC YOUTH -USA), Lou Majaw, menwhopause, Shaa’ir n Func, Whirling Kalapas, Sky Rabbit, Peter cat recording Co, Guru Rewben Mashangva among others. This edition will be over four days and will feature 40 performances from across the globe as well as the best folk musicians from the North East on two stages. More than 6000 people are expected to attend the festival. Lineup for this year includes Reggae Rajahs, Damo Suzuki, The Kathmandu Killers, Alaska Snack Time, Alobo Naga & The Band, Bint El Funk, Rizal Abdulhadi, Jambili, Thaalavattam, Dhruv Visvanath and Sofia Ashraf among others. Ziro is primarily home to the Apatanis – simple, friendly and hospitable people with an interesting culture and legacy. They are a non-nomadic, agrarian tribe who share a responsible relationship with nature. Apatanis cultivate permanent wet land cultivations instead of dry land cultivations which involves burning forests. Ziro valley is lush with paddy farms and is known for its unique paddy cum fi sh cultivation where using traditional irrigation methods, farmers rear fish in the knee-deep water. Keeping them company are the adorable, shy, and harmless Indian Bisons. All visitors – Indian and foreigners – to Arunachal Pradesh need special permits to enter the state. Indians need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) and foreigners require a Protected Area Permit.

Getting there: Ziro is the district headquarters of Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh (India) and is situated 167km from the capital, Itanagar. It is one of the oldest towns in Arunachal Pradesh in a valley at a height of over 5500 feet above sea level surrounded by misty mountains. The nearest airport is Tezpur. However, flights to Tezpur are often cancelled without reason. The best option is to fly to Guwahati and do the road journey. Guwahati is 450 kilometres from Ziro. It takes around 12 hours on road but lot also depends on weather. The nearest railhead is North Lakhimpur by Arunachal Express from New Bongaigaon. Direct buses are available from Guwahati, Itanagar and North Lakhimpur. You can also reach Naharlagun station by train which is 3 hours from Ziro. Naharlagun has overnight trains from Guwahati.