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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
India, December 2005 ,
Rajasthan circuit - Tigers, Bustards, Cranes, Lapwings, Eagles, Larks and a Bushchat
The main aim of this trip was to see a tiger, which luckily we did. Also to look for some of the harder to see species of birds in Rajasthan. We travelled mainly by train for the first half of the trip then succumbed to the ease and comfort of a car and driver as it was only a 2 week trip. We visited Keechan, Jaisalmer, The Desert National Park, Ranthambhor, Baratphur and Bund Baretha for birding and did a bit of sightseeing along the way.
This site is fairly easy to get to by rickshaw from Phalodi. The site of several thousand cranes is very impressive and you can easily spend a couple of hours admiring and photographing them. There is little else to see or do in the area though, so it’s probably best to visit by your own vehicle or take a couple of hours out of the trip between Jodphur and Jaisalmer.
I spent all my birding time here around the tank or in the scrubby semi-desert to the south of the tank. This was a very productive area and I saw different birds on each visit.
Desert National Park
To get a permit is a bureaucratic nightmare. I enlisted the help of a recommended travel agent but even with him I had to visit lots of different office some several times! The cost of the permit was pretty steep as well, I got it for 2 days just in case but ended up seeing all the target birds in one long morning. Without the travel agent’s help I think this could take a couple of days to organise and it would be difficult to work out which office to go to in which order and what forms were needed!
The park was well worth it though, there was not another person in site for the whole time we were there. It is worth taking the camel cart from the information centre even just to carry your tripod and telescope and maybe your girlfriend! It gets pretty hot and tiring out there in the late morning. The Indian Bustard proved elusive and only gave themselves up when we had given up and were almost back at the centre. I saw 3 Macqueen’s bustards scanning from one of the small hills, the birds were outside the bustard enclosure. Stoliczka's Bushchat could easily be missed, we saw one displaying male inside the enclosure. The only bird I wanted to see and missed was hoopoe lark.
What a beautiful National Park, the main road from Sawai Madophor gives nothing away, it looks like anywhere else in India. It is not until you enter the park itself which is behind a chain of low hills that you appreciate the place. The first drive I think is the most memorable, entering into forest then a series of lakes, hills, grassland, cliffs and observing the abundant wildlife, a truly wonderful experience. We were lucky enough to see a tiger on our second jeep ride into the park. I know people who have taken 15 rides into the park and not seen one. Jeeps are vastly preferable to Canters, and not much more expensive if shared between 4 people. They are though much harder to obtain. We purposefully booked expensive safari style accommodation so we could guarantee at least two jeep rides 4-5 months prior to our trip. Birding tends to be easier from jeeps as you don’t have to persuade as many people to stop for small or difficult to see species. They are also more versatile on the tracks and appear to disturb the shier birds and animals less.
This famous site lived up to expectations and was the wettest it had been in several years, although there didn’t seem to be quite as many birds as there were when I visited in 2000 there were plenty to keep me occupied for several days. With thousands of ducks, hundreds of herons, egrets and storks, hundreds of cormorants and a small mixed flock of pelicans to be getting on with.
The more interesting and target species I wanted to see were as follows;
# Dusky Eagle Owl seen Nesting by main road to temple, Collared Scops Owl roosting along main road to temple and two at the temple.
# Orange headed Thrush, Tickell’s thrush and Red throated Flycatcher seen at the intersection of Jatoli canal (along path from Sapan Mari) and north south path from nursery, cross over canal then walking into the forest on the left (west side of path).
# Brooks leaf warbler seen in acacias by python gate, from the temple head south on the main path to python gate turn right towards Lala Pyare Ka Kund, just over the canal is a small pool on left head into the acacia trees to the right. We saw the warbler in the tops of the acacias here two mornings running it was calling almost constantly. # Marshall’s Iora had been seen here as well but not by me and rubythroat by the bridge over the canal in the damp undergrowth on the banks of the canal.
# Large tailed nightjar was seen roosting on the east side of path just south of python gate, under a large bees nest! Grey Nightjar was found roosting on main road near the sluice gate.
# Indian Courser, Sociable plover & Isabelline wheatear were seen in the dry area south of python gate, from the temple head south on the main path to python gate, turn left towards python point then left again, on quite a rough path which eventually meets the better path between Kadam Kunj and the temple around mansarovar lake. Roughly half way between python point and the good path head off right (S.E) into the large dry fields of Hans Sarovar. We walked across one semi desert/ grass field to a line of bushes then into a larger semi desert grass field this is where the birds were.
# Red Avadavat was seen in grassland in the south of the park, take a left turn after Kadam Kunj when cycling from the temple round mansarovar into a good grassland area with a few trees, you should be able to see Sikeer Malkoha here as well
# Lesser Spotted Eagle was seen perched above path between temple and python gate early morning in the mist
# Yellow Wattled lapwing was seen before Kadam Kung on the good path from the temple around mansarovar on the east side of the path in a large tree lined fields, only in morning.
# Northern Lapwing was seen from the brick path looking NE
Delhi – We stayed in a pretty pokey hotel called the H.K.Choudhary Paying Guest House in Connaught place. I wouldn’t really give it a recommendation, other than you can book from the UK and its fairly central.
Jodphur – Ratan Villas, this was a delightful large villa with courtyard, roof top and gardens. The restaurant was in the courtyard and served a great set dinner in the evening. Apparently you can get a pair of Jodphurs tailor made for you if you stay long enough for them to be made! Approximate cost of hotel 900R for a double room.
Phalodi – Stayed at the Hotel Sunrise, this was over priced at 400R for a very budget hotel and pretty awful. We had dinner at the Lal Niwas Days Inn and should have stayed here, but at the time we decided it was out of our budget. In hindsight we had one of the worst nights sleep of our trip, in a flee pit, with a generator outside our window which was running all night.
Jaisalmer – Stayed at Hotel Suraj inside the fort, which is an old haveli. The rooms were huge, but a bit rough around the edges. There was a nice atmosphere and the family who ran it were very friendly. Maybe a bit over priced at 1100R.
Ranthambhor – We stayed at The Ranthambhor Bagh hotel.
Baratphur – What a contrast, we stayed at Jungle Lodge for 300R a night. It is not far from the national park, on the strip with many hotels. It was an absolute pleasure to stay here. The owner, Ashok, is such a lovely man and fantastic host. We ended up staying five whole days. He has bikes that you can borrow to go the park and a good knowledge of the park and local area. We were well looked after, his wife baked a cake as it was my girlfriends birthday, he took her to the pharmacist when she had a chest infection, he also cooked up a feast on new years eve and even got out a couple of bottles of whisky for all the guests. He arranged a driver to take us to Bund Baretha where we had lunch at his house by the lake. We were also able to arrange a driver to take us to Agra for the day to see the Taj Mahl and Fatephur Sikri, which was well worth the visit. We even ended up getting a taxi from Baratphur to Delhi airport (a four hour journey) on our last night, for which the cost was less than the 5 mile cab ride from Heathrow to home on our return to England.
We had a pre-arranged pick up from Delhi airport to our first hotel, recommended if you arrive late at night. This avoids the hassle of taxi drivers trying to take you to a tourist information place or random hotel rather than your desired one.
We had also pre-booked a train ticked in Wembley (London) for our first journey from Delhi to Jodphur as previous experience has told me that sleeper trains are often booked up several days in advance. We got the Mandor Express at 9pm from Delhi to Jodphur which took around 12hrs. We were put in two-tier A/C class.
For the journey from Jodphur to Phalodi we took a government bus for 57R and the journey took 3 hrs from here to Jaisalmer we caught the inter-city train, sitting in unreserved class for 50R, the train left at 10.15am and was pretty empty.
On the route back from Jaisalmer to Jodphur we took the 11.15pm express arriving around 5am in Jodphur, this was late but we managed to catch our connection with the Jodphur – Sawai Madophur train at the station before Jodphur. The train had already left jodhpur but appeared to wait for us at this other station on the outskirts of town. We arrived in Sawai Madophur at about 2 pm and were met by a driver from our hotel.
For the journey between Ranthambhor (Sawai Madophur) and Baratphur our desired train was full even 3 days in advance, this is a busy line and we ended up on the 7.20am in seated class arriving about 10.00am.
For out final journeys we couldn’t face the trains or buses so used a car and driver, Baratphur – Agra & Fatephur Sikri 700R, Baratphur to Bund Baretha for the whole day 800R and Baratphur to Delhi Airport taking 4 hrs and costing 2000R.
16 Dec Fri 2005
Flew from Heathrow to Delhi via Frankfurt
17 Dec Sat 2005
Arrived Delhi at 2am local time. Picked up by man from our hotel. Got up late, had breakfast on the roof of the hotel then wandered off through old delhi to the Red Fort. Managed to see a few birds there. Caught the 9pm train to Jodphur.
18 Dec Sun 2005
Arrived Jodphur at 9:30 am checked intot he Ratan vilas. Had breakfast in the courtyard and managed to see a few birds from the roof of the hotel. We then headed up to the famous fort just out of town, there were quite a few raptors out on the thermals in the middle of the day. On route back to town we stopped at Jaswant Thada a temple with a lake this held a few of the commoner species.
19 Dec Mon 2005
Had a lie in after a tiring start to the holiday, had breakfast and then caught the govt. bus to Phalodi. We arrived in this small town early afternoon and checked into the Hotel Sunrise. Took a rickshaw to Keechan to see the cranes, there were several thousand present! In the evening we decided to go to the more salubrious hotel in the old part of town and had a very nice meal there.
20 Dec Tue 2005
Up at 8 am went to the bus station, there was no bus leaving until 12 so we headed to the train station and caught the 10.15 am intercity to Jaisalmer. Some good birding was had from an impromptu stop on route, but it was quite comical trying to get myself and telescope/tripod back on to a moving train. We checked into a hotel inside the fort for 3 nights. After lunch I walked down to the tank just outside town and birded around the edge for the rest of the afternoon.
21 Dec Wed 2005
The whole morning was spent trying to get permits to the Desert National Park (DNP), after lunch we took a boat out onto the tank which was very nice.
22 Dec Thurs 2005
Up 5.30 am met our jeep and driver at the entrance to the fort around 6 am. Picked up a DNP guard and headed off to the desert. Stopped as the sun came up after the turn off from Sam on the edge of the park. Made a few stops at good vantage points to scan for bustards. Made it to the Information centre at Sudaseri where we hired a man and his camel cart to take us around the enclosure. Saw most of the good birds by 1pm when it started to get pretty hot, headed slowly back to Jaisalmer.
23 Dec Fri 2005
Had a morning stroll around the tank and into the semi desert to the south, chilled out for the afternoon, caught the overnight train to Jodphur leaving at 11.15 pm.
24 Dec Sat 2005
We arrived at a station near Jodphur around 5.45 am, managed to catch our connecting train here as our train was running late. Finally made it to Sawai Madophur at 2pm. We were picked up at the station and taken to the Ranthambhor Bagh Hotel. After a late lunch I had a productive walk up the road towards the park.
25 Dec Sun 2005
Up at 6am got jeep into park with an Italian couple staying at another lodge. We were in the park between 7-10 am. Saw lots of birds and animals including a jungle cat. Came back for lunch then headed out in the afternoon on various means of transport to get to the fort inside the park. Walked back down the entrance road birding on route.
26 Dec Mon 2005
Up early took jeep into park with a couple from Fulham in London. We had a fairly slow start not seeing much and missing a tiger by a few minutes. Then we struck lucky seeing a male on the track for 10 seconds or so, he disappeared and the other jeeps left, we went back after a few minutes and sure enough he came back out. We had amazing views of him right out in the open walking and sitting on the track then in light bush as well. I took about 20 photos! Saw lots of birds again. After lunch I had a walk near Pug-mark resort, mainly looking for sandgrouse and a chance at courser.
27 Dec Tue 2005
Took a jeep out in the morning to go to Soorwal and Mansarowar Lakes, saw lots of birds but no skimmers. After lunch took a canter into the park, our driver from the morning gave us the best seats up front with him, which was nice.
28 Dec Wed 2005
7.20 am train to Baratphur arrived at 10 am. Checked into the Jungle Lodge had a rest. Headed into the park at 2pm took a cycle rickshaw to the temple, saw 60+ species just in the last few hours of the day.
29 Dec Thu 2005
Up early, cycled into the park, met guide who I had spoken to the day before at the centre point. Cycled all over the park with him for about 12 hours! Saw in excess of 100 species and at least 10 of my target birds.
30 Dec Fri 2005
Followed a similar route to yesterday on my own, picked up a few more species. The early morning fog took a long while to lift.
31 Dec Sat 2005
Our touristy day, took a car and driver to Agra saw the Taj Mahal then in the afternoon went to Fatepur Sikri. Had new year festivities at Jungle lodge in Baratphur.
1 Jan Sun 2006
Excellent day out at Bund Baretha, no skimmers but lots of birds saw in excess of 110 species. Had lunch at Ashok’s house by the lake. Got car and driver to take us to Delhi airport. Leaving at 8pm arriving at 12 midnight.
2 Jan Mon 2006
2 am flight from Delhi via Frankfurt to London Heathrow arriving early morning.
Species List (102 Kb .pdf)