BIRD WATCHING & TIGER SAFARI IN NORTH & CENTRAL INDIA A MUST DO
Bird watching and Tiger Safari are two things that I always in my mind whenever I plan a holiday. And this time we planned it as a full family vacation in India. And I must say the two weeks we had in the jungles were class apart from what we have done in the past. So I decided to pen my travelogue.
The first day is actually about arrival in Delhi and taking a bit of rest before we actually start the trip next morning. And guess what? The amazing tour began with a trip to none other than the majestic Taj Mahal in Agra, where we reach late morning the next day. Poetry carved in marble – must be its right name! I could not take my eyes off. We spent half the day there and later went to the Red Fort of Agra as well. But the surprise package came early noon when we were taken back to the Taj, this time towards behind the momnument where the Yamuna River flows like a very slow rivulet. The region is named the Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, literally footsteps from the Taj Majal. Some 200 species of birds can be spotted here during the winter months. We clicked various species of Egrets, Open-bill and Black-Necked Storks, White Ibis and Spoonbill…and of-course Herons. Migratory birds like the Bar-headed Geese added to the winged beauty of the region. The gudie wound up the trip to Agra by late noon and from here we were driven to Katni where we boarded a train. This was an overnight journey to the land of the Tiger – Bandhavgarh – the place where the actual fun begins!
During the three day we spend at this awesome place, we took on some six safaris through three best tiger-and-birds spotting zones, namely TALA, MAGADHI, AND KHITAULI. We saw a Tigress and her cubs only on the last day. But then we had ample sightings of the Leopard, Indian Gazelle, Hyena, Jackal, Wild boar, Spotted Deer, Sambhar, Barking Deer, Blue Bull, Sloth Bear, Common Langurs, Rhesus Monkey etc. And coming to birds, Bandhavgarh is a riot of colors. My favorite zones for birding were Bhadrashilla Lake, Madhuri Dam and Bhambhera Dam where the streams and marshes are rich in bird life. The common species of birds seen here are Egrets, Darter, the Yellow and Red-Wattled Lapwings, Egyptian Vulture, the Blue Bearded Bee-Eater, Kingfishers and Indian Rollers. I also happened to spot the King Cobra and a Python, which gave us goosebumps! Towards the last leg of the Bandhavgarh trip, on the last
Five days had passed and I was super-excited with the thought of what lay ahead! The sixth day was a bit boring since it was just spent travelling to the Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, via Jabalpur-Delhi-Noida. While other members of the troop enjoyed this journey with our guide who was a perfect story-teller, I was rather not very excited at the thought of a day-long travel. But that was my opinion; others were really happy with this journey as well, since it made us great friends who were by noon exchanging personal contact information!
We stayed overnight in Noida from where early morning next day we left for the Jim Corbett National Park. But before we proceeded for the drive, our guide was very particular about briefing us on about what lay ahead, especially the mood swings of the hills in terms of weather! In short, we were instructed to play safe and not be very adventurous. I kept my thickest woolens handy.
The journey to Jim Corbett National Parks is about six-hour road-trip. But here I was not at all distracted traveling since we took a lot of stops in between. The guide would find a stakeout for spotting different kinds of birds specific to that region and we would halt the cars. The journey from plains to hills, the changing terrain, was fun. We arrived at the National Park to a sumptuous spread of choicest Kumaoni Cuisines done to our taste. Post lunch we chose to take a siesta. And early evening we were taken for birding near our cottage Safaris.
Corbett is best traversed via a Jeep Safari early morning and evening, with a lunch-break by the river. And I was hyper-excited like a child, at the thought of spending two nights in these jungle cottages! The next morning we were guided to the Kosi River, where I got some amazing shots of Bristled Grassbird, Black Francolin, Purple Crimson Sunbird. My children were lucky to see the majestic flight of Mountain Hawk-Eagle. Our guide told us that Corbett is home to some 600 species of birds, especially in the migratory season. And on the second morning at Corbett, we spotted a Tiger taking a siesta after mauling a deer. Oh dear! For a second I didn’t know whether to pity the poor deer or enjoy the sight of this majestic mammal who looked so calm and at peace.
We also saw Barking Deer, Jackals etc from a distance. So the Big Cats and Bird trip goes side-by-side. The other birds that add beauty to the region are the Maroon Oriole, White-tailed nuthatches, Chestnut bellied Nuthatches, Golden-Fronted Orange-Bellied Leafbird, Hen Harrier, Slaty-Headed Parakeets, Russet Sparrow, and Bar-tailed Tree-creeper. And if you think you are done by the time the Sun sets, no your aren’t. The guide will take you to spot the night-birds – the Long-tailed Nightjar, Jungle owlet, Spot-bellied Owl, etc. Not just the place but the hospitality at the region is worth a mention. Everyone who comes for this trip, must stay in these jungle cottages where you are treated like Kings and Queens, in terms of facilities as well as food! By the time day nine came to and end, I had already begun feeling nostalgic at the thought of going back. But then, the wheel of time moves on, without fail…
The tenth morning of the tour, we were taken for a quick bird-watching trip to the nearby forests. And around 7am, after an early breakfast we left for Pangot – a tiny, quiet hamlet, yet the pioneer of birding in India. And it is just 15 km away from the very-crowded Nainital. And the drive from Corbett to this place is very scenic amid breeze through the Oak trees coming and caressing our hair, giving us a feel as if saying ‘Do not leave, stay here, we love you!” I could feel the magic in every moment of the drive, which would halt in between to spot birds en-route.
Nainital onwards, driving into Pangot is like stepping into a remote Himalayan village. The entire drive is through the Oaks and Pines of the China Peak Range via Snow View Point and beside the Kilbury Bird Sanctuary. Pangot – the birdwatchers’ paradise has 250+ species of birds in and around. And I was lucky that our family got a cottage at the Jungle Lore Birding Lodge, which the first bird-watching lodge in India. Nestled amid thick oak forests, these cottages are sheer beauty carved in wood and stone. The Red Bill, Blue Magpie will be seen play hide and seek amid these serene environs.
We spent two nights here. And post lunch on day one, we just stepped out from the lodges and moved into the nearby jungles for a short birding tour. Pangot is home to more than 200 species of birds e.g the Crested Serpent and Black Eagle, various varieties of woodpeckers like the Brown-fronted, Stripe-breasted, Rufous-bellied, Laughing Thrush, Mountain Hawk, etc. After a short birding trip in the vicinity of the lodge, we all ran to the beautifully done cafe, which takes us back into time. Decorated with the choicest antiques, all based around birds and animals, this cafe is one of its kind- infact a never-seen before by me. And the Kumaoni Cuisines prepared by the Chef here is to die for! No wonder, all I wanted to do that day was sleep after a hearty meal. But thanks to our guide, I was dragged into the jungles for fun! The chief birding destination in Pangot is the Kilbury Bird Sanctuary – a celebration of winged creatures both big and small. It is off the main road which leads to Nanital. The region has a shallow pool or Pokhar where you can easily find Brown –fronted and grey – hooded woodpeckers, as well as the Luminous Maroon Oriole and jewel-like blue Verditer Flycatcher. Another point famous for easy birding is the Pangot Nala – a small gushing stream. Pangot is also a perfect place to spot Black-throated Thrushes, Red-billed Blue Magpies, Streaked Laughing Thrushes, Common Stonechats, Slaty-headed Parakeets, Russet Sparrow and Yellow-breasted Greenfinches. But the highlights of the birding trip at Pangot usually are the Pheasants like Cheer, Koklas and Khalij. And we were lucky to spot not just these three but even the rare Grey-crowned Prinia! The two days spent here simply flew like the birds we saw. Pangot is one region in the world, where I would like to come for a full holiday to explore it to the core. I was engrossed in these thoughts and more at the bonfire, where we all danced to Kumaoni Songs on the 11th night of the tour. It was such a beautiful moment, where we had forgotten who we were, where we belonged to and just enjoyed like kids.
On the twelfth morning after a quick birding trip in the vicinity of the lodge, our car caravan moved ahead to -Sattal – where we to spend one night before departure to Delhi.
Sattal – is an interconnected group of seven freshwater lakes. Sattal is at a lower altitude….thus having its own birds which thrive in and amid the orchards in the Mehragaon valley. Heaven for naturalists, birders and photographers alike, these forests are literally pulsating with life with
Wood Owl, Crested Kingfisher, Himalayan Woodpecker
Sun was about to set, the last day of the tour was coming to end and we all were kinda in tears. None of us wanted to go back home, Goodbyes