Like a number of India’s sanctuaries, Keoladeo National Park (formerly Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) started off as a hunting reserve for a maharaja. Today, the 29-sq- km park in eastern Rajasthan is a Unesco World heritage Site. Over 360 bird species in 29 square kilometres make Keoladeo National Park among the world’s finest spots for birding. Some of these avian guests come from as far away as Siberia, Turkmenistan, China, and Afghanistan. Sarus cranes, which grow up to six feet in height and are the world’s tallest flying birds, frequent these manmade mudflats. Steppe eagles, pale and marsh harriers, and ospreys make their way here. Sambar, nilgai, and chital usually congregate by the lakes early in the morning. The wetlands are also inhabited by reptiles like the Indian rock python, common wolf snake, monitor lizards, and turtles. Depending on the water level, visitors can take a boat safari between November and February. The best time to visit Keoladeo National Park is between October and April.
Appeared in the October 2014 issue as “Flights Of Fancy”.
Black bucks have always fascinated rulers of India. The graceful antelope has survived thanks to one-time game reserves like Tal Chhapar, which is now a wildlife sanctuary dedicated to saving the species. Situated in Rajasthan’s Churu district, Tal Chhapar is a small sanctuary spread over an area of only eight square kilometers. Its modest square footage, however, guarantees sightings, especially in the months following the monsoon, when the animal population swells. There are no safaris and visitors can stroll through the park on foot or drive through in their own vehicles. The park is open throughout the year.
In addition to the black buck, Tal Chhapar is also inhabited by the desert fox, Indian desert jird, desert cat, and the chinkara. But it’s the sanctuary’s bird population that attracts most visitors, from the laggar falcon, greater spotted eagle, and red-headed vulture, to legions of beautiful demoiselle cranes, which fly in from over the Himalayas in September every year, drawn to the warm, sultry climate of Rajasthan.
Appeared in the March 2014 issue as “The Buck Stops Here”.
Hemis National Park in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, is one of India’s largest national parks. A visit here involves a lot of walking, camping, and extremely cold weather that goes down to -30˚C in winter. The national park’s landscape has great variety: snowy peaks, barley fields, narrow gorges, rocky cliffs, and turquoise water bodies. Being a high altitude park, Hemis does not brim with wildlife and vegetation at every step. But it is still home to a lot of animals including the Tibetan wolf, red fox, Eurasian brown bear, Ladakhurial (wild goat), lammergeier vulture, snow cock, and Himalayan griffon vulture.
Snow leopards are undoubtedly the biggest draw here and seeing one in the wild is the holy grail of wildlife spotting. Only around 300 of these graceful animals survive in the wild in India. Snow leopards descend to slightly lower altitudes in winter, making it a bit easier to spot them from November to March. Treks around the Husing valley, Ganda La pass, and Khardung are recommended to spot the snow leopard and other animals. There are several homestays in Rumbak that offer clean rooms with very basic facilities.
Appeared in the January 2013 issue as “Ghost On The Mountain”.