Chambal – The Land of Gharials and Skimmers
Until a couple of years ago, Chambal invoked the fables of Dacoits and their barbaric atrocities on the local. Chambal was more of synonym for Phoolan Devi during her reign however in the recent years it all faded away into dust. I visited Chambal for something else, this side of Chambal story is more fascinating and much more beautiful than history. This place was on top of our list while planning Bharatpur and no Bharatpur trip is complete without the Chambal Visit. This is home to the 2 of the Critically Endangered Species (Indian Skimmer and Gharial) on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
We started early on from Bharatpur and it only takes about 2 ½ drive to reach Dholpur on the Rajasthan - MP border. The roads are pretty good except a couple of stretches in UP. MP Tourism operates motorised boats on the Chambal river for tourists and charges Rs.1400 for a 2hour ride that accommodates 4 people comfortably with all the equipment that we carried.
Indian Skimmer or the Indian Scissors-bill are a medium sized bird found along the rivers across the Indian Subcontinent and as as far as South Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, this was in the 1900's. These are only seen at Chambal and Indus river valley in Pakistan. As per an estimate there were about 10000 birds across the northern plains around 1996 and there are only about 200-300 left around Chambal. Skimmers need clean water as they don't dive deep into the water for fishing hence the name skimmer. By far as of today, Chambal is the only cleanest river in India which originates in Vindhyachal hills of Mhow district MP, runs along Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh then onto Uttar Pradesh before merging with Yamuna. This is the only habitat left for this endangered species.
Gharial aka fish eating crocodile is the part crocodilian family and native to the northern part of Indian subcontinent. There are only about 235 of these left globally and this is also appears in IUCN Red List. The primary reason as we gather is loss of river habitats, dwindling fish population and entanglement in fishing nets. Watching the Gharial and mugger crocodile basking in the early sun was how it started and within the first few minutes we spotted a flock Skimmers that were taking flight from the bank and coming again. This being their courtship period, we could get some very good moments. I am fascinated by their synchronized flight and landing.
Further up the stream we spotted Crested Terns and pair of Rudy Shelducks flying and landing. The highlight of the tour was getting to see Egyptian Vulture which we couldn't find in Bharatpur despite my friend Pranesh giving me the directions for the spot. We also saw a Laggar falcon chasing away the vulture and while on our way back we also saw bar headed landing not far from where we were and it was fantastic image too.
When we came back from the boat safari, there was only species from my list that we hadn't clicked, the River Lapwing which was first time for us and we didn't want to miss it. Soon enough I found one on the banks however it was a little tricky as the lighting condition wasn't good and moreover it was at a very awkward angle but the patience paid off, this bird went on a small sand mound and we fired our ammo. Other than the target species, we also spotted Bar a flock of Bar Headed Goose, Great Egret and Egyptian Vulture and Spoonbills along with the courtship behaviour of Skimmers.
One single trip isn't enough and will be back again next year as I still have some frames in mind that I am yet to make until then do enjoy the snaps below.
Text and images by Shivayogi Kanthi