In the first part of this two-part article series, I introduced the Chambal area which many birders explore using the Chambal Safari Lodge as a base. In the second part I show how this area with a lodge such as the Chambal Safari Lodge as a focus could easily be developed into a multi-day wildlife holiday destination.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has large mammals including the tiger for which visitors would go to somewhere like the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. However, the Chambal Safari Lodge owes it business model to the River Chambal being an attraction for a number of species which are difficult to see in other parts of India. These included the endangered Gharial, a thin-snouted crocodilian as well as the River Dolphin. It is also one of the best places for a few species of birds which are greatly reduced in numbers. For many visiting birders who are chasing a list, the target species are the Indian Skimmer, River and Black-bellied Terns and River Lapwing which are best seen on a walk by the river. Skimmers are interesting birds with just 3 species in the family, with a species each found in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Skimmers look like terns (and are in the same scientific order as gulls, terns and waders). They are unique in having the lower mandible extending beyond the upper mandible and they hunt by skimming the water with the lower mandible extended at an angle to the water.
For bird watchers who are not chasing “Lifers”, the lodge can be a birding holiday in itself, and especially so when combined with nearby excursions. The grounds of the lodge and the excursions allow a wide variety of Indian wildlife to be seen. The birding is good with a variety of habitats. In the lodge grounds, frugivores such as hornbills and green-pigeons can be seen as well as flycatchers and warblers. Raptors soar over the open country, and an excursion along the Sarus Trail will result in several species of raptors in the field of view at the same time. A highlight is the flocks of Sarus Cranes. This area has one of the largest populations in India. The birds have become very confiding, allowing close views. The wildlife is confiding and I remember watching a Black-shouldered Kite calmly watching a herder pass within a few feet.
The river boat safaris are a highlight not just for the special birds but as well as for raptors, sand grouse, larks and swallows and martins. Jackals come to the edge of the water and Nilgai are seen silhouetted on the tops of the valley’s ridges.
The itinerary I have proposed below, shows how a group on a wildlife holiday, can spend several productive days at the lodge.
A Chambal Wildlife Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in the morning. After lunch, explore the Chambal Safari Lodge grounds. It is possible in a 3-4 hour session to see between 60—70 species of birds, especially during the northern winter when winter migrants have arrived. Winter is a good time to see both Red-breasted and Red-throated (a.k.a Taiga) Flycatchers as well as some of the leaf-warblers, such as Brooks’s Leaf- Warbler.
Evening: After dinner, night walk to look for Common Palm-civet and Indian Hare.
Day 2: Morning. Bird watch at the Lodge. Look out also for mammals including jackal and hare and on the trees, Flying Foxes. The lodge grounds hold roosting Brown Hawk-owls. Several species of raptor can be seen on the wing. Fruiting Ficus trees attract green-pigeons and hornbills.
Afternoon. Chambal River for Indian Skimmer, River and Black-bellied Terns and River Lapwing. Pipits, larks and birds of prey are often seen on the sandy bank. Gharial and Marsh Crocodiles are a certainty, often permitting close views. Around 7 species of freshwater turtle are found in the Chambal River and can be seen basking on the banks.
Day 3: Morning: Leave for Sarus Trail after early breakfast. Stop by at small wetlands to look for ducks. During the northern winter, migrant species of waterfowl have arrived. Migrant swallows can be seen hawking over water. The Sarus Crane, the tallest land bird in India is not difficult to see and is habituated to people. Flights of small flocks are spectacular. The Sarus Trail is an area which is a patchwork habitat of small freshwater pools and marshy areas interspersed with farmland. A surprisingly wide range of birds can be seen from marshland birds, open country birds and grassland birds. The area is good for raptors and species that can be seen include Marsh Harrier, Egyptian Vulture, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite. The reed beds hold weavers, skulking Bluethroats and warblers. Look out for the large Black-necked Stork amongst the Painted and Woolly-necked Storks.
Evening: Bird watch in the grounds. Look of out for Jungle Cat in the grasslands.
Day 4: Morning. After an early breakfast leave for a second Chambal River safari. Multiple visits increase the likelihood of seeing the elusive River Dolphins. They can be seen very close to the jetty. Conditions when the river is totally flat are best for picking them out as they only break the surface gently when they come up to breathe. A second trip in the morning allows different lighting conditions for photographers to photograph Gharial and Marsh Crocodile. The boats coast up to crocodiles quietly, allowing some exciting low-level images to be taken of crocodilians that are basking. Keep a distance to avoid disturbance.
Afternoon: Visit a site for Blackbuck. Also good for scrubland birds. The Blackbuck co-exist with people.
Day 5: Morning. More bird watching around the grounds of the Lodge or a third Chambal River trip for its specialities and another chance for the River Dolphins. The Chambal Safari Lodge has 3 boats licensed for use in the river and their guides are experienced in handling photographers.
Afternoon: Second visit to Sarus Trail or Blackbuck site. Or bird watch on the lodge grounds or spend at leisure. Wifi is available for anyone needing to catch up on their emails.
Day 6: After breakfast, departure. Enroute to Delhi, visit the Taj Mahal commissioned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632. This mausoleum on the south bank of the River Yamuna in Agra is one of the most iconic sites in India.
Distances from Chambal Safari Lodge:
Sarus Trail: 65km. Approx. 1.5 hours.
Chambal River: 22km. Approx. 45 minutes.
Blackbuck Trail: 30km. Approx. 60 minutes.
India has a long history of being endowed with a rich bounty of literature on natural history and wildlife. I have a whole library of books, many of which are too heavy to take on safari. Just before my trip in December 2016, John Beaufoy published three titles in their portable and compact Naturalist’s Guide series. The titles on mammals and on trees and shrubs are especially useful. The bird books by Rasmussen et al and Grimmett et al are the most popular for their comprehensive coverage although Kazmierczak is a good alternative if you need something more compact.
Grewal, B, & Chakravarthy, R. (2017). A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. John Beaufoy Publishing: UK. 176 pages.
Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C., and Inskipp, T. (1998). Pocket Guide to Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. 384 pages. Christopher Helm, a subsidiary of A & C Black. London. ISBN 0-7136-5165-2.
Johnsingh, A. & Manjrekar, N. Eds. (2015). Mammals of South Asia. Volume 2. Universities Press (India). Pages 739 +xxv.
Johnsingh, A. & Manjrekar, N. Eds. (2015). Mammals of South Asia. Volume 1. Universities Press (India). Pages 614 +xxviii.
Kazmierczak, K. (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Illustrated by Ber van Perlo. 2000. Pica Press, UK. 352 pages.
Kehimkar, I. (2016). Butterflies of India. BHNS Field Guides. BNHS: Mumbai. 528 pages.
Kehimkar, I. (2000). Common Indian Wildflowers. Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press: India. 141 pages.
Krishen, P. (2013). A Field Guide for Tree Spotters: Jungle Trees of Central India. Penguin Books: India. 400 pages.
Krishen, P. (2006). Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide. Dorling Kindersley India. 360 pages.
Menon, V. (2003). A Field Guide to Indian Mammals. Dorling Kindersley (India) Pvt. Limited. Delhi. 201 pages.
Rasmussen, P. C. & Anderton, J. C. (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Vols 1 and 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions, Washington, D.C. and Barcelona. Vol 1: 180 colour plates, 378 pages. Vol 2: 683 pages.
Sachdeva, P. & Tongrbram, V. (2017). A Naturalist’s Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. John Beaufoy Publishing: UK. Pages 176.
Smetacek, P. (2017). A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. John Beaufoy Publishing: UK. Pages 176.
Acknowledgements I would like to thank Ram Pratap Singh and Anu Dhillon for inviting me as a speaker for the Uttar Pradesh Bird Fair 2016. My thanks also to them for hosting me at the Chambal Safari Lodge and for organising some of the logistics. My thanks to Nikhil Devasar for organising some interesting excursions for the delegates and inviting some excellent speakers whose company I enjoyed very much. The Uttar Pradesh Forest Department was the lead sponsor of the Uttar Pradesh Bird Fair. My thanks to Tara Wikramanayake and Anu Dhillon for copy editing.
Read also the First part