Desert National Park
In search of endangered Great Indian Bustards
Desert National Park is located near the town Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. This ecosystem supports abundant of migrant and resident birds. The park covers 3162 km². Best time to visit is December-January, nights are colder and days are hot but bearable.We have visited Death Valley National Park in USA and that is the first time we have been to desert. We both were stunned by seeing the colourful flowers and the amount of wildlife the desert ecosystem supports. When Indian cities are getting hotter and hotter, we were bit worried about specifically going to a desert location where its definitely going to be unbearably hot. But when we checked about the weather, its pleasant in the month of December and January. There is no airport closest to Jaisalmer. So we booked our air tickets till Ahmedabad. From Ahmedabad there were many Sleeper overnight buses to Jaisalmer. But its a rough,shaky drive as the roads are bad.
We were eager to see the daily life of people in Rajasthan near Jaisalmer, and surprised to see people are doing agriculture with full water intensive crops. The place is full of greenery and not like we expected. In this trip, we didn’t pre-book any hotel rooms like we usually do. We thought to pickup something on the way, which we regretted later. Once we got down from the bus, the cab drivers all rushed to us telling about hotels and the places we can visit. We selected a hotel which is in the centre of the town.
In this trip there were two other friends who accompanied us. Ashish Tatolu, who is an aspiring photographer wanted to join in the trip to capture the beauty of desert. Shanti Chellappa, our long time birding partner who wished to see Indian Bustard in its natural habitat. The hotel offered cab to roam around, but we all had to explore the place ourselves. So we rented 2 bikes and with google maps in hand we decided few routes.
We started off to a place where some water is shown in the map as we can see lots of birds near a water hole in desert.The Amarsagar Jain temple is next to this lake. During season the water level is very high, the tourists can even enjoy boat rides. When we went the water level was very low and we saw just few water birds and flowers. Seeing us tourists roaming around in unusual places, kids started coming behind and was begging us to give chocolate or money !!
We drove through few other roads, saw many birds. Then we went back to hotel and made arrangements for our next day trip to Desert National Park. We wished to see sunrise in the park, so we started very early from the hotel. We packed few canned foods as we were informed there was no shop in the park. We reached the park in dark and waited for sunrise.
Slowly the park awakened with the chattering of babblers, a distant call of an eagle, a flock of wheatears flying. The big fireball slowly started coming up in the background. Its really a breathtaking view and we were amazed about this ecosystem. The Forest Official checked with us for safari or camel ride, but we didn’t take either option as we wanted to walk and see everything closely. We paid the entrance fee of Rs.100 each and started the trek without a guide.What we saw in front is wide open dried grassland with shrubs and trees here and there.
We carried 2 ltr water bottles each as once the sun goes up its going to be very hot and we won’t find any drinking water inside the park. Almost all the birds we saw in the park were in brown colour, matching the terrain. Every other tree a raptor is sitting well camouflaged with the surroundings. In distant there was a chinkara running around.
Everything looked hazy with sun coming up. And then we saw a family of Vultures sitting in a tree near the trail.We were fully concentrating on Vultures and another group came in vehicle via another path. With all the commotions, the vultures flew away and before we realized what’s happening another big bird flew from the ground and there was our bustard. The normal size of Indian Bustard when standing up is around 3.3 ft. So it really looked big like the Lord of the Rings Eagle. But these birds don’t fly high.
It was really heart breaking to think that this bird was once a common bird all across India
Can you imagine a world where tall, huge birds roaming around freely ?
Atleast we were lucky to get a glimpse of this bird. We stopped for breakfast, ate few packed food stuffs and continued our walk. We saw few other small birds and the sun was at its peak. So we decided to return back and camp outside to see stars in sand dunes. We arranged it through the hotel we stayed and we crossed few sand dunes and we were eagerly checking out which one we were going to camp in the night!
Finally the vehicle stopped and we got down to see a ground where the kids were playing and next to that, one small hut and one bed was put outside. There was a small sand heap nearby and our driver told thats where we were going to camp. And we were charged 2000Rs for that ! We felt anger and disappointment. Luckily, we didn’t pay anything upfront, so we cancelled our camping plan. We then roamed around nearby sand dunes place and waited till sunset. Vinod and Ashish were walking around to find a perfect place to shoot sunset. Shanti and myself were discussing about the birds we saw in that trip so far and trying to find out names for few birds. Suddenly we heard Vinod shouting and asking us to join him. We lazily walked there to see what possibly he could have seen to be this excited in this sand dunes. And there we saw the reason for his excitement. Desert Hyacinth was in full bloom.
Before starting to this trip, the only flower that I researched about to see in the Desert National Park was Desert Hyacinth. But the place was so dry, I thought we missed the season. It was really beautiful to see this colourful inflorescence in a desert that too in the middle of sanddunes.
After watching a beautiful sunset and a pair of lovely bulbuls settling down for the end of the day, we also packed up.
We wanted to see stars in desert, but as our plan collapsed we slept early and next morning we started our day around 3 AM itself. We all wore winter clothes to protect us from the severe cold weather outside. The bike drive was very cold and we all started feeling numb. We stopped few times to see raptors in the mist.
When the sun started coming out we all felt better and now we were in a village road.
In India while the people living in water rich places have abandoned agriculture, this water scarce desert area was thriving with agriculture. Everywhere its green! And there were lots of peacocks roaming around. We took few wrong turns and finally reached a very small village. There was a small government school and it was school time. So all kids were running to the school. The lake we have to reach was somewhere nearby as per Google Map.We had breakfast, previous night’s chapathis packed as there were no shops on the way.
We then continued to the lake in bike, little scared to ride in this rugged road. If the tyre got punctured, none would have come to rescue. We saw the lake at distant and no more roads. So we stopped the bikes and parked at nowwhere,again worried to park the rented bikes there, but we had no choice. We then walked towards lake.
The lake was huge and we saw quite a number of ducks and plovers. But as we reached closer to the lake, we realized the birds were still very far. The inferior mirage confused us to decide the direction we have to walk to see the birds closer. Then we saw a black stork at distance. So we walked in that direction. Vinod lead the team, planning on how we can hide and take the picture of black stork. As we walked and walked, the distance never seemed to reduce. Again an Inferior Mirage! Finally we were almost near the flock of black stork,but still all the scenes we saw infront of us were blurry. Vinod and Shanti tried to go further when the black storks took off.
The ducks we saw earlier were still very far away!! And we turned back to realize how far we have walked setting the black stork as our mark. We were all very disappointed with all the mirage effect and suddenly we heard wings flapping sound from the sky. We saw hundreds of demoiselle cranes flying over the lake. Vinod and Ashish were shooting pictures, while Shanti and myself were starring at the sky with ours mouths open, clearly stunned by the overloaded awesomeness. And then we got back to reality and quickly grabbed our cameras to capture the moment.
We then went back to the place where we parked our bikes, secretly worrying if there was no bike , how will we go back !! Luckily, the bikes were in the exact place where we left. In the morning, we covered ourselves to protect from the cold, now its so hot we couldn’t even sit on the bike. We drove back to Jaisalmer thinking about having a good Rajasthani meal 🙂
Its really surprising how much wildlife a desert can sustain. The presence of water creates and sustains life, even if the water is present in minuscule amounts. Deserts are an apt example for this and we were happy that we could witness such diversity of life right in front of our eyes.