Friday, February 19, 2016

Chambal National Park

        " Aap Calcutta se Chakraborty hai"  - In reply of this sudden question , dumbstruck, I just nodded positively , instruction came -- " Chaliye, hume Bhaiji ne bheja" . Before I could realise , who was this " Bhaiji”, why he had sent them for me,   a stout broad shouldered young man picked up my camera bag and his assistant  almost grabbed my heavy rucksack and in a wink of my eyes, he walked forward with large hasty footsteps. As my life clinged to my camera bag, I had no other option but to follow him with a great pace and get into the Innova parked on the other side of the road . Immediate instruction was uttered afterwards to the driver, " Circuit house" . Within 10 mn, the vehicle entered into the huge compound of the circuit house. I was told to wait in the lobby , and the " Boss" started to examine the rooms. A quick look of one  room and discarding it with an irritated face to check the other, the sequence continued for a while . After cancelling 4/5 such rooms, finally my luggage had been dropped in a huge  literally a suite that could accommodate one entire badminton court easily. Along with the electrical ceiling fan hanging from a two story high ceiling, a big handmade decorative " Pankha" was also there, the rope of which vanished in the Varanda, probably to the hands of an invisible ghostly " Pankhapuller" .  It may be that the authority earnestly tried to maintain the flavour of British era till date.       

        With an  surging intention to photograph Gharial and Indian Skimmer in Chambal National Park , when left Bharatpur just after sunrise , the intangible veil of fog was so dense that even my own wristwatch vanished in the white darkness. With passing time , the fog though  lightened a bit, yet the weather was still very dull and drowsy. Apart from the weather , there were lots of other confusions against my trip. Chambal could not wipe its notorious past totally out , so the security and safety of both the photographer and his equipments were really doubtful--- well-wishers continuously gave evidences of so many scary news.  At last I dialed the number of a long known senior forest official who once operated there in Chambal ,  and told me that in spite of this countrywide  severe water pollution phase all over our country, Chambal river is still clean enough. Anyway he assured me of my safety  and I decided to set out for Dholpur , the Rajasthan base for Chambal.
Dholpur Circuit House

      Lying on the king sized bed of the circuit house, I was wondering about the incident happened in the morning at bus stand ,  whether the entire phenomenon was blissful or fearful.  And coincidentally as I looked outside just like that, I found my two " abductors" peeping from the door. After eye contact, they hesitantly entered into the room. I asked their identity and whereabouts in the most possible polite manner. After initial uneasiness was over, the extract of our conversation was - that senior forester  requested one of his old acquaintance to help me in my trip , that person is the " Bhaiyaji" of these two " innocent kids" !!
        After an early lunch , left the circuit house with a very light mood. Now the only companion is Amit, the sole controller of every single thing since our first meet at Dholpur bus stand.  While driving , he started to open up slowly , told about Dholpur , about himself. At an age of mere 26 years , he supervises the administration of three polytechnic colleges, one engineering collage and five schools  , as a part of his family business. Besides this he has stepped into active politics as well. He couldn't suppress his frustration about the neglected position of Dholpur in the state's tourisms map. He opined that, inspite of having rich historical heritages, Rajput architectural marvels, spiritual sites, it had not been highlighted properly.
        In the meantime , our vehicle has crossed the Chambal river and entered into the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh part of the national park. Descending from the bridge we turned left, driving carefully on a sandy path Amit parked the car in front of the forest camp. Some miniature versions of circus tents , surrounded by ropes served the purpose. After collecting the permit for the boat safari moved towards the river bed ; to my utter surprise found a gigantic crocodile basking just outside the rope boundary of the camp. Taking few snaps moved towards the floating jetty, made from bright coloured plastic blocks which tosses at every footstep. As all the boats were in the river , I had to wait for my turn to come , so started to enjoy the fun of swinging jetty with continuous walk on that. Boat came within  fifteen minutes and my Chambal safari started. 

Boat safari on River Chambal

       Siyaram , the guide cum boatman of four seat speed boat hailed from Morena. He informed that there was no skimmer sighting in the entire area in last 3-4 days. Near the jetty gigantic pipeline was withdrawing river water to supply in the Dholpur town. Few ruddyshel ducks were swimming here and there. Though some local boys reached very close to them with the help of air filled tube, they didn't get scared , neither flew away. Our boat were also at an handshaking distance, but they allowed that proximity, I got some descent frames. We moved forward and found a baby gharial basking on its mother's back in a small islet. At another area ,saw a mixed flock of innumerable spoonbill, river tern, lapwings and ruddyshel ducks to enjoy their lunch. Gangetic dolphin sprung out of water several times with a flurry of water drops , both in front and behind the boat, but for so small duration of  time that couldn't get the chance to even point the camera.

Ruddyshel Duck

       On moving some more distance found some apparition type figure running and jumping on a small island. A very patient look through the tele lens revealed a tall man playing football with some kids. My observation made Amit highly excited , he told me that man was a highly powerful " Baba", apart from few local boys, he used to avoid human contact. Amit wanted to give a try to meet him, Siyaramji took the boat as close as possible to the bank. Amit removed his shoe, folded trouser and jumped into the water. Though the water was shallow, due to thick loose mud , water reached his waistline. No sooner he touched the solid hard ground on the bank , those boys ran towards him. It was just a silent movie to me, but faced no difficulty to realise that they are sending him back. Amit offered his " Pranam" there on the ground and came back . Later he told, as soon as he jumped into the water , Babaji had sent his battalion to send him back to the boat again.

Garial mother and baby

    On our way back to the jetty , Siyaramji drove the boat in a jig jag pattern to create turbulence in the river water. Surprisingly got glimpses of jumping dolphin at least 10 times , sometimes head, or back part or tail view, but never got the whole body, neither could get even a record shot.  Crossed the bridge again to reenter the Dholpur part. Amit drove the car to a hilltop ancient fort, surrounded by a wall. A panoramic view of entire Chambal valley could be seen from the hilltop. The mesmerising undulated topography  made of red  barren soil and stone hillocks, and labyrinth type road under setting sun made me busy in taking shot after shot. At every moment I imagined that a group of horse riders with giant spring like mustache, red " teeka" on forehead and bullet garlands will come out from those alleys with a sea of dust behind. Spend few more minutes even after sun set and came to the circuit house again. As the entire day was extremely tiring and exhaustive ,  took a hot shower and dinner and just threw my empty body to the inviting bed.

       Next morning was not an exception from the visibility point of view. Yet found 4-5 peacocks, ashy prinia, Indian robin, oriental white eye  and some other very common birds within the circuit house periphery. As we had to start the safari very late and bird activities decreases dramatically with rising sun, the morning safari was not at all productive.         

River Lapwing

       After lunch we reached to the Gharial breeding centre of Morena. Babies of various ages to adult gharial were kept there. Spending few hours there helped me to understand the life cycle of gharial, at least partly. Then again we reached to the jetty. This time Amit's brother Naveen and few of his college mates accompanied me. So we booked a 12 seats speed boat for the safari. This had to be my last safari in Chambal National Park in this lap, but had no luck to get even a single skimmer till then. To console my unsatisfied mind Siyaramji proclaimed  " aaj dikhayenge sir aapko Skimmer" and informed a flock of around 20 skimmer had been noticed to hover few min back.

River tern

      Within 10 min , just after leaving the camp , got cardfull shots of river lapwing, Egyptian vulture , 3 different varieties of kingfishers , Asian soft shell turtle, black winged stilt etc and after 15- 20 more minutes of journey noticed that flock of illusive Indian Skimmer at last , consisting of 26 individuals. Every bird was in a perfect mood of afternoon power nap, deliberately avoiding all sort of movement. Siyaramji switched off the engine and took the boat as close as possible , without creating any disturbance to the flock. My wait began with a hope to record some bird activity.

Asian soft shell turtle

     As soon as the Sun started to soften it's luminosity , they became active. Creating a huge gap between uniquely  unsymmetrical beaks , they started to " Skim" , a species specific habit of touching the river water while flying.  In next 30 minutes , I could photograph lots of bird activities which made my last safari perfect.

Skimming of Indian Skimmer

Indian Skimmer pair

      From both Bharatpur and Agra, Dholpur is roughly 50 KM and are well connected by regular bus service. So one can have glimpses of this beautiful National park if just one extra day could be added to the Agra  or Bharatpur trip itinerary. There are lots of accommodation  of different budget around Dholpur Bus stand. Car can be booked from Agra, Bharatpur or Dholpur to visit the Morena Camp. 



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