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Archive for February, 2011

Taj Mahal at sun rise

Continuing on the unexpected trip – Read Bharatpur story here.

Sunday morning left early from Bharatpur, and reached The Taj Mahal at Agra in an hour. Google maps worked incredibly well to help us reach the rear end of the Taj Mahal, from the side of Yamuna river. I had checked with Peevee regarding visiting from the river side and had great expectations to shoot the reflection from the river. As Benjie says ‘Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.’

I was disappointed as we were not allowed to get closer to the river bank. Despite the news of heavy rains, the water level wasn’t high. A barricade is set up and a bunch of policemen patrolling the area do not to let anyone closer to the monument from the other side, at least not the tourists. Also, the sun rise was somewhat in front of us. A stupid mistake that I made thinking east was to Taj Mahal’s left but missed the sun’s movement in solar cycle. Anyway it was fantastic to witness the Taj again – from a slightly different perspective than I had viewed more than a decade earlier. After photographing from the rear end garden for  an hour, we headed to the main entrance by 10:15am to photograph the Taj Mahal in the typical full frontal way.

As i jostled the Sunday morning crowed  and stood at the entrance with full view of Taj, a foreign lady beside me cried ‘Wow!’. That sums it up. The symbol of love, Taj Mahal, is truly wow.

Symbol of love in color looks as beautiful as..


Symbol of love looks in monochrome

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National Chambal Sanctuary – Chambal river safari at Dholpur

After a late breakfast by 11:45am at a ridiculously expensive restaurant in Agra, we left to Dholpur. The road from Agra to Dholpur is in excellent shape and doesn’t take more than an hour to reach Dholpur. The Chambal Safari boating run by MP tourism is close to the bridge, after Dholpur, on Agra-Gwalior highway. I had talked to a boatman at the place the previous night. Some IAS officer were to arrive on the same day we planned to go, and he warned me that I might not get any boat safari. Since I had only that day to spare, I took the chance and thought of walking along the banks to photograph Skimmers if we can’t take a boat. Talking to Rajeev Tomar was  helpful in getting the confidence to take this chance. Who knows when I can visit Chambal again!

At the boating point, we were told boats are booked for ‘saab’. One of the staff gave me the phone number of the officer who had come with an entourage that would take all the 5 boats. Thankfully, on my request, that person agreed to let us take a boat for couple of hours. What an incredible 2 hours of boating it was!

The two hours of boating from 1:30pm to 3:30pm  on the Chambal river gave me the sight of a variety of Birds, mammals and reptiles –  Skimmers, River Lapwings, Black Bellied Tern, Bar headed Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Comb Duck, Black Winged Stilts, Gharials, Muggers, Turtles, Gangetic Dolphins and more! Though I could only manage few glimpses of endangered Gangetic Dolphin, I could get photographs of many of the avian and reptilian species in the fantastic riverine habitat.

Starting with few variety of birds:

Black Winged Stilt

 

Ruddy Shelduck – pair


Comb Duck ( female) in the turquoise blue waters


River Lapwing  roosting on single leg


Gery Heron – ready to take off

 

Black-Bellied Tern – roosting

 

Next, the reptilians. Chambal river is home to the reptiles mugger crocodiles, a variety of turtles and the critically endangered Indian Gharials. Chambal river is without doubt the best place to sight the Gharials. Their population was in such bad state that they were in the verge of extinction. Thanks to the efforts of conservation organizations, they are making a strong come back. One can easily sight a gharial swim and bask around the Chambal river now. By the time we returned from the boating, Rajeev had arrived at the place. He then took us to Gharial Rearing Centre. Illegal fishing, inadvertent destruction of breeding sites and habitat destruction are major threat for their survival. From the banks of Chambal the rearing center collects eggs, and hatches them in incubation. The young gharials are fed with fish and taken care till they are about 6 months old, when they are let into the wild. Most of the Gharials you see on the Chambal river are from this rearing center. I was lucky to hold a young Gharial. Though they look naive, their razor sharp teeth can make enough damage. We also saw young Indian tented turtles at the rearing center, and a huge adult basking in the sun on the river while on boating safari.

A young Mugger Crocodile basking in the sun

Adult Gharial basking with its eyelid closed – notice the tag on its tail


Indian tent turtle (Pangshura circumdata) is one of the 8 species of turtles found in Chambal river

 

And then there were Skimmers – the target species for my trip to Chambal. Initially we saw a pair skim momentarily and fly away. Soon, we saw over 30 skimmers on the banks. They were in no mood for fishing and were roosting on the banks. They get their name because of the style of their fishing – the bird flies just above the water skimming the water surface to grab any fish if it comes in the path. Check this image of Mario Goren to see how they fish.

Indian Skimmers in flight

 

Indian Skimmers roosting with head tucked under wings

 

Indian Skimmer flock – it was difficult to get a portrait of single bird with so many around, until..


until this one obliged for a portrait

 

Later in the evening, after a round of chai at Rajeev’s house, we were back at Taj to do some night photography. Lest I knew that there were street lights put at the foot of Taj, even on its rear side, I’d not have made the futile effort of going there. Later that night, returned to Bharatpur – and next day, from there to Delhi and then to Bangalore.

I would like to thank and dedicate these photographs to Rajeev Tomar for giving me confidence on making the short trip despite the boatman suggested me otherwise. It was the most enjoyable and productive two hours of photography. Also, thanks to Rajeev for taking me to the Gharial rearing center, which I had no idea about until I went there.

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Saras Cranes – Birds that defines Bharatpur

A totally unexpected trip to Delhi turned out to an exciting weekend of travel and photography. Though this was a very short trip, I have lots of things to write. So, I’ve decided to split the trip into Bharatpur in part one and Taj and Chambal in the next. After a delayed IndiGo flight, I reached Arun‘s house in Delhi past midnight. Next morning, after finishing my work, we were on way to Bharatpur by 11am. Stopped over at a road side dabha for parantas – I loved ’em, despite a dead fly in Arun’s plate. :)

Route: Delhi -> Faridabad -> Mathura -> Agra -> Bharatpur

Distance: 180km; Driving time: About 4 hours.

We reached Bharatpur by around 3pm and drove straight to Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Thanks to Arun Bhat, I had contact of a good guide. Had contacted Captain Singh for guiding and he was on the park entrance waiting for us with a spotting scope. He showed a Collared Scops Owl right on a tree right at the entrance.  Hired a rickshaw and briefed Kaptaan what we expected to see. Were looking out for Dusky eagle owl, but first up, sighted a Grey Nightjar. Soon located a  resident Dusky Eagle Owl. She was tucked away in her roosting spot. What a beginning! Two fantastic lifers. As we moved on our way, sighted a Golden Jackal and many Herons, Painted Storks, and Cormorants. Photographed a Painted Stork fishing, had a glimpse of Bluethroat and watched the popular small blue kingfisher dive a few times. Long tailed nightjar was on my list and were lucky to sight it. The habitat at Keoladeo Park is breathtaking. One can only wonder how fantastic it would have been in it’s pinnacle!

Grey Nightjar

Later, Moved towards the temple of Keoladevi. We were watching hundreds of ducks – Comb duck, Ruddy Shelducks, Pintails and few others. It was not a good opportunity for photography as they were far away for any decent shot. A lone pair of Saras Cranes were on the far end of the once glorious wetland. Just then our rickshawala called out that he sighted a Black Bittern. We ran towards the spot. From far, had a good look. Just as we inched closer, the bird flew and hid in the reeds.

Dusky Eagle Owl

By then dusk was setting in, and we started back. Photographed a pair of roosting Ruddy Shelduck at the evening on the way back, while chalked out the plan for next two travel-crazy days as we got out of the park. Checked into RTDC Saras – a reasonable priced cozy place to stay  at about 500 meters from the entrance to Keoladeo Park.

The next day was spent in Agra photographing Taj, and few birds at Dholpur side of Chambal river. Returned to Bharatpur for overnight stay.

On Monday morning, the target species were Saras Crane, Black Necked Stork, Siberian Rubythroat, Oriental Scops Owl, Painted Snipe and Little Green heron. First up, Captain to us to a place outside the park where Saras Cranes are expected to be seen. After nearly an hour of driving back and forth, we had not sighted Saras Cranes, but a few Grey francolins, and 3 Egyptian Vultures. I was getting edgy and wanted to get back to the Park. Maybe we’ll get them there. As we were driving back, I was deleting few images to make space in memory card,  Kaptaan said ‘Saras Crane‘.

Excitedly, we got out and slowly approached a pair that were feeding in the fields. We made images as we approached, slowly and carefully. The lighting was just perfect – brimming early morning  sun behind our back and minimal mist. I was content with images I could capture. I got closer and closer to get a portrait. Just then, the pair started their courtship dance and song. Saras cranes mate for life and they share an incredible bond with each other.

It was the most incredible romance to see. I fired as many shots as I can. The courtship ritual ended in both the birds getting close to each other, singing and looking up into the sky. Just as they ended the sequence, I fired a shot and my camera displayed ‘memory card full’. My mind read, memories forever.

Saras Crane courtship dance – Bharatpur

Back at the Keoladeo park, we headed straight into the first check post in the car – I was running short of time as I had a flight to catch from Delhi that evening. Started looking for Siberian Rubythroat. After 15-20min of patient motionless-noiseless waiting, male of the tiny bird made a few brief appearances in the undergrowth. I could clearly see the ‘ruby’throat.  Spent another 10min waiting and captured an image I was happy with. Then, hired a rickshaw there and spent the next two hours looking for Little Green Heron and Oriental Scoops owl, without much luck. But we did see a Black necked stork pair. Also sighted a Greater Spotted Eagle. While getting back, tired to get male of Dusky Eagle Owl but without success. By about 11:30am, left the park to check for Greater Painted Snipe in the nalas of Bharatpur. We did see the bird, but wasn’t a good photo opportunity. It was getting late and had to leave the place. We left for Delhi by 1pm, and headed straight to airport. Reached Bangalore home at 11:55pm, ending a power-packed, short, unexpected but memorable trip.

I spent only 2 hours in the evening on first day and 4 hours in the morning on the last day. Yet, I could see a variety of species. Despite being in a great hurry, I could manage few decent photographs. If you spend 2 days, you can make a plethora good of images.

Here are few more images:


Siberian Rubythroat – A sulker in the undergrowth


Jungle Babbler




Indian Pond Heron – Has the patience of a saga to wait and catch its prey

Pink algae at once glorious wetland habitat of Keoladeo Ghana National Park – Bharatpur

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