Saturday, September 24, 2011

Traveling Notes from Keoladeo National Park, Bharatput, India

The lazy days of Summer are coming to an end, We have also past the everyday Rains... Clouds come only for 20-30 minutes, in the middle of sunny day and then vanish with the winds. Hard. Crazy weather! The good part is that the fall is standing over the next corner...

On one comparatively cool morning, I was welcomed by the calls of jungle babblers and Brahminy Mynas that hopped from branch to branch along the trees at the edge of the park.

The small road that cuts through Keoladeo National Park is like a great, open-air aviary, where a medley of bird calls and sudden flashes of colour in the foliage keep you light and peaceful. There’s a mind-boggling variety of birds and other local animals at this sanctuary in Rajasthan, where I encountered nearly a hundred species living happily within the protected area. The park is so densely populated that no matter where I stood, there were at least half-a-dozen species preening and calling out.

It’s one of history’s ironies that the origin of this national park has nothing to do with protecting birds. More than a century ago, the Maharaja of Bharatpur created these wetlands by damming Gambhir River and diverting its waters to a natural depression. The marshy area thus created for shooting (with gun of-course) ducks and cranes and other migratory birds, which arrived in the winter months. What is a beautiful sanctuary today was thus a protected hunting site, which hosted shooting parties of Indian and British royalty!

This hunting reserve was declared a bird sanctuary in 1956 and named after the Keoladeo (Lord Shiva) Temple located within its boundaries. The sanctuary, with more than 300 species of birds, many of them critically endangered, was later declared a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I had barely taken a few steps inside when I spotted a peahen escorting a bunch of young ones foraging on the ground. They quickly disappeared into a bush when the mother saw me watching them and alerted her flock. A minute later, a laughing dove was posing for me gracefully from atop a bush.

In my first hour inside the park, I saw only smaller birds commonly found in the plains, like rose-ringed parakeets and a variety of shrikes, bulbul, Myna, Drongo and other common birds. Parakeets love to chatter! Every inch of Bharatpur’s shrub is filled with their raucous calls and yet their green blends so seamlessly with the vegetation that it’s hard to spot them in the trees.

As I walked further down this great birding highway, birds that were less common were kind enough to make an appearance. The only pair of black-necked storks nesting in the park was feeding happily in knee-deep waters at the edge of the road, showing off shiny blue necks.

After a few hours of wandering around the sanctuary, I spotted a fine pair of critically endangered Sarus Cranes—the largest of the birds in the park—known to stand almost as tall as a human adult. As I kept watching them, the pair delighted me with a fine display of their courtship dance, jumping up and calling with a loud trumpeting sound. Watching this happy couple alone made my visit to the park rewarding.

The marshy terrain makes the Keoladeo an ideal habitat for large herons, which need plenty of space and isolation to breed. These large birds were nesting on trees scattered across the swamp. There was a fairly large population of painted storks that stood out with their colourful pink-and-black plumage. Grey herons, with their long necks, were everywhere. Standing absolutely still in knee-deep water, they would suddenly stab at fish with their needle-like, long beaks.
There is more to Keoladeo National Park than this massive congregation of birds. The large water body makes it an ideal habitat for turtles. It was a full three hours later that I found an easy way to get a good look at them, thanks to the generosity of Seetaram Baba. Baba lives at the Hanuman Temple in a corner of the park. He had been feeding the turtles for many years and they now respond to his calls.

Baba took a vessel filled with dough to the water’s edge. As we watched, standing on the steps leading to the pond, he started calling them, “Aa…aa…aaa.” Within seconds, I saw something stir in the water. Then, a small snout and two tiny eyes popped out near the steps. This was soon followed by another one and another one, all of them emerging slowly. They fed on the wheat balls slowly and cautiously, coming out of the water only for an instant to gulp the food before disappearing again. They looked gentle and harmless but Baba told me they can collectively tear apart an animal.

This sanctuary is also inhabited by Sambar, Chital, Nilgai and Boar that graze happily on the lush grass at the edge of the marsh.

One of the major environmental issue in this park is—many species of migratory birds have failed to show up over the past two decades owing to successive years of drought and lack of sufficient water in the marshes. The increased demand for redirecting the waters of the dam to nearby agricultural fields is making it harder to keep the swamp filled. For instance, the Siberian cranes, once almost the migrant mascots of the park, have not visited Bharatpur in eight years.

About Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur

Keoladeo National Park is a small marshland with a very high density of bird population. A large number of winter migrants arrive in the park in the years when there is sufficient water in the marshes. Small roads cut across the marshland, allowing visitors to get a good look at the birds. Access to the park is by foot, cycle rickshaws and bicycles. Cycle Rickshaws and bird guides can be hired at the park entrance on hourly rates. It is recommended to use the services of guides as they are well informed and can show you some birds that you may not easily find yourself.  Bicycles are a good way to traverse the park and are available on rent.

The park is just outside the town of Bharatpur, which is an hour’s drive from Agra on the Agra-Jaipur road. It is about five hours by road from Delhi. 

More than 300 species of birds are found in this small wildlife park of 29-sq-kms of which 11-sq-kms are marshes and the rest scrubland and grassland. Keoladeo, the name derives from an ancient Hindu temple, devoted to Lord Shiva, which stands at the centre of the park. ‘Ghana’ means dense, referring to the thick forest, which used to cover the area. 

Keoladeo, popularly known as Bharatpur Wildlife Sanctuary, is perhaps the only case where the habitat has been created by a maharaja. In earlier times, Bharatpur town used to be flooded regularly every monsoon. In 1760, an earthen dam (Ajan Dam) was constructed, to save the town, from this annual vagary of nature. The depression created by extraction of soil for the dam was cleared and this became the Bharatpur Lake.

Boats are also available on hire. A early morning boat trip or a late evening one is quite a rewarding experience to check out the hidden surprises of Bharatpur.

Other nearby tourist attraction  

Bharatpur Palace :
Not far from the National Park is the Bharatpur Palace, an marvellous structural blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture.

Lohagarh Fort :
The invincible Lohagarh Fort, which remained unconquered despite several attacks by the British regime.
Deeg Palace :
Situated just 32-kms away from Bharatpur is the Deeg Palace. A strong and massive fortress, Deeg Palace was the summer resort of the rulers of Bharatpur and houses numerous beautiful palaces and gardens.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bear Rescue Centre Agra, India : : Another step towards humanity

During my regular trips to Soor Sarovar bird sanctuary in Agra, I also use to visit the Bear Rescue Centre, a program supported by the non-profit Wildlife S.O.S of India. The area was closed to visitors without a reservation; the rule follows strictly. The Bear rescue centre is a permanent home for these bears because they cannot be released into the wild.

Recently when I went there, just inside the park, a furry sloth bear lumbered up to the chain-link fence of the enclosure and sniffed. Its divine to see them playing independently. "They're each given new names when they arrive at the sanctuary," the biologist said. All of the bears in the park have been rescued from miserable lives as dancing bears.

I also visit the facility inside the rescue centre. I was thoroughly impressed to see an ultrasound, dental x-ray, and x-ray machine as well as a fully equipped dental unit, incubator for growing cultures and a well stocked lab!

If you are into bear medicine, this is definitely the place to be! The rescue centre is a wonderful place with the bears living in a natural enclosure with all sorts of enrichment that change regularly.

The Story of the Bears: For generations, Kalandar (gypsy tribes of India) have captured young bears soon after birth, often killing the mother in the process. The bears are then trained to "dance" for entertainment, tourists, and photo opportunities. The process to convert them to lives in captivity is brutal. Their teeth are pulled, claws chopped off and sensitive muzzles pierced for ropes just 4 feet in length. 

The good news is the efforts of this organization have resulted in more than 480 rescued and rehabilitated bears since 2002. If you ever see dancing bears, please do not fuel the industry by watching, let the community know there are other alternatives by contacting Wildlife S.O.S. They will seize the bear and through the program, "owners" are paid $1,000 to peacefully surrender the bear and are also given $1,000 worth of training and educational opportunities for themselves and their families.

Individuals are trained in areas such as driving, welding, tailoring, embroidery, and helping to set up shops and small businesses. Craft products and jewellery made by Kalandar women is sold at the centre. The group also provides accessible education for children and health care clinics.

Bear Rescue Centres has opened several sanctuaries in India and continues to conserve and protect the species by acquiring land, protecting habitat and curtailing poaching. For $45 a month, you can sponsor a bear where they are free to roam, play, interact with other bears and live life in a safe environment. 

Last but not the least

My best regards and well-pleased thanks goes to:

Geeta Seshamani
Kartick Satyanarayan
Brij Kishor Gupta
Baiju Raj
& every single team member of the Rescue Centre

Without the support of these wonderful people ( I Proudly call them my seniors and mentors), we can not able to be a part of this heaven.
Best wishes

India: the Land of Feast and Festivals....

Indian holidays have become a huge attraction for people all across the globe; not only because of its tourist place like exotic hills, the historical places, enigmatic coastlines, monuments etc, but also because of the highly colourful and interesting Indian festivals... India, a land known as the land of fairs and festivals, has a variety of commemorations instilled within its cultures. The Indian nation is highly enthusiastic, and for this reason, every month people living in India celebrate one event or another with high spirit. However, as India is a land filled with a huge amount of diversity, each region celebrates these festivals in a different manner.

Being a highly spiritual country, festivals are in the heart of people’s lives in India. The numerous and varied festivals that are held throughout the year offer a unique way of seeing Indian culture at its best. 

India's rich heritage has been built over the centuries and this has led to a huge variety in Indian life, soul and festivals. There is a great diversity in the Indian regions and these diversities have brought about an assortment of rituals and festivals too. It described as a land of many religions and innumerable languages; it might well be described as a land of festivals as well.

We; Indians love celebrations. Every little occasion from the harvesting of crops, welcoming the spring or rain, to seeing the full moon lends itself to joyous celebrations splashed with colours, music, folk dances & songs.

The common thing among all the festivals is good food and lots of sweets. The old tradition of making special food for special occasions still continues in India homes. However, no matter which event it is every event is celebrated with high spirit. Each and every event is filled with colours (Rangoli) and can be seen with highly attractive dressing from both males and females.

One of the most famous events celebrated in India is the event of Diwali, which also known as the event of wealth and prosperity. This festival is celebrated around the month of November and is filled with lots of lights. During this festival, the whole country is lit up with hundreds and thousands of lights. The main part of this event involves setting of enormous amounts of fireworks.

The other most famous event of the Indian festivals is the event of Holi. Holi, an event of colors, is celebrated by almost every section of the Indian society. This event involves throwing various colors on your close ones, dancing on traditional holi songs, drumbeats and various processions. Celebration of this colorful event helps individuals forget all their worries and sorrows and makes the day a fun filled one. Many of the Indians living abroad also celebrate this event.

Furthermore, the Muslims living in India celebrates Eid-ul-fitr and Eid-ul-adha. Celebrations of Eid have also become part of the diverse Indian culture. The occasion of Eid-ul-fitr is celebrated by Indians Muslim after a month of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan. The event involves Muslims to start their day by visiting mosque.

Krishna Janamshtami is celebrated to mark the birth of Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Delicacies are prepared, religious songs are sung, people wrap themselves in traditional garments tailored exclusively for festivals like these. Devotees give up their heart and soul in the worship of Lord Krishna to gain His precious blessings.

The spectacular eleven day Ganesh Chaturthi festival honors the birth of the beloved Hindu God, Lord Ganesha. The start of the festival sees huge, elaborately crafted statutes of Ganesha installed in homes and podiums, which have been especially constructed and beautifully decorated. At the end of the festival, the statutes are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and then submerged in the ocean.

Rakshabandhan, more commonly known as the rakhi festival is one Indian holiday every sister anxiously waits for. Colorful threads, beads and embellishments are used to make rakhis. A sister ties this rakhi on her brother’s wrist and the brother in return promises her security and safety. Upon tying the rakhi, a brother gives gifts to his sister as a token of love. The festival of rakhi symbolizes the strong bond between brothers and sisters.

Various other events, such as New Year, Christmas, Lohri, Basant Panchami, Teej, Onam, Navaratri and Durga Puja, Dussehra, and so on are also celebrated within Indian. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Delhi :: Vivid Colors of LifE in India...

Indraprastha (Delhi), the renowned capital of the legendary Pandavas, boast of an overwhelming history and rich cultural heritage. Delhi has almost everything that a tourist is looking for, from monuments, parks and gardens, clubs and pubs, trendy markets, posh hotels, discotheques, food and festivals, etcetera-etcetera...

A land of multiple cuisines with a variety of delicious food, Delhi stands at the top of the menu cards of the visitors. From the roadside dhabas to star hotels, this metropolitan city proffers mouthwatering and aromatic varieties of foodstuffs. Eating and dining out has become a way of life to the Delhiites. Each restaurant in the city has their own peculiar foodstuffs with rich, aromatic and delicious fragrance that grabs people tremendously. One can also go for the fast food joints, Mcdonalds, Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, Nirulas, Ruby Tuesday...

If you happen to be in the capital on a Sunday, do not miss the Chole Bature at the many local eat outs found in all areas of the city.

Delhi is extensively a very spread out city and easily accessible giving tourist more than several options as modes of transportation. Tourists can either travel through public transport buses, or they can opt for auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, cabs and taxis. Delhi also has a major Metro line that covers a lot of areas within the city.

Apart from these bars and pubs, Delhi’s star hotels also provide best facilities to enjoy the gripping nightlife. Those who prefer to be in a tranquil ambiance, restaurants in the near vicinity of the India gate would be the idyllic location.

Delhi seems to be a delightful place for the shopping buffs. An extensive range of objects is in offer in the various markets  and Malls scattered in and around the city. Chandni Chowk, Karol Bagh Connaught Place, Janpath, Palika bazar... Select City walk, City square, West gate Mall, Cross River Mall, East Delhi Mall, GIP (NCR), DLF city centre.. and the list is unbeatable.

The heart and soul of India – New Delhi is a city with magnetic attraction. Monuments, forts, gardens, and museum... The Humayun Tomb, Red Fort (It must have been named by folks with the great imagination... its a Fort and its Red so; Red-Fort ), Lotus Temple, Jantar Mantar, Qutub Minar, Jama Masjid, Akshardham are some of the most prominent New Delhi tourist attractions.

Delhi portrays the new face of contemporary Indian society, where the glorious past is intertwined to the modernism. Today’s Delhi is a perfect blend of tradition, culture, power and politics. One would not get a nice place than this to have a clear picture of Indian society.

Delhi... Loved it. Raw, up-front, and real.