NORTHERN INDIA PART ONE:

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GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS

PART TWO

 

PARTICIPANTS

Wilma & Jos Wanten; Reuver, The Netherlands – e-mail: jos.birds(at)hetnet.nl 

 

GENERAL

I had never thought about India as a birding destination until my birding friend Roland visited the country two or three years ago. His pictures of the trip with a combination of great culture sites, beautiful landscapes and his quite promising bird list stimulated my interest and I started searching the internet for more information. In August 2006 I decided to go to the Dutch Birdfair where I met Mohit Aggarwal, the owner of Asian Adventures (http://www.indianwildlife.com/). They are one of the bigger bird tour companies in India with a very good reputation offering birding as well as culture tours. After sending some emails we finally settled upon a 15 days Northern India tour with 12 days of birding and 3 days of culture. We did not regret taking Asian Adventures as the tour (apart from a few minor incidents) was perfectly arranged. I really do recommend them to anyone who wants to make a good organized birding tour in northern India. The final itinerary on which we agreed upon consisted of visits to Okhla Barrage, Corbett, Pangot, Chambal River, Agra, Keoladeo NP, Bund Baretha, Ranthambore, Jaipur and Delhi. Although the trip was organized very well we were not always lucky in a few occasions during our tour. Firstly the prearranged elephant tour in Corbett was cancelled followed by 2 days of almost constant rain at Pangot  and even snow which forced us to leave the area earlier than planned. In Chambal we had to leave the lodge very early (4:30 AM) in order to get to Agra before first light and subsequently we had to “hide” in a hotel in Agra for several hours because there was some kind of Holy Colour Festival going on. During this festival it is apparently the custom to throw paint to every person or car that passes by. It is said that it is even dangerous in rural areas during the festival where one sometimes have the habit of even throwing stones to passing cars. Bharatpur was a bit of a disappointment being almost totally dry. Because of some miscommunication with our driver on the last day we arrived a couple of hours too late in Delhi and consequently missed a few hours of culture in Delhi. Last but not least we missed one of our main targets mainly seeing a Tiger… Nevertheless we enjoyed the trip very much having some excellent birding alternated with visits to some of India’s greatest cultural attractions…

 

PREPARATIONS

For preparations we used the well-known websites like http://www.camacdonald.com/, www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp and http://www.fatbirder.com/. Other interesting sites about birding in India are available at http://www.indiabirds.com/, http://www.kolkatabirds.com/, http://www.allindiabirding.com/, and http://www.birding.in/. We also used several trip reports available at http://www.birdtours.co.uk/ and http://www.travellingbirder.com/. The report from Alf King was particularly interesting because he visited nearly the same birding areas and lodges as we did, and his trip was also organized by Asian Adventures. You can find Alf’s report at www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/india/india-36-N/n-India-dec-05.htm. I also used the report from fellow countryman Pierre van der Wielen at www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/india/nw-india/nw-india-dec-2001.htm. Pierre also provided me with a detailed checklist of his trip and gave me some excellent birding tips. I used the Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Field Guide to the Birds of Northern India by Grimmett and Inskipp. For general information we used the India Lonely Planet.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank the following people for their contribution and for making our trip such a success:

 

Mohit Aggarwal owner of Asian Adventures for organizing an excellent trip.

 

Hari Lama our excellent bird guide during the first week in the north, and Pascal our driver in the north.

 

Dalveer Singh our excellent young bird guide at Chambal.

 

Ratan Singh: our excellent and very experienced bird guide in Bharatpur, Bund Baretha and Ranthambore.

 

Pierre van der Wielen for sending me his daily checklist and useful birding tips.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

India is an excellent destination if you want to combine good birding with some cultural highlights. However despite the fact that we have travelled already a lot we experienced a bit of a culture shock during the first two days after arrival. We really had to get used to the hustle and bustle (there are people everywhere), the chaotic traffic and the sometimes extreme poverty. The unit of currency is the Indian Rupee. The exchange rate during our trip was IR56 for 1 Euro (IR42 for 1 USD). Most bigger cities have an ATM. A visa is required to enter the country, which has to be obtained at least 3 weeks prior to departure at the Indian Embassy in your country. The costs for the visa were Euro 50 each. Do take medical precautions before arriving in the country. For info contact your local health authorities.

 
GETTING THERE

International flights to Delhi are widely available from a number of European cities. Good deals can be obtained via the internet with among others British Airways, Swiss Air, Austrian Airways, Alitalia and Air France all with a stopover in a major European city. The only possibility of a direct flight from Holland is with KLM, but these tend to be more expensive than the other options. We made a very good deal through the internet flying with Air France from Dusseldorf to Delhi via Paris. We paid only Euro 515 each including all taxes. However the transfer at Paris Charles de Gaulle for the connecting flight was a complete disaster. The organization of the bus transfers from one terminal to the other was really outrageous. Busses stopped very irregular and if one stopped it was already almost full with people. Despite having 1 hour and 50 minutes between the flights we almost missed our connecting flight on our way home. We were very lucky that our connecting flight had a delay because otherwise we had missed it. Hundreds of other travellers were not so lucky and did miss their flight. The situation at the airport was really stressful with hundreds of travellers shouting and running to catch their plane. So my advice is to have at least 21/2 hours in between flights when travelling via Paris.

 

GETTING AROUND

All transportation during the trip was pre-arranged so we did not have to drive by ourselves. With the exception of the deeply potholed route between Bharatpur and Ranthambore general road conditions were fairly good. The traffic in India is really a chaos and apparently everybody has the habit of neglecting all traffic rules. It is not uncommon that a car, truck or something else on wheels drives towards you on your lane, even in the dark without headlights. Another strange habit is stopping with four or five vehicles next to each other before a closed railway crossing, while the traffic on the opposite side of the crossing does the same. So when the barrier opens it can last up to five minutes before there is any movement. In brief I can say that driving yourself in India can not really be recommended. We also travelled by train from Lal Kuan in the north to Mathura near Agra in a A/C sleeper train. Although a bit cramped with no privacy at all (four berth cabin) it was still a fairly comfortable way of travelling.  

 

 

WEATHER & WHEN TO GO

The best time to visit northern India is between November and March. We choose for a late winter visit from the end of February until the beginning of March because northern migrants are still around, more pleasant temperature in the plains and less chances of severe weather conditions in the Himalayan foothills. The latter appeared to be a miscalculation as it was extremely cold and wet in the mountains for the time of the year. In Pangot temperatures did not exceed the five degrees mark even during daytime and we had a lot of rain and even hail and snow. In Corbett we had pleasant and sunny weather with chilly mornings warming up to about 20 degrees around midday. The weather in the plains was excellent with cool mornings and daytime temperatures of around 25 degrees.

 

 

ACCOMMODATIONS & FOOD

Although most reports praise the quality of the Indian food it was not really of our taste. In general we did not like the spices used (meanly curries). Nevertheless at most places the meals were cooked with great care and dedication. We stayed away from salads, peeled fruits and except from a few occasions in the luxury hotels we also avoided meat (which was meanly chicken). As a result of that we did not have any stomach problems during the trip. In most hotels the meals where served in buffet style. Prices for a buffet dinner in the hotels ranged from IR250 to about IR450 (Euro 4,50 to 8). Non Indian meals (mostly Chinese) in the better restaurants were a bit more expensive at around IR750 (Euro 13). The price of a large bottle of Kingfisher beer (0,75 L) was between IR100 and IR220 (Euro 1,80 to 3,60). Soft drinks were considerably cheaper at about IR50 (Euro 0,90).  We stayed in following hotels and lodges:

 

Hotel Sunstar in Delhi (http://www.hotel-sunstar.com/): midrange hotel of reasonable quality. Rooms are a bit small but clean.

 

Tiger Camp near Corbett NP (http://www.tiger-camp.com/): excellent lodge with large and clean rooms and excellent service.

 

Dhikala Forest Lodge in Corbett NP: fairly basic but clean with excellent location in the centre of the park.

 

Jungle Lore Birding Lodge in Pangot (http://www.pangot.com/): nice cottages in an excellent birding area. The main cottage has a dining room and fireplace.

 

Green Glen Lodge in Sat Tal (http://www.sattalbirdinglodge.com/): fairly basic lodge with small rooms.

 

Chambal Safari Lodge (http://www.chambalsafari.com/): excellent eco-lodge with large and clean rooms. Excellent service.

 

Laxmi Vilas Palace in Bharatpur (http://www.laxmivilas.com/): luxurious heritage hotel.

 

Nahargarh Ranthambore (http://www.alsisarhaveli.com/): very luxurious heritage hotel. Very large rooms.

 

A heritage hotel in Jaipur of which I forgot the name.

 

 

 

SOME BIRDING STATISTICS

Following information gives an impression of numbers of birds to be expected at visited sites and also numbers of birds recorded at only one particular site. It also gives an impression of the quality of sites visited. Of course one have to take in account that the length of each visit to a certain area plays an important role in these numbers. Our trip total ended up with 356 species recorded including 6 heard only, which is fairly good with only 12 real birding days in the itinerary. Of these 160 species were lifers for me. We saw 145 birds that were only recorded at one particular site (40,7%). Despite the rainy conditions in the Pangot area this site was the best to my opinion with 46 out of 107 birds not recorded at any other site during the trip. Second best was Corbett (26 out of 121) followed by Chambal (20 out of 100). Keoladeo Ghana NP was a disappointment (12 out of 95) due to the dry conditions. Remarkable is the low number (5) of birds recorded en route. Anyone interested in a detailed excel spreadsheet of birds recorded per day and site can contact me by e-mail at jos.birds(at)hetnet.nl

 

 

Location

length of visit

Total

Seen at one site only

% seen at one site only

Okhla Barrage

3 hours

74

5

6,75%

Corbett NP

2 days

121

26

21,48%

Kumeria

3 hours

69

6

8,69%

Pangot & Sat Tal (rainy conditions)

2 ˝ days

107

46

 43%

Chambal

1 day

100

20

20%

Keoladeo Ghana NP

1 day

95

12

12,6%

Bund Baretha

4 hours

94

13

13,8%

Ranthambore NP

1 ˝ days

66

12

18,1%

Other (birds en route)

-

-

5

 

Total

 

 

145

 

 


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