Nature's palette at Birdpur

Winter's officially out the door, but we still entertain memories of a January morning in Bharatpur amid winged angels and wicked vandals

Accompanied by the creaking of the cycle rickshaw's suspension, the eerie silhouettes created by the dense fog eclipsing the post meridian sun presented a negative portent right out of the sets of a Tim Burton movie when a thought crossed my mind: "Have I made this journey in vain?"

Though looking at the environs through a skeptical eye, I pepped myself up with the thought of a treasure trove engulfed in winter mist. Remitting the entry fee of 50 rupees and collecting my copy of the map, wiping the nasal trickle off the top of my lips, I entered Birdpur -- Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan.

Till dusk do us part...
Arid patches of land on either side and the veil of suspense still presented a murky view of the truth. It was as though avian life cared two hoots about the insignificant soul who had travelled more than two thousand kilometers to the Mecca of birding. Even pilgrims go back satisfied while I, whose quest was for beings more earthly, was peering through nothingness with the biting cold of a January winter gnawing resolutely and tunneling its way through the fortress of my determination. 

Two hoots I heard and two hoots was all that I gave to the antagonistic cold as Phool Singh the rickshaw puller and my guide for the day looked up the thick canopy and said, "Scops Owl." I could barely make out its eyes and horns through the mist and foliage. 

It is advised to carry your own lunch to KNP

Migrants, migrants everywhere...
"Yes Virginia! There are birds at Birdpur" was the boding as the Collared Scops Owl sighting was the prelude to an avian extravaganza that followed when the curtains of mist lifted on the world's greatest bird show. As the sun shone bright I saw nature's palette held more colors than an exterior emulsion's shade card. 

Nature's palette...

Starting off with the Redstart
The Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur is a national monument, and like any of the monuments it witnesses its share of vandalism with the picture-perfect facade of sightings disfigured by the graffiti of human footfalls. The bedlam created by tourists for whom Bharatpur is just another stop in their tight itinerary of to-dos is the reason birds retire deeper into the sanctuary from late December to mid-January, I was told. Yet, even its most niggardly offering had me glued to my binoculars. And, as an honorarium for my ardor during those cold and hazy January days, I was treated to some unique mammalian and reptilian encounters.
Mammals call it home too...
Moving on to the less disturbed areas of the park, I came across wetlands splashed with bright red shades of algae. This was paradise, I thought, and I could reach it with a economy flight ticket and two-and-a-half-hour rail journey. Why, then, do many embark upon the path of violence in their quest for paradise? I felt lucky that here I was, alive and experiencing paradise while sucking on the juiciest grapes and bacchanal pleasures nature had to offer, with a wicked smile for the plight of those who give up their worldly possessions or blow themselves up in a train station to achieve the same.


...and those who manage to find peace
Further ahead a colony of Northern Shovelers offered a calming sight, when a Marsh Harrier appeared overhead resulting in pandemonium below. Through all that entropy one message appeared clear: There are battles fought everyday that we are not even aware of, and as I approached the board that pleaded for the conservation of the Siberian Cranes I realized that the results of these lesser-known battles affect us all. That battle was lost and the board now remains a mere epitaph, a grim reckoner that even paradise can be lost.

Marsh attacks

Tailspin - Northern Shoveler

Whistlers sounding the bugle
The sun had set and jackals howled as my rickety rickshaw thrust towards the park exit - I was back on the sets of the Tim Burton movie when a thought crossed my mind: "When will I return next?"


Text and Photos: Anand Yegnaswami