Chambal, known for its pristine waters and home to rich diversity of flora and fauna, is a perennial river bordered by steep ravines. Originating in the Vindhayan ranges of Central India, the river Chambal passes through the Kota, Sawaimadhopur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Morena and Bhind districts of Madhya Pradesh, and Agra and Etawah districts of Uttar Pradesh, before merging with the river Yamuna.
In 1979 a 400 km stretch of the river Chambal and an approximately 2 km wide swathe of the river ravines on either side was designated the National Chambal Sanctuary (NCS). The National Chambal Sanctuary (76o40’ to 78o10’E and 15o15’ to 26o30’N), an IUCN Category IV Protected area (Managed Nature Reserve), lies in the Indus-Ganges Monsoon Forest belt and covers an area of ca. 1270 km2. The Sanctuary begins downstream of the Kota barrage in Rajasthan and the lower limit is after Pachnanda near Bhareh in Uttar Pradesh where the Chambal flows into the Yamuna river.
The best season to explore the valley for birds is undoubtedly autumn and winter when both altitudinal migrants from the higher Himalayas and Palaearctic region assemble here. The current NCS bird checklist stands at 262 species of resident and migratory birds and is increasing with each bird-watching season. The Sanctuary is fast gaining a reputation as one of the most reliable places to see the Indian Skimmer (Rynchops albicollis). In addition the NCS is also home to threatened species such as Ghavials, Marsh Crocodiles, Gangetic Dolphins, Striped Hyenas and Wolves.
Access: Most birders access the sanctuary near Agra in Uttar Pradesh, where the Chambal Safari operates boat cruises and walks along the river and ravines. The NCS is 86 km southeast of Agra and 125 from the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary (Bharatpur), on the Agra-Fatehabad road. Despite its proximity to these places, the Chambal Valley remains largely unexplored. Listed below are a few birding sites that have been ‘explored’.
Nandgaon Ghat, Nandgaon, District Agra: The Nandgaon Ghat is an access point into the National Chambal Sanctuary. The ghat lies 2 km from the village of Nandgaon, (in Agra District). The terrain is flat farmland followed by rough ravines covered with indigenous wild trees such as Shisham, Ber, and Acacia. Nandgaon Ghat is 86 km from Agra, a comfortable one and a half hours drive on good country roads. Follow the Fatehabad road from Agra to Bah (70 km) and then further to Jaitpur (10 km). At Jaitpur’s main market crossing take a right turn and then follow this road through the ravines to Nandgaon (4 km). Beyond Nandgaon the road becomes a dirt track about 500 m before the river. The Chambal Safari boats are stationed at the Ghat for bird watching cruises on the river.
The Chambal Safari Lodge, Jarar: The Chambal Safari Lodge is situated 16 km short of the National Chambal Sanctuary. Follow the road to Fatehabad from Agra to just before Bah. The lodge lies 500 m off the road, 3 km short of Bah. The lodge is located in a 35 acre plantation of large trees. Several indigenous varieties of trees and shrubs have been planted to supplement the existing plantation, creating a veritable ‘jungle’. The trees and a series of large water bodies around them are home to numerous birds and small mammals. Accommodation at the Chambal Safari Lodge consists of eight independent cottages scattered around the woodland area. The cottages, built using locally available materials have a rustic charm and are spacious and airy. The Lodge has limited electrical supply and does not keep generators. The old stables have been converted into dining and seating areas for guests, and the lodge kitchens use locally grown organic produce. Birders usually spend about 2 days at the camp, but additional time will pay benefits in terms of the birds seen. There is plenty of good birding in and around the lodge area, as well as the lodge being ideally located for day excursions to numerous other smaller birding sites.
Bateshwar, District Agra: The ancient temple complex at Bateshwar on the river Yamuna, 8 km from the Chambal Safari Lodge, consists of more than a hundred temples dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Said to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna’s mother, Bateshwar is associated with numerous myths and legends. High rising ravines surround the temples and river, and are home to a number of Naga sadhus (holy men) who have carved out little caves and temples within the mud walls. The river Yamuna and its ravines are also home to a number of resident and migratory birds such as Terns, Cormorants, Kingfishers and Pelicans amongst others. In early November, the open areas around the temple complex play host to an annual animal fair, the origins of which are believed to stretch into antiquity. The fair coincides with the most auspicious period for praying at Bateshwar and is an important fixture for saints, sadhus, tradesmen and villagers.
Some of the more significant bird species found in the National Chambal Sanctuary are - Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Whistling Teal, Comb Duck, Spot-billed Duck, Common Pochard, Pied Kingfisher, House Swift, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, River Lapwing, Northern Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Long-billed Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Small Pratincole, Pallas’s Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Brown-headed Gull, Black-bellied Tern, Western Reef Egret, Little Heron, Great White Pelican, Spot-billed Pelican, Black Stork, Blue Rock Thrush, Coppersmith Barbet, Indian Grey Hornbill, Black Redstart, Brown Hawk Owl, Collared Scops owl, Sarus Crane, Demoiselle Crane, Osprey, Red-headed Vulture, Bonelli’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Crested serpent Eagle, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Small Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher, Tickell's Leaf Warbler, Lesser Coucal, Brown Crake, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Painted Sandgrouse, Eastern Curlew, Eurasian Thick-knee, Great Thick-knee, Greater Painted-Snipe, Indian Skimmer, Little Tern, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked Stork and Desert Wheatear.
For more information: chambalsafari.com
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