I had heard a lot about the efforts of a man named Ratan Lal, in the village of #Kheechan (Rajasthan. Apparently he had started conserving the #Demoiselle #Cranes. To keep himself busy he would feed the pigeons and peacocks. Once he noticed some Demoiselle cranes come on the feed. He continued the feed regularly over the years. Gradually their numbers increased to hundreds, then thousands, and today more than 20000 Demoiselle cranes come to this village.
This is an interesting conservation story which i wanted to see with my eyes. One fine day I set out by car to discover this spot, and do birding tour in Rajasthan. The drive was long hence we planned a small detour to include another birding spot, namely #Tal #Chhapar in the district of Churu.
It was a fogged out December morning, so could drive only at a speed of about 20kms per hour. We stopped at a small dhaba for breakfast. Here we were told of a holy spot of Salasar Balaji Dham, a temple of the Monkey God Hanuman. It was en route so we decided to stop at this place.
Balaji Dham is located in a small town of Salasar near Sujangarh in Churu district. It is considered to be a Shakti Sthal (seat of power). There are 51 Shakti peeths in India. Thus it attracts millions of worshippers round the year. A very peaceful place with strong vibrations, how one hour went by at this spot we did not even realize.
Then we drove onwards for 45 minutes to Tal Chhapar. Located on the fringes of Thar dessert, it is a flat saline depression. The nearby village is named Chhapar and the flat sanctuary is known as Tal, hence Tal Chhapar. We entered the sanctuary within minutes of reaching there.
The beautiful flat grasslands of the Tal are picturesque, and some visible horns of the walking blackbuck added to this painting like surroundings. We drove inside the sanctuary in our car, and soon realized why it was not a good idea to have an open vehicle for a #safari here. The dry sand covers you and the vehicle in minutes of entering this sanctuary. Hence a closed car is advisable. So when you spot something, stop, roll down the windows, and silently observe or photograph quietly.
The blackbucks and the birds here very shy due to lack of human presence. You stop and they walk. Open flat grasslands with some trees interspersed give a feeling of a savanna.
Though the size of this sanctuary is small, but the complete eco-system it houses is amazing. The main attraction here is the Black buck. It is also a passage for the migratory birds, which come here in October and stay until March. The Marsh Harriers, Lager Falcon, Common Krestel, Tawny Eagle, Short toed Eagle are amongst many birds that you can spot here. Best time to spot these birds is late evening, just before sunset and sunrise. This is the time when they are less active and seen mostly on the ground, or at times perched on the trees. As the sun comes up, these birds become active, and the action begins.
Next day we were woken up by a loud chanting on a loud speaker at 4am, coming from the nearby village, the first reaction is not so positive, but soon we started to enjoy it. Mahendra told us that the entire village gets up at 4am, visits the local temple, then they all go and feed the birds, and start their day. They have these fixed places around the village, some 3 feet tall platforms surrounded by iron grill, and they leave the grains for the birds to come and feed. Every family in the village does that daily. The love and concern for mother nature could not be better seen.
After a quick breakfast we went to #Gaushala, (Cow shelter). We were told that this is the place where one can find the Spotted Creeper if lucky. Our luck was not with us that day. The place is called Gaushala as in monsoons when the rains flood the entire village, the cattle of the area gather here as it is a bit high, and here they have a lot of grass to feed. Currently we saw lot of Buck here, some #Egyptian #Vultures and some #Harriers.
Then we went and saw the Salt area close by. Some #Pied #Avocets, #stilts, and an Eagle Owl with the young ones was a welcome site. Mahendra was very happy to see the young ones and he said that now their population will increase from about 10 to 13, and in few years he sees this area as the most favorite place to see the Eagle Owls.
We hit out for our next destination, #Kheechan in #Phalodi district to see the most spectacular avian sites for last 40 years. Started by Ratan Lal by feeding a couple of dozen cranes, today over 20 thousand Demoiselle Cranes visit the area. A local Ngo has been formed where people donate to get the grains for the cranes.
Today almost 2.5 quintals of grain is being fed to these birds daily. I would recommend every birder visiting the area to donate towards this cause. While standing there suddenly all the cranes took to flight. We noticed a stray dog had come close to the water hole. One villager came running towards the area and drove the dog away. Gradually the birds settled down again near the lake. This was one of the most beautiful birding sites I have seen in India.
Having spent a couple of hours here, it was time to hit the road again. We decided to visit the Brahma Temple in Pushkar. Reached Pushkar by late evening. Next day morning, we explored this clean city of Pushkar. Every November there is a big cattle fair here, and the entire city is packed with foreign tourists and photographers. Colors on display are seen to be believed.
Visit to the Brahma Temple was a transcending experience. Hardly any tourists or pilgrims, the place was peaceful and levitating. Moved on the 2nd most popular pilgrimage of Muslims, the Dargah of Gareeb Nawaz at Ajmer. My second visit to the Dargah in less than 6 months was an overwhelming experience. There is something special about this place that gets people of all religions and faiths. Having offered a chadar, we reluctantly moved on. Light heart, and heavy eyes is what one experiences when here.
It was now time to get back home, and we hit the road silently, but happily.