There are very few success stories in wildlife conservation, specially where the matter is related to habitat loss. One such happy story relates to Tal Chappar. Once considered a lost cause, the sanctuary has rallied back. All due to the dedicated efforts of forest department officials. While ACF Poonia Ji is attributed with spear heading this effort, the whole team should be commended for their effort. Their hard work shows today, when the sanctuary is counted in one of the premium grasslands of the country. A simple search will divulge a lot of information in forms of various articles, blogs and trip reports.
I had been reading about this place for a while. Every-time I found a blog or a trip report about it, this place will sound even more tempting. This trip presented the ideal opportunity for me to make a quick visit to the sanctuary and I took it. After finishing my last full day in the park at Bharatpur, I took a taxi to Delhi. I had a train scheduled from Delhi Sarai Rohilla Station (DEE) till Ratangarh jn (RTGH). As I have read in most of the trip reports about Tal Chappar, I opted to book the forest rest house that is located right at sanctuary entrance. Also arranged was a day trip to Jorbeed, Bikaner. It was to be 4 nights and 5 full days of fun.
We lost our way in Delhi while searching for Sarai Rohilla Station. Obviously, being men, neither me nor Laxman Ji (the driver) bothered with such minor things as asking for directions. A quick glance at watch revealed that I would miss my train in next 30 minutes. Still not willing to give up, I pulled out Google maps. What a smart little piece of tech? Led us straight in the general direction and towards a road without U turn. Can’t blame Google for what Delhi police decide to do at the drop of a hat. Well, as a last resort, we applied common sense and did what any responsible citizen will do. Looked around if someone is watching and made a quick illegal turn at the next break in barrier. I am not proud of it but that’s what happened.
Made it to the train in just enough time with my luggage (no porter would bother with 2 bags, they all were looking for families with many many bags) to get in and collapsed on the seat. My journey to this dream destination could have started on a better note. Sigh.. I don’t know when I fell asleep. I reached Ratangarh at 4:50am, and was picked up by Hari. Hari was to be my guide/driver for the next few days. He was a jolly guys who is from the neighboring village. He dropped me to the guest house and promised to pick me up for first drive in some time. In half an hour, WE had finished our tea, paid our entry fee (I think that’s about Rs 150/-, I may be slightly off the mark too) and were in the sanctuary.
The beauty of a grassland in early morning light can not be described. It can only be experienced. I can try with mere words or images, but it will never be adequate. Anyone who does not believe in magic, need to experience this light. At this point I do not have words to describe a crisp winter morning with golden light in grass land. So awestruck I was with this, that I almost missed a Laggar Falcon. I had heard in Bharatpur that it may not be a good season for Tal Chappar as the number of raptors is low. This being my first time there, I had no base data to compare it against. Pretty soon we saw an adult pair of Laggars as well as a juvenile.
Kestrels and Black Shouldered Kites were present everywhere. Flocks of larks would take off and settle down elsewhere all of a sudden. Slowly the sanctuary came alive with movement of blackbucks. Beautiful and graceful creatures. Most blackbucks I saw went about their business in a calm manner, while some of them would get alarmed and “fly” across the grassland. While I thought that this is a behavior that is displayed under distress, but later I saw many young individuals who were engaging into “pronking”. May be this can be attributed to something like fitness display to potential mates?
By now it was time for a break to have breakfast and Lunch and summons from rest house kitchen were getting stronger. Murariji (the chef) had made some killer onion parathas. I gobbled up an insane amount of breakfast really fast. I thought I am going to follow the lines of Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Commoner and Dinner like a Pauper. I did follow it with slight modification, Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner like a King. Which Rajasthani gives two hoots about eating like a commoner and pauper when menu is Rajasthani?
After this shameless feasting, we started for Goshaala. Goshaala is traditionally a tract of land which is kept aside for tending to cow/cattle and their welfare. It’s communal land and is quite close to the sanctuary. This land has a lot of Khejri trees (Prosopis cineraria) which are a good habitat for some of the birds like woodpeckers & minivets. Also every-time I went there I saw a buzzard (Who was very very shy). Another specialty of this habitat is spotted creeper, who is the star of this place I believe. While this species can be found at some other scattered locations too, it seems that its found “relatively” easily around Goshaala. However, easily is not exactly the word I will use for locating this bugger. I spent two afternoon walking all around the place without slightest hint of these birds. There were several Egyptian vultures present to feed on carcases that were discarded in one corner.
In the evening, I spent my time wandering around in the sanctuary. Evening was fun with males coming together in on of the male colony. Unfortunately I did not see any sparring between young members. Also the plan to visit the salt pan did not workout as the rains had created a bit of situation there. However, I started noticing that harriers come in to roost there in numbers. This was a treat to see harriers dropping from the sky. Within minutes, tens of them had landed. I made a note of areas where I can concentrate during the days to come for catching these raptors in action.
The day ended after sundown and hot dinner beckoned me back to the guesthouse. We checked again but unfortunately Pooniaji was still not in (may be election duty). Well called it a night after a heavy dinner and crashed. Dreaming of raptors and red-necked falcons.
To be continued…