From Corbett To Keoladeo

(Note: This trip report was first published in the April 2009 edition of Bird watchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh’s newsletter-Pitta. An edited version of this post was featured in You & I Magazine.)

Breaking Dawn

They say that you can never forget your first tiger sighting in the wild. The majestic walk, the earth shattering roar and the easy but arrogant confidence apparently imprint him in your mind forever. With such descriptions and statements in mind I set off back in late January 2009, to the Jim Corbett National Park in Ramnagar, Uttarakhand to join that relatively small club of people who have seen the magnificent beast in the wild. While two days of frantic dashes and sudden hushed stops throughout the length and breadth of the Brijrani area of the park did not yield even a small glimpse of that much praised animal (except for some fresh pugmarks), in all those wanderings I did get to see an amazing variety of bird life both in Corbett and a few days later in the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. And in the latter I saw a sight that completely drove the tiger from my mind. It was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen in my short birding career. But more about this bird and the Bharatpur sanctuary later. Let me first guide you through the foggy grasslands, thin gurgling streams and cool woodlands of Corbett by conveniently concentrating on birding aspects of the trip and ignoring for most part our increasingly desperate attempts to spot a tiger.

Lonely Morning

We reached Ramnagar too early to enter the park so our jeep driver took us to the Kosi river to pass time. It was still dark but a thin light was breaking out in the east marginally illuminating the murky riverbed that was mostly dry except for a small flow. As we stumbled over the smooth and rounded pebbles of the river bed, a sudden clear ringing rent the perfectly still dawn air. It was the di-geri-doo call of a lapwing. Although it was still too dark to see the bird. I wanted to hang around a bit for the light to brighten to identify the lapwing and see if there were any more birds but it was time to proceed to the park.

White-capped Water Redstart

As we waited to collect our park entry permits at the Brijrani gate and be assigned a guide we saw that ubiquitous septet, the Jungle Babblers (Turdoides striatus) hopping around. After we proceeded into the park, as soon as we passed the buffer zone and were crossing a shallow stream we saw a Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) running away from us. After crossing the stream and climbing the crest of a small mound we found a rivulet below on our left in which we observed through the rapidly thinning fog a group of Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) out fishing early. We continued towards the canteen at the beginning of the park proper to quieten our grumbling stomachs. Stomach filled, I was sipping on some hot Bournvita when I spied a little bird hopping around the tables in front of the canteen with its tail raised. It was a White-Capped Water Redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus), a bird I did not expect to be so used to civilization.

Red Junglefowl

No sooner had we left the canteen, our guide Mahesh pointed out a Lesser Flameback Woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense) in the distance seemingly bent on breaking its beak on the bark of a tree. As we were driving through a wooded area we heard the harsh bark of an Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) from near us and stopped by the side of the track to investigate. A flash of color in the dense bushes next to us sent our pulses racing. Alas, it was not a tiger passing through. It was only a “lowly” timid Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) giving us the once over with its bobbing head!

Towards late afternoon we made our way towards the Malani region of the park to catch a glimpse of the core forest area that no day visitors are allowed to enter even with entry permits. Mahesh, sharp as ever, pointed out a group of birds in the distance sitting high in the branches of a tree well above the average tree cover. Their bare, red colored fleshy necks gave them away instantly. It was a group of Red-Headed Vultures (Sarcogyps calvus) seemingly relaxing under the late afternoon sunshine.



April 2009, Borra Caves.

I went to Vizag, had fun traveling around, came back and promptly fell sick for a week! Inspite of that and the 7 kms we had to trek in the mid afternoon heat to reach these caves (no local transport due to general elections) I’d say this place was worth it. I was visiting it after about 13 yrs so it was great in the time lapsed sense as well.

The Chenchus XIII

The Chenchus XIII

November 2008, Nallamalla Forest, Andhra Pradesh.

With this the second part of the series on The Chenchus posted earlier comes to an end. You can follow the complete photo essay here.

The old man is the chief of the Chenchu hamlet Appapur which is inside a protected reserve forest. He was a very jovial person but behind his ever present smile I sensed a sadness caught as he and his people were between an overbearing government on one side and until recently far left radicals who used to threaten him and his villagers if they co-operated with the police.


one afternoon
on a path that led
into thick bushes
I came upon him,
fully formed
and bright.

Wings tucked in
on the edge of a jagged leaf
he sat
contemplating perhaps
the great drop

I approached quietly
my viewing box
held it up to my eye.

He swam into detail
like a boat nearing the shore.

Off white wings
divided by
bright orange lines
flecked with silver.

Two thin tails
like the latitudes
pointed away
from his striped body.

Beneath the tails
two threads
that dropped away
like anchors.

He and I
there in the bushes
surrounded by bird call
and the distant beat of a fast flowing river
until suddenly the branch above me moved
and my shadow fell across him.

He rose in an instant
on those wings dipped in silver
and fluttered away
before I could take
another photograph,
before I could
introduce myself.

The Chenchus XI

The Chenchus XI

November 2008, Nallamalla Forest, Andhra Pradesh.

This is the second part of the series on The Chenchus posted earlier. You can follow the complete photo essay here.

The house in the photo was actually built by the government for the Chenchus. But they prefe to stay in their traditional thatched huts. So the government built house is being used as a shelter for the calf.

Inside Corners

The beast rose within
to smash the mirror of memory
that hung on the
low wall of self loathing.


Watermelon dreams
stain the skin of summer
as she smothers the city
in her blazing yellow shamiana.


A gap in the stars
A full stop out of place
The twisted sky falls apart
The world sleeps.


A sudden hush descends
on the neon painted night scape
washing the empty gullies that
sing cement colored sonnets.


There is a shadow on her lip
as she stares out of the moving window
at the traffic gliding
between her screaming fists.


They were watching TV
India Shining in their eyes
broken, battered pasts and totalitarian presents
erased by a clever copywriter.


Death begins with doubt
inside corners
that inhabit our shadows.