Thursday, August 19, 2010

ROYAL RAJASTHAN - JAISALMER

The drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was fascinating in itself! We started out visiting the beautiful temples at Osian... The Jain temples there are exquisitely carved and a treat see. It is unfortunate that cameras are not allowed in the temple complexes therefore there are no pictures to show the striking beauty of the place.

From there, we headed via Phalodi to a village called Kheechan which is famous for the thousands of Demoiselle cranes that winter there. The villagers have played a huge part in the fact that the birds have made this their winter home since they feed and protect the birds. There are some ponds which are kept filled with water even if it means filling and transporting them by the truckload! The Rajasthan government has also now pitched in to help.
True to form, the cranes arrived just as we reached there and started their slow approach to land at the pond... Such large birds require endless circuits gradually reducing altitude to be able to land!

They stand tall at almost a metre in height but in spite of that they are beautiful, almost dainty birds.
After spending some time there, we moved on and had lunch at a dhaba near Phalodi where we had the best 'Dal-bati Churma' of our Rajasthan trip. The rest of the journey to Jaisalmer via Pokhran (which is nothing but a collection of sand dunes!) was uneventful.
The next day, we set off for Tanot. On the way is the legendary Longewala outpost of the Indo-Pak war made famous in the movie Border. All along the way, the Southern Grey Shrike was omnipresent as were the Brahmany Mynas, Babblers, Little green Bee Eaters, House Sparrows, European collared and Laughing Doves, White cheeked Bulbuls and the Indian Silverbills.
The thing that struck me most about the drives in this part of the country is that the roads are really endless, long, straight, monotonous journeys broken only by the numerous Camel, Black buck, Neelgai or Sambhar one encounters almost everywhere. I suspect the Bishnois have had a big role to play in the abundance of wildlife we see here.


On reaching the Tanot Mata Mandir, we were surprised to see the place buzzing with activity... we had hardly encountered any traffic on the road.. and the place is a remote outpost very close to the Pakistan border. For miles around, it is difficult to see habitation at all, except the BSF adn the Army. But there is a tranquillity about the place which, in spite of the bustle of tourists, is calming and peaceful.
The vast stretches of desert with a few hamlets along the way...

On the way back, we saw numerous vultures... Long billed, Egyptian Vultures in groups of 6 - 8 at small water holes and the Tawny, Short toed and Imperial Eagles .

The next day was dedicated to the Gadsisar Lake and the Jaisalmer Fort. The lake is a man-made one , made by the Maharawal Gadsi Singh as a water conservation tank supplying water to the entire city. We went to the lake about mid morning... we were led to believe that there is nothing to see there these days and the number of birds there were also not worth mentioning. When we reached the place, we were overwhelmed by the variety and the numbers of birds we saw there... Stilts, little ringed Plovers, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshanks, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Common and Ferruginous Pochards, Common Teal, Coots, Geese, Spoonbills, Egrets, Lapwings... in such a tiny place, it was amazing to see their numbers!

The Common and Ferruginous Pochards together..
The abundant Stilts along the shores..

One person feeding the Catfish at the lake produced this spectacle!

All around the lake are shrines and temples and as such, is a pilgrimage spot. The entrance is through the 'Tillon ki Pol', the Gatway made by the royal Courtesan Tillon. It's very beautiful.
Jaisalmer is known as the 'Golden City'. It is made entirely from the golden sandstone found locally giving the city it's 'golden' look. The Jaisalmer Fort is one of the biggest forts in the world. It has three concentric walls and at one time, the entire population of the city lived within the fort. A miniature model of the Fort...

Inside, there is the Raj Mahal where the royal family lived..

the Jain temples, the Lakshminath temple and the four massive gateways.


This fort was captured by Ala-ud-din Khilji in the 13th century and it was during this seige that the Rajput women committed Jauhar here. Again in the 16th century, the fort was attacked by the Emperor Humayun. This city continues to be of immence strategic importance as was amply demonstrated by the Indo - Pak wars of '65 and '71.
Jaisalmer was on the ancient silk and opium trade route and many a wealthy merchant settled there. The merchants built fine-looking houses (or havelis as they were called),

embellished with ornate sandstone 'jali' work and studded with cut glass and semi precious stones, but outside the main city (fort) since the King would not grant them permission to do so within.
Some say that the grandeur of the havelis would no doubt have generated comparisons between them and the Royal Mahal which the king obviously wanted to avoid!

We rounded off the day with a trip to see the sand dunes of Sam. The camel ride was something the children enjoyed and the sunset was spectacular!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BIRDING IN RAJASTHAN

We had been wanting to do the tour of Royal Rajasthan for a very long time. So, when we finally got down to planning our trip, we were eager not to miss out an inch of the place, little realising that Rajasthan cannot be done in 9 days... and that was all we had. Therefore, we decided to do the south and west of the place namely Mount Abu, Udaipur, Ranakpur and Jaisalmer via Kheechan all based from Jodhpur.

We reached Jodhpur by train in the afternoon, and the heat hit us immediately. So what that it was only March, it was quite hot and took us a couple of days to get used to. Our first sightseeing trip was to Jaisalmer and I insisted that we take the detour from Phalodi to Kheechan hoping to get a glimpse of the dainty Demoiselle cranes which come to this place in their thousands from as far as Southern Europe! We were not disappointed. Though there were the stragglers remaining, we were ecstatic to finally see the beautiful creatures and we spent a couple of hours there just absorbing the beauty and peace of the place.



The little pond there not only attracts the cranes, but the other wintering birds like the common and ferruginous pochards, the common teals, little grebes, the black winged stilts, spot billed ducks, northern shovellers, numerous sandpipers, marsh, green, common, etc.

The Gadsisar lake at Jaisalmer is another wonderful place for sighting waders and water birds of many kinds. These Ferruginous pochards were the first sightings in Rajasthan for us.

The lake was full of Marsh and common sandpipers, common and spotted redshanks.....





The blackwinged stilts were there in their hundreds!

The little egret in his breeding plumage made a pretty picture.

There were plenty of geese around and then we spotted these Spoonbills at the far end of the lake.
All over Rajasthan, the White eared Bulbul is perhaps the most common Bulbul to be found.

The White throated Munias are gregarious birds and quite unafraid of man, possibly due to the proximity of their habitat. These two came and were frolicking around as close as two feet from me.
The omnipresent White Wagtail....




The Brahminy Mynas were also very common as were the Indian Chat.

While driving from Jodhpur to Ranakpur (the famous Jain Temples), we saw these elegant Oriental white Ibis fly by and then perch in the tree just ahead so as to almost beg to be photographed!

There were these entire trees full of bats just short of Udaipur.. and what a racket they make!


The most common francolin... the Grey Francolin which was spotted just about every where... even crossing the road many a times.


A small reservoir along the way yielded this diminutive plover.. the Little ringed Plover. It's camoflage is so obliterative, it was invisible till we spotted movement along the bank.






Friday, April 2, 2010

SNAPSHOTS OF ROYAL RAJASTHAN - RANAKPUR

The Jain temples of Ranakpur are stunning! Words elude me in trying to describe them, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves...

My only tip to visitors is that both ladies and gents should wear covered clothes otherwise they don't allow entry into the temples... They do have some clothes (bottoms) on hire at the premises, but one would rather be prepared at the outset and not have to go through this!






These temples are amazingly well preserved and the places are very clean. It helps that they don't even allow water to be taken onto the premises..




These are the intricately carved parts of the ceiling...
which the guide was quick to tell us, is not repeated anywhere in the temple. No two pieces of sculpture are alike.. and there must be millions of them in there!





I found these columns very beautiful!


Ethereal beauty... that is Ranakpur, a few hours drive from Udaipur, but a world apart.


SNAPSHOTS OF ROYAL RAJASTHAN - MANDORE

These snaps have been taken at Mandore Gardens at Jodhpur. The place is absolutely beautiful!

The erstwhile capital of the Kingdom, it's palace and cenotaphs are striking and well preserved.