Tal Chapar: A Hidden Birding Paradise in Rajasthan
Dance of The Drango in Tal Chapar on a Neel Gai
Tal Chapar in Rajasthan a bird watching trip
If you are ready to look beyond the forts, and palaces and tigers of Rajasthan then Tal Chapar ( also spelled Tal Chhapar) is for you. Tal what? You may ask an obvious question as Tal Chappar is still not an on the tourist circuit unless you are a raptor from Central Asia from countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia etc. Tal Chappar is to bird watching what Ranthambore and Jim Corbett are to tiger spotting. Situated in a hidden corner of Rajasthan Tal Chappar wildlife sanctuary is about 340 KM from Delhi and 200 from Jaipur and is easily approachable by both road and train in 5-10 hours depending on the route and mode of transport taken.
Lesser Kestrel in Tal Chapar Wild Life Sanctuary
Tal Chappar started its life as the Shika Gah or hunting grounds for the Bikaner royals and a haveli at the boundary of the sanctuary still reminds you of the days when in one day the maharaja shot dead 150+ Great Indian bustards ( not a typo), this was before the bustard was declared an endangered species and the hunting grounds were converted to sanctuary for Black Bucks introduced by the maharajah for the sole purpose of hunting! Fortunately, the buck bred at a faster pace than the Maharajah could shoot them and soon the hunting ground became a protected sanctuary. Today it has the highest number as well as the concentration of Black Bucks (Antilope cervicapra) anywhere in the country. With no natural predators in the sanctuary the bucks have multiplied and today, the sanctuary has 1000+black bucks all enjoying life in the slow lane on the juicy grasses. There are so many black bucks in the sanctuary that it is impossible to click a picture without one of them coming in the frame.
Fast forward today and the Tal Chappar wildlife sanctuary is a birders paradise more than 300+ species of birds have been recorded here some of them only here in India. We spotted a total of 104 bird species during our 3-day stay including some very rare raptors and harriers, this does not include mammals like Blackbuck, blue buck, Indian fox, desert rat, hedgehog, reptiles like Monitor lizard, spiny-tailed lizard and my first snake in the wild sand boa.
Egyptian Vulture in Tal Chapar Rajasthan
European Roller-Coracias garrulus in Tal Chapar Rajasthan
I visited the sanctuary last week and took a guided tour with Darter a company specializing photographic tours. Our tour leader Shreeram MVis an accomplished birder and photographer with more than 600+ bird sighting to his credit. One of the advantages of somebody knowing the place as well as birds is that you save a lot of time and you can find 3 times more birds at the same time. Another major advantage of somebody like Shreeram with you is that he understands the behavior food habits, calls etc of different birds, so he will tell you where to point your camera and be ready so that when the bird is in focus you start clicking. This really helped me in clicking some very rare bird photos like Lesser Kestrel, Eurasian Creeper, Laggar falcon, Egyptian Vulture, European Roller ( very different from Indian roller they pass through India on their journey to Africa). Needless to add the logistics are taken care of and I did not have to worry about, safari, food, hotel etc. as everything was meticulously planned to the last minute.
This post and any discussion about Chapar will be incomplete unless I thank Mr. Surat Singh Poonia, Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF), Tal Chapar Wildlife Sanctuary ( Google lists it as Tal Chapar Rajasthan), who is the man responsible for turning around the sanctuary from an also ran me to sanctuary to one of the best in the country. When he took over anything that could go wrong in a jungle was wrong, there were foreign invasive species like Mexican Acacia all over the place, no proper water source and the sanctuary was littered with discarded polythene bags by rogue tourists and locals alike. The water situation was so bad that by Jan/Feb the water sources used to get dry, grass will perish and the sanctuary had to buy water and fodder for the black bucks.
Crested Lark in Tal Chapar Rajasthan
One of the first things Mr. Poonia did was literally uproot every single Mexican acacia tree from the sanctuary precincts and start growing local trees that do not suck the water out of the soil. Every single piece of polyethylene was picked up and removed from the sanctuary (we are talking about an area of 800+ acres! Phew!). The fence was strengthened, water holes were dug and in a few years mother, nature smiled and today Tal Chappar is one place where every birder wants to go as the birds have returned. We were very lucky to meet Mr. Poonia and he was kind enough help us to look for birds.
Wood Sandpiper and Common Stilt in Tal Chapar
How to reach: Trains in the morning from Sari Rohilla ( DEE) to Ratangarh (RTGH), station ( 5-6 hours), cabs from there or if you like driving on rough roads drive down via Gurgaon, Rewari, Loharu, Churu in around 7-10 hours depending on the size of potholes and traffic.(Where is that politician who wanted Indian roads like cheeks of heroines?)
A Blackbuck and a Bonelli’s eagle share water in Tal Chapar
For stay your best choice is the Tal Chappar forest guest house that though owned by the government, is very nicely managed by Sharad Sridhar an avid birder and photographer himself. We were fortunate that he was there during our visit along with his wife and 3.5-year-old daughter Vanya who can recognize more than 50 birds! Like father like daughter.
Black Buck Returning home at Sunset in Tal Chapar Rajasthan
Tal Chappar is a must visit for Nature lovers, especially bird watchers and also for those who have been there, done that and now are looking for a different kind of wildlife experience. Will be posting about some other things that we saw there in next few posts. You can subscribe to the blog to get it in your mailbox.