Travel to Nepal
Rajasthan & The Panjab Birds & History 15 days Tours
Travel to Nepal
Of all the regions of India, Rajasthan with its turbulent history, warring yet cultures rulers and extraordinary cities and fortresses is surely the region that epitomizes the romantic India of a bygone era. Here the Moghul emperors constantly battled for supremacy with the local rulers, who in turn fought each other whenever they were not having to face an outside threat. The riches they accumulate were used to build awesome strongholds in the hills and some of the most fabulous palaces ever constructed. Their lives and times seem like a fairy tale to we inhabitants of much more crowded and less simple era, but they live on the remarkable monuments they built that now emblazon India’s rich architectural heritage. For most birders who have traveled in India or who have dreamed of going there, Bharatpur and Ranthombore sanctuaries are the places await the traveling naturalist. We will start our Rajasthan adventure in Udaipur in the southern part of the state, a good place for the localized white-napped Tit. From here we will travel deep into the rugged Aravali Hills to Kumbhalgarh, site of a truly amazing Rajput fortress, where we will look for the little-known Green Avadavat as well as Red Spurfowl, Grey Junglefowl and many other birds. Continuing further north, we pause to hunt for Leopard at small village where they regularly seen before we come to the ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur with its colossal Meherangarh Fort. From here we travel far out into the Thar Desert to see the extraordinary spectacle of thousands of fearless Demoiselle Cranes right next to us at the village of Khichan, something few birders have so far witnessed. Moving still further into the Thar, we will look for Indian Bustard and Stoliczka’s Bushchat close to the romantic desert citadel of Jaisalmer, before ending our journey through Rajasthan in suitable style at the Gajner Palace Hotel, a romantic place to stay right next to a lake thronged with water birds. To the north of Rajasthan lies the Punjab, the ‘Land of the Five Rivers’, now a days divided between India and Pakistan. Here we hall see a very different part of India as we explore the wetland reserve of Heike on the River Subtle, a place that is still ‘undiscovered’, but which offers some great birding. As well as a superb array of water birds, including the rare and localized Indian Skimmer, Harike park offers rare wintering Yellow-eyed Doves from Central Asia and specialties of the Indus plains such as Rufus-vented Prinia and Sind Sparrow.
Itinerary Detail
Day 01 –Arrive IGI and transfer to Hotel.

Day 02 – Post breakfast transfer to Airport where we connect flight to Udaipur,
one of the largest cities in southern Rajasthan and come to the Maharanas of Udaipur, rulers of the ancient kingdom of Mewer, for an overnight stay. After a chance to rest and freshen up at our hotel we will explore some nearby woodland where our main target will be the endemic and highly localized White-napped Tit. We will also see some common Rajasthan birds, including Black Kite, Red –wattle Lapwing, Laughing Dove, Indian Roller, House Crow, Common Myna and Black Drongo. The extra ordinary Royal Palace at Diaper dominates the city and during our stay we will have a chance to admire its extra ordinary treasure, while nearby, floating on the kale like a strange and ornate ‘houseboat’, is the famous Lake Palace Hotel, which was converted from one of the ruler’s many lesser palaces.

Day 03 – After some early morning birding at Diaper we will drive to Kumbhalgarh,
deep of Aravallis, for a two nights stay. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration.

Day 04 – The great fortress at Kumbhalgarh, built by the Mewer ruler Maharana Kumba in the late 15th century, never fell to an invader and still proudly stands guard against the future, impressing all who set eyes on it. Situated in a dominating position at 1080m in the Aravallis, the massive walls of the fortress (which make the Great Wall of China seem like a puny toy), stretch for no less than 36 kilometers and encompass villages, fields and irrigation ‘tanks’ as well as a royal palace and numerous temples. The attractive countryside at Kumbhalgarh, where old –fashioned agricultural practices still survive, offers good birding and is indeed one of the few places in all India where the rare and probably endangered Green Avadavat has been recorded in recent years. Other species here include Long –billed Vulture, Shikra, Indian Peafowl, Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Francolin, Alexandrine and Plum-headed Parakeets, Brown-headed and Coppersmith Barbets, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback, Eurasian Crag and Dusky Crag Martins, Red-vented Bulbul, Common Woodshrike, Small Minivet, Common Lora, Indian Robin, Black Redstart, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Pied Bushchat, Brown Rock Chat, Grey-breasted and Ashy Prinias, Common Tailorbird, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Chiffchaff, Sulphar-bellied and Hume’s Leaf Warblers, Red-breasted and Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers, White-brown Fantail, Yellow-eyed and Jungle Babbler, Great and Black-lored Tits, Long-tailed Shrike, Rufous Treepie, Large-billed Crow, Brahminy Starling,White-bellied Drongo, Purple Sunbird, Chestnut-shouldered Sparrow, Indian Silverbill, Common Rosefinch and Crested and White –capped Buntings. During our stay we will take a jeep ride into the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, which protects no less than 578 square kilometers of hill country covered in dry specialties of the sanctuary are Red Spurfowl and Grey junglefowl, species characteristic of Peninsular India that are here at the edge of their distribution. In addition we may see Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Spotted Dove, White-throated Kingfisher, Indian grey Hornbil, Streak-throated Woodpecker, the impressive White-naped Woodpecker, the uncommon Jungle Prinia and Twany-bellied Babbler, and we should also encounter some mammals including Hanuman Langur and Nilgai. A small marshy area often holds a selection of waterbirds, including Black-headed lbis and sometime Woolly-necked Stork, as well s Mugger (the most widespread Indian Crocodile).

Day 05 – After a last morning at Kumbhalgarh we will drive to the village of Siana where we will spend the night. The Village featured in David Attenborough’s epic Life of Mammals as the place where a Leopard wandered at night past the silent houses, and indeed this is why we have come, for this is probably the best place in India to look for this rarely seen creature as the local people do not molest them. We will go out in jeeps this evening to look for our own Leopard and we have a very good chance of an encounter. There is even a realistic, but lower, chance for Wolf as well!

Day 06 –Today we will make our way to Jodhpur, breaking our journey to examine several excellent wetlands which are likely to be thronged with birds. Here we could well find such species at little Grebe, little and great Cormorants, Little and great Egret, Indian Pond and grey Herons, Eurasian Spoonbill, Gadwall, Eurasian Widgeon, Northern Shoveled, Northern Pintail, Common Teal, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, the elegant White-tailed Lapwing, Little and Temminck’s Stints, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers, River Tern, Eurasian Collared Dove, Plain Martin and White, White –browed, Citrine and Yellow Wagtails. If we are fortunate we will find the endangered Dalmatian Pelican. No visit to Jodhpur is complete without a look around the truly impressive Meherangarh Fortress. Started in 1459, this massive, brooding construction on a hill above the city. As we walk through the huge Loha (Iron) Gate into the fort we can see the many hand prints left by the queens and concubines of the maharajas of Jodhpur before they committed sati (suttee) on the funeral pyres. The hand prints are still daubed with red as a mark of respect, for those who committed sati held in great reverence by the people of Rajasthan. As well as possessing an extraordinary palace, with remarkable rich decoration and numerous fascinating objects from the great days of the maharajas, the fort offers dramatic panoramic views across the ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur (so-called because of the many blue-painted buildings). Long –billed and Egyptian Vultures nest on the steep cliffs below the fort and are often to be seen soaring over the city. Subsequently we will drive northwestwards to Dechu for an overnight stay at a pleasant lodge deep in the desert countryside of western Rajasthan.

Day 07 – We will leave early today in order to enjoy one of the greatest avian spectacles of Asia to the full.
We are bound for Khichan, a small village deep in the Thar Desert. Here, between autumn and early spring, thousands of Demoiselle Cranes from the steppe of Central Asia and Mongolia gather to live alongside mankind in extraordinary harmony. This amazing event owes its existence of the custom of the people of Kichan to put out grain for the cranes on the edge of the villages. So long has this tradition lasted and so strongly is the reverence for the birds amongst the local community, that even nowadays, long after the merchant wealth from the trans-Thar camel trade that once made Khichan prosperous has ebbed away, the local people still continue. Today they rely on donations from distant clansmen in Bombay, Delhi, London or New York, as well as visitors such as ourselves, to cover the huge sum involved in putting out vast quantities of grain from September to March. At any one time between 3000-7000 cranes congregate at the village, making for an extraordinary spectacle. The birds gather on the nearby dunes before first light, waiting for the grain to be scattered. Then they move, en masse, to feed. The cacophony of noise as the flocks of bugling cranes wheel close overhead before landing, or the roar of wings when a ‘dread’ affects the feeding mass and they take off like one gigantic organism has to be experience to be appreciated. After feeding the cranes retreat to rest on the dunes once more, their soft silver-grey plumage contrasting beautiful with the dull orange of the sands. Gradually they disperse away to find grasshoppers and other natural food in the surrounding countryside. To be so close to thousands of birds is an extraordinary privilege, so we shall all feel a sense of sadness when the spectacle is over for the morning. From Khichan we will continue into the Thar to the desert city of Jaisalmer for three nights stay. In the afternoon, while our permits to visit the Desert National Park are being processed (for this is an area close to the frontier with Pakistan) there will be an opportunity to explore the beautiful and romantic citadel of Jaisalmer, which dominates the town and can be seen from long distances across the flat surrounding countryside. The whole place still has medieval feeling about it, what with its crenulated golden sandstone walls, extraordinary beautiful Jain temples and narrow, winding streets lined by exquisitely carved ‘havelis’ (the houses of the merchants and officials). As the sun sinks into the west the city seems to glow even richer in color and Little Swifts wheel noisily overhead as they prepare to roost.

Day 8-9 – Most of our time in the Jaisalmer region will be spent exploring the extensive Desert National Park to the southwest of the town. Here a large fenced area protects the natural grassland with scattered bushes and trees from excessive grazing by cattle (something which is the norm elsewhere). The primary role of the park is to protect the huge and highly endangered Indian Bustard, numbers of which occur in the area (both inside and outside the enclosure). The other star attraction of the “DNP’ is the localized Stoliczka’s (or Hite-browed) Bushchat, a species restricted to the Thar Desert and its vicinity. With luck we will come across one of these fascinating little birds doing its strange breast-pouting movements as it stalks along on the ground. Raptors are common in the area and we may well encounter White-rumped, Eurasian Griffon, Eurasian Black & Red-headed Vultures, Long-legged Buzzard, Tawny, Steppe and Imperial Eagles, Common Kestrel and Laggar Falcon. Other species that are found in the area include Cream-colored Courser, Chestnut-bellied and Black- Bellied Sandgrouse, Green bee-eater, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bimaculted and Greater Short-toed Larks, White-eared Bulbul, Variable (or Eastern Pied), Red-tailed, Isabelline and Desert Warbler, Common Babbler, Isabelline and Southern Grey Shrikes, and Common Raven. Dorcas Gazelles or Chinkara are  common. A few low, sparsely- scrubbed, rocky ridges breakup the monotony of these flat desert lands and here we may find Desert Lark, Rufous-fronted Prinia, Trumpeter Finch and House Bunting. We will also visit a small ‘tank’ (irrigation lake) right on the edge of Jaisalmer where we shud find good numbers of waterbirds and can admire the beautiful architecture of the ceremonial gateway and small temples that adorn the place.

Day 10 -  After some final birding in the Jaywalker area we will drive across the Thar Desert to Gajner, not far from Bikaner, where we will overnight in the very atmospheric Gajner Palace Hotel, a converted ‘hunting lodge’ of the Maharaja of Bikaner, situated right beside a bird-thronged lake.

Day 11 – Today we will head northwards to the Punjab border and onwards to Amritsar,
the holy city of the Sikhs, where we will stay for three nights. We will make a first stop at Harike en route.

Day 12-13 – The extensive but as yet infrequently visited Harike wetlands were formed by the creation of an irrigation barrage on the River Sutlej, one of the five great rivers of the Punjab (which derives from the local words for ‘five rivers’). Above the barrage is a large lake and slow-flowing channels of the Sutlej and its tributary the Beas, fringed by large marshes. At dawn a light mist often hangs over the Harike wetlands and as the new day begins we will hear the beautiful singing and accompanying music of the sunrise prayers at an attractive Sikh temple that is situated right on the edge of the lake. At this time the wintering Yellow-eyed Dives from Central Asia are still clustered at their roost sites in the trees that border the lake and we should enjoy good views of this declining and endangered bird, right down to the broad yellow orbital ring. As the sun rises a huge and noisy roosting flight of thousands of House Crows, Common and Bank Mynas and Asian Pied Starling passes overhead. Nearby flocks of Indian Cormorants take to the wing and head off to feed in the marshes, whislt Little Cormorants and Oriental Darters sun themselves on dead snags. As we walk along the bunds we will be looking out in particular for four more specialties of Harike, White-tailed Stonechat, the localized and threatened Rufous-vented Prinia (which favors the denser reed and cane growth), Straited Babbler and Sind Sparrow, a species restricted to the drainage of the Indus basin. As we explore these rich wetlands we shall see a very wide variety of herons, ducks, waders, gulls and terns but the waterbird we shall most be hoping to see is the rare Indian Skimmer. Harike is one of the few places where this declining species is frequently to be found and we have a good chance of finding a flock cruising one of the channels and slicing the still waters with their strange bills. In the small patches of shishim and acacia woodland we will keep a lookout for the little-known Brook’s Leaf Warbler, a northwestern Himalayan breeding species which regularly winter here in very small numbers, as well as other winter visitors such as Olive-backed Pipit, Dark-throated Thrush (of the black-throated form) and White-crowned Penduline Tit. Other species we may well encounter at Harike include Black-necked Grebe, Cattle and Intermediate Egrets, Black-crowned Night and Purple Herons, Glossy Ibis, Greylag Goose, the handsome Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Spot-billled, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks, Garganey, Common and Red – crested Pochards, Black-shouldered Kite, Western Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Greater Spotted Eagle, Brown Crake, White-breasted Waterhen, Purple Swamphen, Common Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Pallas’s (or Great Black-headed), Caspian, Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls, Gull-billed Tern, Red Collared Dove, Greater Coucal, Spotted Owlet, Pied Kingfisher, Common Hoopoe, Sand and Crested Larks, Barn Swallow, Paddyfiled and Rosy Pipits, Bluethroat, Common Stonechat (here of the eastern Maura group, sometimes split as Siberian Stonechat), Yellow-bellied Prinia, Moustached, Paddyfiled and Clamorous Reed Warbles, Straited Grassbird, Large Grey Babbler, Bay-backed Shrike, Oriental White-eye and Black-breasted, Streaked and Baya Weavers.

Late one afternoon we will visit the famous Golden temple in Amritsar, the holiest place of the Sikh religion. It is a moving place to visit, being both very beautiful and so obviously of deep spiritual significance to the many Sikh pilgrims that come here everyday. AS one enters, bare footed, the temple compound, the Golden Temple (or Harmindar) itself, which lies in the middle of a lake a golden boat rising from the waters, contrasting with the white marble of the rest of the temple precinct. The beautiful singing of the priests attending the Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh religion, carries throughout the complex, adding to the Harmandir to see the great book itself.

Day 14 – After some final birding at Harike we will return to Delhi in the time of Dinner and a chance for a wash and a change of clothing and eventually continue to the airport for the onwards journey flight.
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