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CHAMBAL

Chambal !!?. My friend was questioning me about my intentions of visiting Chamal wildlife sanctuary. “ But there is hardly anything there”. He was pretty apprehensive about my plans. My friend Amit has been a regular with me on many of my missions foraying into the wildlife world. “ Well we can get to see the beautiful temples of Bah and Bateshwar on the way”, I tried to lure him till he finally succumbed to my offer.

Chambal valley is a distinct place located at the convergence of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in India. Infact the Chambal river that flows through the valley has one bank in UP and the other in MP thereby serving as a demarcation point between the two states for the common man. Chambal has in the past been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The sandy ravines of the place served as a hideout for dacoits of UP, MP, and Rajasthan as well. Dacoits that brought in a reign of terror such as Chaviram, Malkhan Singh etc made Chambal there home. Lack of roads and difficult terrain plus local support ( robin hood culture ), made it difficult for the police to reach them. However times have changed, the old order changeth yielding place to the new. Originating in the Vindhyan ranges in MP,

Long snouted Gharial

the Chambal river snakes its way through the states of MP, U.P and Rajasthan before finally merging with the Yamuna river in Etawah in U.P. Its rich biodiversity ensured that it was declared a park in 1979. It is home to the endangered species of gharials, mugger and tortoise. Of the approximately 26 species of tortoise found in India , the Chambal is home to six of the endangered species like the red crowned roofed turtle etc. The Chambal sanctuary covers an area of 635 sq kms

Mugger

Today Chambal is a protected area and boasts of a wildlife that is critically endangered. Welcome to the new Chambal


White browed wagtail

Chambal is located at a three hours drive from our place. We set out on Wednesday evening and drove through the Agra Lucknow expressway. Soon we reached a bifurcation point to Bah and Bateshwar, the historical towns located on the banks of the Yamuna river. As soon as we drove down the road, the topography started changing. The green cultivated land started giving way to sandy dunes at places . It was beautiful. The roads were devoid of traffic and we cruised at a soulful speed of 60kmph enjoying each and every bit of

Thick Knee

the Lords creation. Soon we reached the Yamuna river. It was the month of December and the bridge was lined by small shops that served tea and pakoras. We stopped and gave in to the temptation. After savoring the delightful local delicacies we moved ahead towards our destination.As usual we were using google maps to reach our resort which we had prebooked. It was around 8 PM when we drove on a road on which our car could barely fit.. “You have arrived at your destination”, the words were actually shocking. For a moment I felt like throwing my mobile out of the car . We were standing at a T-Point in middle of a village surrounded by curious villagers, eager to help fortunately, and a bunch of buffaloes. We called the manager of the resort and after half an hour of adventure we finally reached the resort. The manager Ajit was standing on the road waving at us to make sure that we don’t overshoot.


The resort was a beautiful place. It had five well-appointed rooms and we were the only ones there. It has a beautiful and large lawn and a small swimming pool apart from the heavenly food they serve. We were staying at V-Resorts, Chambal.


Next day morning after a heavy breakfast we set out on our mission

Ruddy Shell Duck landing into the waters

of exploring the Chambal river. We took a boat from Pinahat, a small town nearby and for the next two and a half hours we were experiencing divinity being close to mother nature.

Rampant poaching had wiped out the gharial population in the seventies. Later on Chambal was selected as one of the sites for captive breeding and release of the gharial. There are 290 species of migratory and resident birds that have been identified in the region. During our visit we were able to come across quite a few of them. The birds that we saw were Ruddy Shell Duck, Lesser Whistling Duck, Indian Cormorant, Thick knee, Bar Headed Goose( highest flying bird in the world ) white browed

Grey Heron in flight

wagtail and many more. We also saw the Gharials , Mugger and the critically endangered Red Roofed Turtle.


What we missed were the gangetic dolphins which are supposed to be here alongwith the other species of tortoise. This probably could have been because of our limited knowledge of identification and time constraints.


Bar Headed Goose.

One of the most interesting things that I came across during my visit was a fish. This fish as the boatsman said was locally called as Ghoda Machchilli. It was

Ghoda Machili

found in great numbers and was typically found at areas where there was a confluence of a stream with the river and the water appeared quite shallow. The main feature of the fish that caught my attention was it movement characteristic. This fish was literally walking on water. It used to jump out of the water and hop its way on water. This fish was in hundreds of number and appeared like a big splash happening in the water as all of them rushed away from the boat.


The flora in this arid region compromised mainly of babool trees. The entire river banks on one side was covered with a thick jungle of babbool trees. On the other side it was farming land. Apart from this we came across some developmental projects in two places where they were building bridges.

Indian Cormorant with Lesser Whistling Ducks


After a great morning boat safari we went back to the resort where a surprise was awaiting us. Our lunch was made in the contemporary indian way using Chula, the traditional indian cooking range, and was served amidst a beautiful garden. We were served different types of rotis ( traditional indian bread ) alongwith mouth watering curries. After a sumptuous meal we retired to our rooms for a short break.


Entrance to the Ater Fort

In the evening we set out again to the Chambal river, this time crossing it to visit the historical Fort of Ater. We crossed the river by a boat which was the only means of getting across. It had men women and bikes and practically anything that needed to get over to the other side.The fort is in its ruins and a major rehabilitation work is going on by the archaeological Survey of India. The Ater Fort was built around 1664-1668, by King Badan Singh Bhadauria.Although in its ruins it is worth a visit to see the architecture and re-live the historical moments.

The majestic Ater Fort @ sunset


WHEN TO GO

Winters would be the best time. From November to March. This is also the best time to view migratory birds. Avoid January as it could be very chilly for a boat ride and quite foggy for photography.


HOW TO REACH.

By Train - . Etawah would be the nearest railway station although Agra and Gwallior would be more conveniently connected.

By Air – Agra is the nearest airport. The other one would be Gwallior.

By Road – Chambal is well connected by road from Agra ( 100km ), Etawah ( 46 km ), and Gwallior ( 141 km ). All connecting roads are in good shape.


The endangered Red Roof Turtle

WHERE TO STAY

There are many options available. It’s a search for the best. Quite a few are expensive. We stayed at Chambal Paradise V-Resorts. It was a good place offering 3 star facilities and was very reasonable. They charged 4000 /- bucks for two people for stay plus all meals included. I think it’s a throw away price. Prices may have changed now. Safari charges are extra. Get In touch with the owner Mr Abhinav Srivastava @ 9891021199.


Fighting to survive Red Roof Turtle

Those who are looking for a prime property to stay can try their hand on Mela Kothi. It’s a heritage property beautifully maintained and it’s a little on the higher side. I think they charge 5500/ - for the room plus 1000/- per person per day for food. The price of the room may change depending upon your choice of room. We ruled this one out, but those who can afford it won’t repent it. Visit www.chambalsafari.com for bookings and contact numbers.


Black Winged Stilt

Chambal Wildlife Safari lodge. This is the third option. They have good rooms and an ok campus, a place dedicated for bird watching and they also provide an aerial view of the temples of Bah Bateshwar through paragliding. They also have a stud farm and offer horse riding facilities. Rooms @ 7000 / - , all meals included. Paragliding @ 5000/- for a ten minutes stint.


Kindly cross check all rates, they might have changed and may differ from season to season.


WHAT TO CARRY AND PACK

Clothes according to the season. Boat rides are quite windy, Sunscreen, as the winter sun can be quite harsh. Snacks etc since there are no good shops or restaurants in the vicinity. Binoculars and a camera to take home memories.


WHAT TO SEE.

A drive through the Chambal ravines. A boat safari to witness the wildlife. The Ater Fort

Temples of Bah and Bateshwar.


WHO SHOULD GO

wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, family, just about anyone.


GRADE

Easy


MY RECOMMENDATIONS-

1. Visit in the winter months . November to March. Avoid January as the boat ride can be quite chilling and the foggy weather may make it difficult for sightings and photography.

2. Choose a resort with an all meal plan. There are practically no decent places to venture out specially for fooding. I would highly recommend the V-Resorts Chambal Paradise resort. Its affordable, beautiful and serves good food.

3. Inform in advance about your intentions for the boat safari to your resort manager so that he can arrange well in advance. A boat safari is highly recommended .

4. Make sure you drive in the Chambal ravines to get a glimpse of the region.

5. Although in a dilapidated condition the Ater Fort definitely needs a visit. The boat ride across the river is also quite adventurous.

6. If travelling with family, carry cards, badminton raquets, football etc so that kids can enjoy more.


Boat ride across Chambal to reach Fort Ater

As I wind up I am reminded of the famous actor Rajesh Khanna. Rajesh Khanna was born as Jatin Arora and was adopted by his relatives. He was a finalist in 1965 filmfare new face awards. In 1966 his first film released. In his career he worked in more than 180 films. During 1969 to 1971, Rajesh Khanna delivered 15 back to back hits, earning him the title of a superstar. One of these films was “Anand”, where he plays the role of a terminally ill cancer patient. His bengali doctor , played by non other than the other superstar Amitabh Bachchan, is fascinated by the indifference his patient ( Anand ) has towards his illness and that the fear of impending death seems to be virtually absent from his face. Surprised and shocked he loses his cool and yells at his patient . It is then that Anand replies “ Babu Moshai, zindagi badi honi chaiyye, lambi nahi” ( Life should be big, not long ).


Out there all of you go on, do what you enjoy, give yourself some life, go make it big.


ADD LIFE TO DAYS

NOT DAYS TO LIFE

Take care

Ravi.



Sun setting over the mighty Chambal

Food For Thought - When my boat neared the almost 4 meter long gharial and we were just about 10 feet from the animal, the animal quietly slipped away into the silent waters. This animal had the strength to overturn my boat, tear us to shreds and wipe us out from the face of this planet. Yet it chose to quietly avoid a conflict by slipping away in the waters. We finished our river safari and I was awestruck with what had happened. I was happy that man was at the top of the food chain but also sad that man probably was the biggest animal on this planet whose mere presence could force another animal to take cover for life and that man was responsible for most of the destruction on Planet Earth, our Mother Divine. As these thoughts passed away, we reached our hotel and another beautiful episode came to an end.

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