Northern India Trip Report              
25 January - 17 February 2010

by Blake Maybank
for the Maritimes Nature Travel Club

Part 1:  25-31 January, 2010

(click here for Part 2)
(click here for Part 3)

Note: Our complete post-trip bird  trip lists (in PDF format) are available for download:

India - 2010 - Detailed Bird Trip List by Day
India - 2010 - Detailed Bird Trip List by Species
India - 2010 - Concise Bird Trip List

  Our Mammal and Herptile lists are in Part 3.


Our little nature travel club is extending its reach, this time to India.  As there is little shortage of Indian birding trip reports we'll not go into too much detail here, but will mention highlights and other information that might be useful to readers.   I had been to northern India once earlier, in 1989, on a trip with Kingbird Tours.   That trip was focussed solely on Birds, Birds, Birds, but I drew from my experience to help plan this trip.

For this trip, as is our practice, we utilised the expertise of local operators and guides.   This not only usually results in lower trip costs (not paying for a non-resident leader(s) to accompany the group) but is also, we believe, a more responsible approach to eco-tourism, providing business to in-country enterprises.

We did our research and, with Bo Bolean's (The Fat Birder) hearty endorsement, we contacted Asian Adventures. We wished to design a trip that included a 50/50 mix of history and nature in northern India, and with the careful advice of Mohit Aggarwal, one of the two co-owners, he and I created a 23-day itinerary that seemed to capture that balance. 

And, as the following report illustrates, we were not disappointed.  It was a spectacular trip.

It was, however, marred by an unforseeable accident near the end of the trip, one that seriously injured one of our group.  Any eco-tourism company's reputation is built upon not just how well they plan and implement a tour, but especially by how they react and respond to the unexpected.  And Asian Adventures handled our crisis with commendable speed, efficiency, courtesy, and concern.

The accident occurred in Corbett National Park, at the Dhikala Forest Lodge.  We were embarking via elephant on a tiger safari, and one of the elephants (domestic, female, and typically calm and placid) decided to charge a neighbouring elephant.  Four of our group were thrown to the ground, along with the mahoot.  The mahoot and one of our group were badly injured, requiring medical evacuation.  (An aside -- this accident was unprecedented, and news of it spread like wildfire.  Upon our arrival at the local clinic we were beseiged by dozens of local paparazzi, all anxious to get the "scoop" on this unique accident.  We made the front page of various Hindi daily papers the next morning, as well as the national Hindi TV news.)

On the plus side -- Asian Adventures.  Once we were able to contact them (an adventure in itself, as there was poor cell reception in the park) they organised the following: an ambulance from Delhi to meet with the local ambulance; alternative accommodation for our group for that night (no-one wished to remain near the scene of the traumatic accident); a consultation with a local doctor; a private room for our injured participant in a good hospital in Delhi; a hotel room for me nearby the hospital; a bilingual staff member to be at our injured party's bedside 24 hours a day (to facilitate communications with hospital staff, and to communicate with me); transportation for me so that I could commute back and forth between the hotel and hospital as the situation warranted; obtaining whatever supplies we required; providing me with a cell phone so that I could communicate with our group and with family members; and assisting in the convoluted bureaucratic processes required to facilitate the air transfer of our group member back home to Europe.  And so much more. . .  My heartfelt thanks to Mohit and all his staff. 

On the negative side -- the Director of Corbett National Park.  He hid in his office for over an hour after the accident (though the office was only 200 metres distant), and only emerged once I threatened to go inside.  His first words to me were to remind me that the park is not responsible for any accidents that occur within its boundaries.  He refused to permit a helicopter evac (we were concerned regarding the possibility of spinal injury, and the roads are bad), and cited the inflexible regulalations in the Park's Constitution regarding helicopter use.  He did not offer the use of his cell phone, though his office was the only place in the area with a good signal.  He did not talk with any members of our group, most of whom were in some degree of shock.  He did not offer the use of the park's first-aid kit (we had our own, but still. . .)  He provided no guidance to his staff who, in the absence of his direction, stood around doing nothing (with the exception of various contracted park guides, who were quite helpful, taking us to the only site where cell phone coverage was possible, and also offering us the use of their cell phones).  He completely ignored the injured mahoot.  He retreated, with a fellow park director, to a nearby salon for tea and bisquits, so they could determine how best to minimise the impact of this accident on their respective reputations, especially in light of the conference they were going to host the following day, on Tiger Conservation.  

The Director's name is R.K. Mishra, and he has no park nor conservaton expertise, but is, instead, the beneficiary of a political patronage appointment.  I fear for the future of the park and its tigers with such an incompetant person in charge.  It should come as no surprise that everyone in the area who is passionate about, profits from, or works for, Corbett National Park, detests Mr. Mishra. 

End of sermon, and on to the trip report.  

Part 1:  25-31 January, 2010

The first week of our trip was much more devoted to history than birds.
But we kept our binoculars and cameras handy at all times.

Day 01 - January 25, Monday: New Delhi

We arrived at Delhi International airport at 0115 hours, and were met by the representative of Asian Adventures, in particular Abhisheik, who was our constant companion for the trip: organising, problem-solving, liaising with head office, and answering the endless questions of our curious group. 

We spent the morning at leisure, birding in a local neighbourhood park near our hotel, the Star Grand Villa.  The biggest surprise for me was encountering Brown-headed Barbet, a species that I’d missed entirely on my previous visit to India.

In the afternoon we visited Humayun's Tomb (a World Heritage Site), and did some birding on grounds.  On all our visits to historic sites and other cultural resources we were accompanied by professional guides contracted through Asian Adventures.  And we were also accompanied by at least one birding guide, beginning with Ganesh (up to and including Rhanthambore),  then Rataan Singh (Bharatpur through Corbett National park), and finally, for the last couple of days, Nick (in Pangot).  All were experienced and capable guides, and I can personally recommend the first two (I wasn't with the group in Pangot - see above). 

Day List Highlights:

Laughing Dove
Yellow-footed Pigeon
Indian Gray Hornbill
Brown-headed Barbet
Hume’s Warbler
Greenish Warbler
Oriental Magpie-Robin

Hume's Warbler - photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank
Hume's Warbler, photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank

Day 02 - January 26, Tuesday: New Delhi, then train to Jodhpur

Morning – A birding excursion to Sultanpur National Park, some 43 km outside of Dehli.  We suffered terrible viewing conditions – a thick fog, which limited visibility to a few metres or less.  And because of the fog the drive to the jheel in the pre-dawn hours was rather frightening.  It was very frustrating, when at the park, to hear birds but be unable to see them, whether warblers in the trees or cranes flying low overhead.  We eventually gave up and returned to Delhi, where the fog cleared in mid-afternoon.

A quick video illustrating the frustrating experience of trying to birdwatch in thick fog at Sultanpur National Park, outside of Delhi, India.  On the video you can clearly hear the calls of Common Cranes and Sarus Cranes, but neither could be seen even though they were only a few metres away.  

Afternoon – more Delhi sightseeing, at Qutub Minar.

2055 hours – overnight train to Jodhpur.  Most of our gear went with the bus and driver.

Day List Highlights (of 59 species in total, many (too many) heard-only):

Indian Spot-billed Duck
Black-headed Ibis
Sarus Crane (heard only!, and just a few metres away)
Common Crane  (heard only!, and just a few metres away)
Alexandrine Parakeet
Spotted Owlet (nesting in wall of Qutab Minar)
Black-rumped Flameback
Ashy Prinia
Plain Prinia
Moustached Warbler
Brooks’s Leaf-Warbler
Large Gray Babbler
Bengal Weaver
Red Avadavat

Sultanpur Jheel National Park. photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
Sultanpur Jheel National Park in the fog.  Sarus Cranes are calling a few metres away.  .  . .  sigh.
Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

Day 03 - January 27, Wednesday: Jodhpur

Morning arrival at 0800 hours in Jodhpur.  We spent the day exploring the culture and history of Jodhpur, at Mehrangarh Fort and Umaid Bhavan Palace.

A short video illustrating how to properly tie a turban.  Shot at the Mehranghar Fort, in Jodphur, India.

Day List Highlights
(of 33 species):

Booted Eagle
River Tern
Green Bee-eater

A short video illustrating how much fun it is to drive in the traffic of Jodphur, India.

Overnight at the delightful Inn Season Hotel.

Indian Robin.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.     Green Bee-eater.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
Indian Robin.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.                          Green Bee-eater.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

Day 04 -  January 28, Thursday: Jodhpur-Kheechan-Jaisalmer

Morning Jeep Safari - Part of the group went birding in the scrubby countryside, with the rest visiting local villages.

We had an afternoon drive to Jaisalmer, stopping en route at Kheechan to see the large congregation of Demoiselle Cranes.   Arrived in Jaisalmer in the evening.

Day List Highlights (of 60 species):

Jungle Bush-Quail
Slender-billed Vulture
Pallid Harrier
Steppe Eagle
Demoiselle Crane   (hundreds)
Greater Coucal
Indian Roller
Eurasian Hoopoe
Bay-backed Shrike
Plain Martin
White-eared Bulbul
Desert Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear

Demoiselle Cranes.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
Demoiselle Cranes.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

Overnight stay in Hotel Gorbandh Palace.

Day 05 -  January 29, Friday: Jaisalmer

We enjoyed a combination of local sightseeing and birding, while awaiting our permits for Desert National Park (Ganesh spent much of the day going from office to office to office. . .).  The focus of our attention was the Golden City's Fort, which stands on a ridge of yellowish sandstone, which contains the palace and several ornate Jain temples. The main attractions inside the fort are: Raj Mahal (Royal palace), Jain temples and the Laxminath temple.

Day List Highlights (of 28 species)

Long-legged Buzzard
Wood Sandpiper
Temminck’s Stint

White-eared Bulbul.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.    Red-wattled-Lapwing. Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
White-eared Bulbul.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.         Red-wattled-Lapwing. Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

Overnight stay in Hotel Gorbandh Palace.

Day 06 -  January 30, Saturday: Desert National Park

We enjoyed a full-day excursion to Desert National Park.  Once in the core protected area of the park (the portion fenced off to exclude cattle) we encountered very few people, and no other birders.  A couple of water troughs near the park HQ were quite productive of birds.  The vulture diversity was unexpected.   This was our first full day of (non-foggy) birding, and we enjoyed quality, as opposed to quantity, which is to be expected in a desert.

Desert National Park. Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
Desert National Park at dawn.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

A few quick panoramic sweeps from different areas of Desert National Park, in Rajasthan, India,
in an attempt to provide a measure of the landscape.

Day List Highlights
(of 44 species)

Egyptian Vulture
Slender-billed Vulture
Himalayan Griffon
Eurasian Griffon
Cinereous Vulture
Red-headed Vulture
Pallid Harrier
Indian Spotted Eagle
Tawny Eagle
Steppe Eagle
Indian Bustard (2)
Cream-colored Courser
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
Eurasian Wryneck
Southern Gray Shrike
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark
Desert Lark
Bimaculated Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Rufous-fronted Prinia
Asian Desert Warbler
Red-tailed Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
Trumpeter Finch (12)

Steppe Eagle. Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
Steppe Eagle. Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

Before supper we went on a camel safari into a dune area of the park, where we enjoyed the sunset, accompanied by Kingfisher Beer.  A great end to the day.

Overnight stay in Rajasthan Desert Safari Camp.

Day 07 - January 31, Sunday: Desert National Park to Jodhpur

We birded around the Safari Camp before and after breakfast, after which we drove to Jodhpur, stopping enroute at Osian. Osian is famous as home to the cluster of ruined Brahmanical and Jain temples dating from the 8th to 11th centuries.

Overnight stay in Inn Season Hotel.

Day List Highlights (of 36 species)

Emerald Dove
Desert Lark
Wire-tailed Swallow
Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Red-tailed Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
White-browed Fantail

Desert Lark.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.    Red-tailed Wheatear.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.
Desert Lark.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.                          Red-tailed Wheatear.  Photo © 2010 by Blake Maybank.

End of Part 1

(click here for Part 2)

(click here for Part 3)

Note: Our complete post-trip bird  trip lists (in PDF format) are available for download:

India - 2010 - Detailed Bird Trip List by Day
India - 2010 - Detailed Bird Trip List by Species
India - 2010 - Concise Bird Trip List

  Our Mammal and Herptile lists are in Part 3.

Many other photos of our Indian trip can be found here, here, and here.

Blake Maybank, Nova Scotia, Canada
organiser, Maritimes Nature Travel Club
author, "Birding Sites of Nova Scotia"
webmaster, Birding Trip Reports from North & South America

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