Northern India in general and Bharatpur in particular have been a major part of my birding consciousness for over 20 years. I cant even remember where or when I first heard or read of this Maharaja's hunting area now given over to wildlife. I did promise myself that one day God willing I would pay a visit to this site now acknowledged as one of the foremost birding Mecca's in the world. 2000, coinciding with my 50th, was all the excuse I needed so together with 2 intrepid friends Dave Hanford and Richard Herbert, in late 1999 I started my fact gathering research. In this respect the Internet came into its own. I was amazed at how much information there was out there in the ether. We all wanted to go independently but after reading more it soon became apparent that in the limited time available to us (17 days), we would loose to much time trying to make all the necessary travel arrangements in India. We also wanted to spend as much of our money in India as was possible. I quickly found Vivek Tiwari's site of Indian Bird Report at
After reading through the many reports available my itinerery was becoming more and more biased towards North West India for our first foray into the Indian Sub Continent. I fired off an e-mail to Vivek for some advice and he suggested I contact his friend Mohit Aggarwal. Mohit is the director of "Asian Adventures" so another e-mail was sent off asking for details. Mohit can be contacted on email@example.com
The company has its own site at http://www.indianwildlife.com
Mohit responded immediately and we discussed our ideas and likely birding venues. Within 2 days Mohit had come back with an outline itinerery for our 17 day tour. This included Bharatpur, Ranthambhor, Corbett, Kosi River (for Ibisbill
), Nainital, Mangoli Valley, Chambal River (for Indian Skimmer
) and sites in and around Delhi. Two further sites were added Betalghat and Pangot, more on these sites later.. The itinerery was circulated and after a minor change we all agreed that although a potentially tiring trip it was the only way that we would be able to get around the major sites in the North West in the time given.
So we decided:
That it was so much easier to employ the services of a local company namely "Asian Adventures". This satisfied our spend money in the country criteria but weighed heavily on the travelling independently side of things. As it turned out we think we got the balance absolutely right. Asain Adventures crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's sorted out all the logistics, and we just birded. Almost 10 hours a day for the full 15 days. Long travelling sessions were primarily taken at night in Train sleeper accommoation, and the cost of the trip was still over a £1,000 less that most prominent birding companies were charging for similar trips.
We all agreed that the trip was a complete success and that we would go back some day to once again enjoy the unique birding experience which India is.
Special thanks to my friend Gruff Dodd who's trip report format I have copied unashamedly. Many thanks to our guides who were excellent, in particular we must thank Ratan Singh who spent 10 days with us guiding us around Bharatpur, Corbett, Nainital and Delhi. He was a wonderful companion and bird guide and he certainly brightened our days and enhanced our trip list. His knowledge of his local birds is awesome with over 25 years in the field its not to surprising. Perhaps what is is his enthusiasm which burns as bright today as it did all those years ago when he was escorting Salim Ali around his beloved Bharatpur. Ratans richshaw is No.9 try to secure his services if you can. If Ratan isnt available try his pupil and nephew Bhirinda Singh, he is a young man but more importantly an ace birder. Thanks also to the many birders we met in India including Howard and Thias Armstrong and John and Janet Martin. We are also grateful to the following who provided great help and advice in the planning of the trip - Tom and Margot Southerland, Vivek Tivari, Anthony Disley and Richard Titus. Trip reports from many other were gleaned from the following internet sites:
Urs Geisers Trip Report Collection - http://www.crosswinds.net/~birdtrips/tripreports.html
Birdlinks to the World - http://www.bsc-eoc.org/links/index.html
Birdwatching Trip Report Collection - http://www.birdtours.co.uk
Birdchat Archive -http://listserv.arizona.edu/lsv/www/birdtrip.html
Where do you want to go birding today - http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/birding.htm
and not forgeting where it all started
Vivek Tivaris Indian Trip Report Collection http://www.ee.princeton.edu/~vivek/indian-birds.html
My gracious thanks to everyone who went to the trouble of writing a trip report so that we could share in your enthusiasm and learn from your experiences.
Our aim was simply to taste first hand the unique birding experience that India can offer. See as many bird species as was possible, which would hopefully include a very high percentage of "lifers". There was also the little matter of seeing Tigers and visiting the Taj Mahal. Several birds became targeted species these included: Siberian Crane
, Indian Skimmer
, and a couple of new genera were also high on the wanted list. We therefore choose the usual site options Bharatpur, Corbett, Ranthambhor, Nainital, Delhi. This we hoped would enable us to see the maxim return in bird species terms for our limited time and effort. Having said that if we had much more time the sites visited wouldn't have changed much but obviously we would have spent more time at each.
We flew from London Heathrow to Vienna and onward to Delhi with Austrian Airlines. Flights were booked well in advance with Flightbookers e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel.No.0171 757 2444. The original quote for this return flight was UKP 350. We paid a deposit up front and I assumed this did two things:
(1) it booked your tickets and (2) it quaranteed the price. It appears that I was wrong on both accounts as the following tale will explain. After making contact with Flightbookers 6 weeks before we were due to fly to settle the account and pay the outstanding balance, flightbookers told me that the airline Austrain Airlines had withdrawn the original tickets and if we still wanted to fly with Austrian we would have to pay the new price which was exactly UKP 100 more than was first quoted. I was absolutely furious and let rip with the poor girl on the telephone. I threatened all sorts of actions against flightbookers, who throughout this acted completely professionally. I immediately imformed the internet birding community via Birdchat, European Birdnet and Ukbirdnet. Flightbookers came back with a couple of flight options non of which were really acceptable. Finally having gone to director level with the company flightbookers came back once more with a compromise, they agreed to forgo any profit on the deal if we paid the true price hike. It meant us having to pay just UKP 35 extra. This we agreed to immediately and for the first and last time we flew Austrian Airlines. We all wanted to fly direct but the only cheap deal we could find meant that we had to stop off enroute. The options were, where would we want to stop off and for how long. The Vienna trip was our best option. The stop off in Vienna was non existant on the way out as we were whisked from our Heathrow flight straight on the Delhi flight. On the return trip the stop over in Vienna was just 2 hours and easily managed.
All our travel arrangements were taken care of by our tour company "Asian Adventures". All we did was turn up at Delhi arrivals and we were met and escorted to a car to take us to our hotel. We were then in Asian Adventures hands and they carried out there itinerery flawlessly. We travelled on 2 overnight train journeys first class air conditioned sleepers. No security problems as the compartment was lockable. We also travelled on a train during the day, a short trip from Ranthambhor to Bharatpur and again no problem as we were escorted to our seats by an Asian Adventures rep. We were also met the other end by our guide and guru Ratan Singh. The rest of the travelling was done in a four wheel drive jeep.
The local currency is the Indian Rupee (IR). Current exchange rates were
UKP 1 = 65 IR
USD 1 = 48 IR
These were more or less fixed wherever we exchanged currency. we all took UKP and USD plus several credit cards. Most of the big hotels and restaurants took all major credit cards and usually excepted payment in UKP or USD. We exchanged our currency in several hotels without any problem. Changing money in a bank was a tedious business and regularly took over 30 minutes or more. The beauracracy was astonishing.
Accommodation and food:
The quality of the accommodation was generally good, where it was less than that we had been warned in our itinerery. The one exception was the Swiss Hotel in Nainital it was dire. You are in the Himalayan foothills its winter and the hotel didnt have any heating to speak of. The service was also appalling and by far the worst experience we had in all out trip. The restaurant was a joke and we expected Basil Fawlty to roll out from behind the kitchen screen at any moment. In retrospect it was probably to bad even for Basil. To add insult to injury they had a disco organised that went on till 4:30 a.m. and they let off huge fireworks till well past midnight. Thankfully we were only booked in for the one night. All our accomodation was organised by Asian Adventures and details of the other lodges can be found on their web site www.indianwildlife.com. Sunbird Hotel at Bharatpur is mentioned in Krys's book as a good place to stay and I can only concur. The White Apartments in Delhi was just a basic hotel no frills but it was clean and comfortable.
Food was one of the great joys of India, naturally we heeded all the warnings and avoided salads and fruit that may have been washed. We also decided that meat of any kind was better left alone. So for our duration in India we became experts on vegetable currys. The currys with home made bread in its various forms was always a good basis for our evening meals. Peelable fruit in the form of bananas oranges etc were also very enjoyable.
Breakfast usually consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, coffee or tea and fruit of your choice. All in all we ate very well while in India, sometimes in very humble surroundings at other times like at the Jaypee Palace Hotel in Agra or the Imperial Garden Restaurant in Delhi we ate royally. The cost of the meals also varied considerably from less that 300IR for an evening meal with drinks to1500IR for something a bit more lavish. We tended to stick with the 300IR tariff as the norm and splashed out when the need arose.
If its one thing Indians love its red tape. It was really frustrating at times even though our tour company had done everything to limit its impact. Everywhere you stayed there were several forms to fill in. At the end of our holiday we all knew our passport and visa numbers off pat - we had filled them in so many times it was ridiculous. Changing money at a bank was another time wasting activity. We didnt have to but I heard from several birders who were travelling independantly that booking train and bus tickets was nightmareish. You always encountered 5 people to do a job when 1 would have sufficed and each one had to make sure that he did his job properly and that the persons before him in the chain had done their job properly also. Immigration was on the other hand was quite trouble free as long as your passport and visa were ok.
The weather was superb throughout our trip. The days were always hot and the nights much cooler. When we reached Nainital the overnight temperature dropped below freezing but again during the day it was surprisingly warm. It was light by 6:30am and dark by 6:30pm which made it ideal for at least 10 hours a day birding.
Health and safety:
Advised to have tetanus, typhoid, polio and hepatitis A jabs before we went. We also took our anti malaria tablets although mozzies were conspicious by their absence. We all stopped taking them on our return to England. We didnt encounter any human problems although we were alway vigilant in crowded areas. The beggar problem wasnt a problem and we would normally experience more requests for a hand out in London than we had in Delhi. Having an Indian guide or driver constantly with you seemed to deter all but the most inquisitive who in the main just stared at you like the alien you certainly were.
Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent - Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp
was our prefered guide and I certainly gave my copy a bashing. So much so that I bought an additional copy in India. The Indian price 10UKP as against 18UKP in the UK. I had printed out a plate guide before we left and this was a very welcome addition to the book. The plate guide can be found in Vivek Tivaris Indian Trip Report Site in the books section. Thanks to Tom Southerland for that. On the whole the book performed very well and we didnt have any complaints.
A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent - Kazmierczak and Van Perlo
. We did take this recent addition to the guide book but we found the illustration a bit less friendly than in the Grimmett et al book. For instance a lot of the male birds stand in front of and obscure much of the female in many of the plates. The plates are also quite crowded but it was worth taking both just to get another illustration because so many of the birds were new to us all.
A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia - Bharat, Bhushan et al. Published by the Wild Bird Society of Japan
. This is a lovely little book and although we didnt use it extensively during our trip when needed it proved its worth.
A Birdwatchers' Guide to India - Krys Kazmierczak & Raj Singh
the definitive guide to where to watch birds in India, cram packed with good gen and an absolute must if visiting India for the first time. Even the tour company reps use it.
The Book of Indian Birds - Salim Ali published by the Bombay Natural History Society
. Not a modern guide with just 64 plates and only 538 species depicted it doesnt really stand up on its own merits any more. The text however for the species described is very good and you must have one of Salim Ali's books. I bought mine at Corbett for 450IR about 7UKP a real bargain and it takes pride of place on my book shelf and adds sentimenatal value to my bird book collection
Lonely Planet Delhi
includes the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. This covered everything I needed before travelling to India. It is full of useful tips and information and was enough for our limited needs.
On the Brink travels in the wilds of India
- Vivek Menon this book isn't necessary but I can recommend it. Its a good read and does go a long way to expain the difficulties experienced by even the most fervent conservationists in India.
Published by Penguin ISBN 0-14-027826-5
In truth we didn't take one with us, we did however purchase a tourist & trekkers guide of Kumaon which is the area which includes Corbett, Nainital and the other Himalayan foothill sites like Mongoli Valley. In all other respects we managed with the details in Krys's book and the Lonely Planet book mentioned earlier.
All the sites visited, and mentioned below in the itinerery, are all well documented in Krys Kazmierczak's book. Apart from Betalghat which is detailed in Asian Adventures web site www.indianwildlife.com
and Pangot. Pangot is another Asian Adventures lodge but as yet is not on their site. I can tell you its not far from Nainital its situated in the middle of Himalayan jungle and its half way up a valley. It is excellent for altitudinal migrants as the birds funnel down the valley.
for part two of Steve Dark's India report