The overnight train journey passed without incident and we arrived in Agra. We spent a day with the crowds visiting the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Then it was time to say good bye to three members of the group. Our next stop was the River Chambal. This was an area that we knew little about. Other than there was the possibility of seeing Gangetic River Dolphin and the Critically Endangered Gharial.
About an hour and a half drive from Agra we arrived at Mela Kothi – The Chambal Safari Lodge and settled in for our stay. This is an excellent lodge set in a very rural area surrounded by extensive farm land. Following a delicious four course evening meal we retired to our lodge. Ready the next day for yet another early start.
Bandits and Outlaws
The drive to the river took us through numerous rural villages a part of Rajasthan we hadn’t seen before. As we got closer to the river the scenery changed dramatically to a semi-arid region cut by deep ravines. The Chambal Ravines are a labyrinthine maze of deep gullies formed by accelerated erosion during the wet seasons. Eddie informed us that the area is also known as the Chambal Badlands. It’s one of the most extensive badlands in the world. Also until very recently it was ruled by bandits and outlaws who committed robberies, kidnappings and murders. According to local police some are still active within the ravines which are still providing safe hide-outs for them.
The Chambal River
The river appeared through the mist with a partially built bridge eerily sticking out of the water. A very overcrowded ferry crossed precariously from the muddy bank. Once down by the river we walked from the coach to the boat and spotted a Long-legged Buzzard and Indian Tent Turtles.
After transferring to a small dinghy we set off down river. Despite the area being shrouded in early morning mist it wasn’t long before we began to spot numerous wading birds. These included Egrets, Herons, Storks and Whistling ducks feeding along the shore line, many of them familiar UK species.
After a hour the sun begun to burn off the mist revealing a wide river with extensive sand banks and deep gullies in the bank. Before long we had spotted Osprey, Marsh Harrier and a nesting pair of Bonelli’s Eagles, River Terns and Black-bellied Terns, Some species allowed the boat to get very close notable a Little Ringed Plover and Egyptian Vulture.
A little further down the river we came across a number of the critically endangered Gharial together with some huge Mugger Crocodiles basking on the sand. One of the large male Gharial was noticeably missing part of the lower jaw.
Suddenly in front of us a disturbance in the water signaled the arrival of a pair of Gangetic river Dolphins. Noisily splashing and fleeting appearing out of the water they were almost impossible to photograph. All of this before we docked our boat close to a sand bank to have breakfast,
Back at the Lodge
We headed back to the lodge and had lunch and some rest. Later in the afternoon we took a walk around the lodge finding a pair of Spotted Owlets, a large flock of roosting fruit bats and a group of Nilgai antelope. After another superb dinner we went for another short night walk. This time spotting a Palm Civet up a tree!
Next morning it was another early drive back to the Chambal for another river safari and something very special. We hadn’t gone very far down river before we spotted a female Jungle Cat hunting on the bank. After watching the cat for sometime and getting some great images it disappeared into the undergrowth. As we continued on our way along the river we heard a second Cat calling. Suddenly there was a large male and the female obviously engaged in a very noisy mating game.
On rest of the river safari we found an Osprey feeding on a kill and Bonelli’s Eagles flying above us with nesting materials. There were more Muggers, Gharial and fleeting glimpses of Gangetic Dolphins.
After lunch back at the lodge, we packed for our three-hour drive to Bharatpur, Rajasthan.