The charm of Chambal

January 3, 2016

This post is a part of the Excess Baggage series

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The sun sets on the River Chambal, which acts as a buffer between three states: Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan



The quickest way to get yourself from Agra to the capital city Lucknow is by train from Agra Fort to Lucknow’s legendary Charbagh station. However, the quickest way to do things is never the best alternative and has been the subject of admonishment from grandparents to the family’s toddlers for eons. This is particularly true of this stretch, because if you take the train, you miss the breath-taking boondocks that make up Uttar Pradesh’s Chambal region.


This area is a little cluster of villages along the banks of the Chambal River, and is a look at the very heart of rural India. Here, one can still find a local craftsman toiling over his art with only the simplest of implements to aid him. Shops in the area will sell you only the most indigenous manner of goods, be it a few grams of jaggery or a bitter gourd. And if you’re that little boy who decided that cricket isn’t half the sport that cricket is, then you’re in for at least a month’s wait before ‘Prith Sports’, the local sports shop, gets you a football from ‘the mainland’.


Once home to the seemingly infamous ‘Bandit Queen’, Phoolan Devi today, the Chambal Ravines host a series of tourist lodges and other facilities that aim to promote eco-tourism. One of these is the Chambal Safari Lodge. A project of Ram Pratap Singh, who inherited it, today the lodge serves as a place where ornithologists and other birding enthusiasts can in turn go down to find themselves in the thick of all things aviary.



Picture Courtesy: Himanshu Pandiya/UPTWC2015

Bird-watchers head down-river in an attempt to take in some of the wildlife that Uttar Pradesh has to offer



Migrating birds that fly across thousands of kilometres all make their way across to Uttar Pradesh. The wetlands of the state provide a temporary home to various species from the months of October to February. Traversing areas across Europe, Tibet, Siberia, and China, some of the species that find their way to Uttar Pradesh include the likes of Northern Pintails, Gargany Teals, Forest Wagtails, Chinese Coots and Pochard. All in all, of the 1300 species of birds in India, the state is home to 500 of them, including 13 which have been categorised as globally threatened and near threatened. These include the Slender Billed Vulture, Bengal Florican, Black Bellied Stern, Sarus Crane, Indian Skimmer and the Black Necked Stork.



Picture Courtesy: Himanshu Pandiya/UPTWC2015

Members of all aviary species along the bank are used to having their homosapien counterparts come peek at them at their leisure



However, Chambal’s wildlife extends far further than just that of the feathered kind. It is also home to the Gangetic Dolphin and species of crocodile. What is of particular interest is that one of the crocodiles that can be seen in Chambal is the Gharial, one of the rarest species of its kind. In 1975, the year that Whittaker started a breeding programme for Gharials, there were only four remaining. Today, their population has expanded considerably, and they now amount to approximately 1000 in number. While they were earlier found in rivers that flowed right from Japan to Spain, today, they find themselves limited to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.



Picture Courtesy: Himanshu Pandiya/UPTWC2015

A gharial basks in the sun amongst the shallows along the River Chambal



The Chambal Safari Lodge itself has much to offer, and is a quaint throwback to a colonial era. To an extent, it may even be fair to say that it is a tad removed from reality, as it is one of the last bastions of living space in the heart of the wilderness that finds a way to peacefully co-exist in harmony with its surroundings. A night spent here is reminiscent of a chapter out of Jim Corbett’s ‘Man Eaters of Kumaon’, with sounds of the forest emanating through the gaps between the wooden rafters of the rustic ‘living quarters’. Ram Pratap Singh doubtlessly has plenty of stories to tell about the lodge’s history. However, he is the kind of man who times his speech wisely and waits for the right time before delving into a tale. Perhaps one of the lodge’s colder nights, with people huddled around a bonfire may be best to prise more history from him.



Fernando's Findings

Chambal is not for the faint of heart. Do not venture here is you don't like roughing it out at least to a fair extent. Chambal Safari Lodge offers the amenties one would require, but it's no five-star property.

Chambal is an ornithologist's delight. Must-visit wildlife spots include: Sursarovar Wild Life Sanctuary, Okhla Bird Sanctuary, National Chambal Sanctuary, Patna Wild Life Sanctuary, Saman Wild Life Sanctuary, Lakhbahoshi Bird Sanctuary, Shaheed Chandra Shekar Azad Bird Sanctuary, Sandi Bird Sanctuary, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve and Sohelwa Wild Life Sanctuary.

Recommended places to stay include Chambal Safari Lodge, where the average tariff is approximately ₹8,000.



My love for travel is second only to my love of food. Excess Baggage is a series of posts that delves into my experiences with the places that I’ve been to, why they are special to me and my sharing of my own insight that may lead you to take the path I have, which is quite often the path less travelled.

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The views here are completely my own, and may not reflect those of any other members of the human population, which is why it is 'my blog'.






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© 2015 by Fernando Monte da Silva