India

I spent January 2007 photographing and taking video in India, the northwestern (roughly) part of the country - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan.  

During the trip, the video camera malfunctioned and apparently it could only be repaired in Tokyo or Atlanta.  As a result, there is a limited amount of video from this trip.  The video of individual bird species can be found in The Birds of India video portfolio, a listing of the individual species I recorded can be found at the Bird Videos - India page on www.bobbarnes.us.  Photographs of bird species taken on this trip can be found at The Birds of India photo gallery.

Photographs of more general topics can be found at The People of India and The Structures of India  photo galleries.

When I returned from this trip I was in culture shock.  The cities of India are packed with people, the smells are intense (and often nauseating), and the poverty is an affront.  Watching people drink, bath, wash clothes, and go to the bathroom in the same urban bond is an image which is hard to extract from my mind.  With each passing month, however, my desire to return increases.  India is full of color, history, and life.

From a post entitled: India and Sandgrouse

I have been videotaping and photographing in India since the new year - over the next few days I will try to summarize my impressions of India and provide some insights to birding this large and populous country.

India is India, I really can’t describe it by comparing it to other countries, so bear with me as I struggle to compose something coherent about a culture which is very old and very complex - it is much more than the Taj Mahal (below).


One thing you will encounter in India is poverty.  So let us address that first.  It is everywhere and it is extreme.  Many, many people live without the basic infrastructure that most Westerners take for granted.  It is not uncommon to see people relieving themselves beside the road for instance, it is a practical matter - there isn’t any type of facility for them to use to defecate or urinate -- so they do it where they are, for the most part everyone else ignores them -- but always - and I do mean always - watch where you are walking.  The poverty is numbing - you can’t get away from it - accept that as a fact.

I have been back a week or so and have been reviewing photographs, I came to the realization this morning that what I photographed is not what I experienced.  The India in the photographs is very pretty, and it is -- but there is all of that other stuff as well.

***

In the state of Gujarat (western India) I had excellent luck with Sandgrouse - photographing four species (Chestnut-bellied [photo below], Black-bellied, Spotted, and Painted).  After trying to stalk the birds on foot - to no avail, even with a big lens they were to skittish, we simply drove up to where they were (beside the road) and photographed them from the car.

Chestnut-bellied Sandrouse

All except the Painted Sandgrouse.  On a hot afternoon we were working a hillside trying to photograph a Tit when I flushed a pair of Painted Sandgrouse.  Like many birds of this type, I nearly stepped on them before they flew - dumping a little adrenaline into my system.  We were able to get excellent shots of this species over the course of the afternoon, a striking bird.  Part of the hillside had been burned, so we walked in and out of gullies, between burnt everything and dry grasses and small oaks, it was hot, it was not particularly hard - I was taking it slow.  I stopped on the crest of a gully, standing on loose rocks I surveyed the far side of the gully, then starting scanning up the hill toward me - I knew they were there somewhere.  Then, there within a long step, a female came into focus hiding behind a small rock (photo below).  We took our photographs and were slowly backing away when they flushed (the male had been only six feet away).

From a post entitled: Chai and Carrots & Souvenirs

Indian food is great, if you can get them to add some chilies - they take the spice out for westerners.  It is almost exclusively vegetarian and is traditionally eaten by using bread to pinch mouthfuls from your plate or when eating rice and sauce, with your right hand.  But this entry is not about Indian food generally but about chai and carrots specifically.

The carrots I had in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat are undoubtedly the best I have every had - the carrots we have in the states are bland by comparison, and I happen to like the local carrots.  Indian carrots are redder and sweeter than the orange things we have in the US.  Every evening I had a salad of carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, and shredded cabbage - with small limes to squeeze.  Wonderful!

In the land of tea, they drink it as chai - making the tea in milk and adding other ingredients which vary by region.  There is a remarkable amount of variation.  The chai of Gujarat, for instance, is “heavier” and has a strong chocolate taste, the chai in the Himalayan foothills is less thick and is spicier.  It is all great and I enjoyed having chai at afternoon tea and in the evening.

Typically I had tea, with milk and sugar, for breakfast (checking first to confirm that the coffee was instant).  It was good tea but not much different than what I fix in the kitchen every morning.  Chai, on the other hand is the source of many wonderful experiences - which I will recount later.

***

The souvenirs I bring back from my travels are hardly ever worth much -- in monetary terms -- but are rich in memories.

Some of my fondest memories from India are of having tea with the guides.  Whether it be in the hills or in the desert there was always a camaraderie at such times which is hard to forget -- those are the moments that the tourists miss, those are the moments which make travel worthwhile.

When returning from videotaping nesting vultures on some large cliffs we stopped in a small village to buy some chilies.  There were no chilies to be had but the guide knew some people there and we sat around on stumps and bricks under a large tree and had tea.  Mine was served in one of the cups above, I learned that these were disposable cups - made of porous clay, which absorbed the taste of the tea and so were discarded after a single use.  I asked to have mine as a souvenir, which was okay with everyone -- except, I must take an unused one as well.  That was easy to agree to --

My other souvenir from India sits in my living room, it is a scared, taped, and mangled cricket bat used by school kids in a village near where I stayed.  They agreed to sell me their old ragged bat for the cost of a new one -- “Will wonders never cease” they thought.  They ended up with a new bat and I ended up with memories of kids playing cricket.

THE GREAT STEAK-OUT

There were three stake-outs on this trip which went bust, meaning I spent an afternoon at each sitting and waiting, and waiting, and waiting - and then it was dark.

Of the three stake-outs, the Great Steak-Out, is the most memorable.  But first, a bit of background.  India is a great place for vultures (and associates) with around eight species.  I had poor luck with the vultures and was only able to see four on this trip.

We had, however, the perfect spot for vulture viewing scheduled - a spot where as many as 400 had been seen at one time.  I was pretty excited.

Cattle are sacred, or close to it, depending on the sect, to a lot of Indians.  So much so that there is a “cattle relief fund”, which many Indians contribute to as a charity.  The relief fund has established rather nice cattle yards where old and infirm cattle are sent to live out their lives in peace and harmony - being well feed and free from other worries.  At some point, however, they die.  What happens then is comparable to sewage ponds and dumps - just not as well known.  But certainly, according to others, just as phenomenal a birding experience.

When cattle die, their carcasses are taken to specified areas and dumped on the ground.  It is all part of a program to help vulture populations, vulture populations in India have plummeted in the last twenty years, now being only about 10% of what they were two decades before.

We were staked out at such a site, sitting on the ground by a fence, cattle bones everywhere -- I had to clear a spot to sit.  The smell of the place was unpleasant (didn’t I mention sewage ponds and dumps?).  An ox cart with two carcasses was coming up the road - and given the work which was about to transpire - being driven by a “normal” (“untouchable”).

The driver shepherded the oxen into the compound and dumped the carcasses.  Then he skinned the animals, which seemed to go amazingly fast - this guy had done this a lot - but still took a half-hour or so.  Big mangy dogs were snarling and yelping eager to get at the meat - a small pile of rocks sat beside me, just in case.  When the driver finished, he folded the skins up, put them on the cart, and off he went. Leaving the carcasses to the dogs.

Literally to the dogs, we sat in the bones and the smell - in the hot sun - all afternoon, chasing the dogs away periodically, but no vultures came.  What was to be the Great Steak-Out turned out to be a bust as a stake-out.  I will remember it a very long time (something like sitting in the rain all day in Venezuela waiting for a Harpy) as a birding experience per excellence - just no birds.

While I traveled about western India I kept hearing about the sharp decline in the number of vultures.  That decline has been attributed to an anti-inflammatory drug used on cattle, Diclofenac.  The drug is still readily available in India and used widely, as a result:

  1. The population of White-rumped Vulture (previously known as Oriental White-backed Vulture) has declined by 99.9% since 1992;
  2. The population of Long-billed Vulture and Slenderbilled Vulture have both declined 97% during the same period; and
  3. A captive breeding program has had to be initiated to try to save these species.

SWARMED BY KIDS

Late one afternoon, we visited a walled village to take photographs of Painted Storks (photo below).  After winding our way through a maze of narrow alleys we came to a three story building which provided a great view of nesting birds.  We walked up outside stairs until we came to the last story, from there it was by ladder to the roof.  I settled in for some leisurely photography and intimate views of the village.

Then in a maelstrom of activity, they were there - climbing up the ladder and over the wall, laughing and giggling, come to see the westerner and the cameras.  Kids, about twelve - how was I to know that there was a primary school near by and I had disrupted class by my appearance. At first, I thought it best to ignore them and go about my photography - that lasted for fully a minute.

Kids

Could I please take a photograph they wondered in chorus.  Clapping and hopping followed as I agreed.  Over the next two hours, I took individual photos, photos of pairs, photos of groups -- I had a lot of fun and so did the kids.  After each photograph, I would turn the camera around so they could view the image - holding onto the camera for dear life as a swarm of kids tried to look at the screen.  Laughter and sunshine and swarming kids -- I need to remember this about India.

Woman at Taj

From a post entitled: Indians and Americans

One of my more astute discoveries was that there are a lot of Indians in India.  In physical appearance they run the gambit, as in any population, except that they are rarely overweight.  The men look exotic in their native dress and the women - many of whom are beautiful - are incredible in their colorful saris.  Indians are a friendly people, sometimes a bit reserved, but a smile and a wave quickly elicits the same and a genuine feeling of warmth.  

George Bush is not very popular in India, he is typically described as a tyrant or with a simple, and sad, shake of the head.  My only response could be was that we have to live with the bastard.  The bad feelings are directed at the US government and not at Americans as much as I could tell.  I was asked to present diplomas at a school graduation in Gujarat, I observed that I could be Canadian for the occasion if that would be better, a quick smile and a small negative nod let me know that it might be awkward but it would be okay - and it was. 

From a post entitled: Rare Species on the Chambal

The Chambal River in India will conjure up a variety of visions, depending on your focus in life - if you are into adventure it might cause you to think of “bandit queens” (the Robin Hoods of India - only a bit more vicious), if you are focused on mammals it will remind you of the rare Ganges River Dolphin (a population of less than 5,000), or if you are interested in reptiles the Gharial (with a population of about 1,500 animals), or the person-eating Marsh Crocodile may come to mind.  For birders, it is the Indian Skimmer.

I was only able to spend an afternoon on the river, first stopping at the Chambal River Lodge - which I vowed to stay at on my next visit to India.  It was long enough to see all of the above and to get nice photographs of everything except the Dolphin.  It is a very scenic river which has a long foot bridge which is taken out before the monsoons and put back in after the water has receded.  Here, like in Australia and Brazil, the rains swell the rivers to many times their dry-season size - making for interesting logistics and markedly different experiences.

From a post entitled: Gujarat

The state of Gujarat in India borders the Indian Ocean to the south and Pakistan to the west, it is in the far western corner of India.  It is very dry, water is at a premium and when there is water it is often saline.  Sweet water for consumption and agriculture is at a premium and wells are often dug a thousand feet to get to it, and to get past the saline water.

It is an area of grasslands, the Little Rann and the Rann, of thorn thickets and small thorny oaks. The roads seem to be better than farther north but it still takes quite a bit of time to get around - encounters with herds of domestic animals are common.  The people are friendly, the sun is warm in January -- getting very hot later.  A birding day later in the year will usually include a few hours of down time during the afternoon.

The Little Rann is an extensive plane which floods in the monsoon.  Traditionally, salt has been “mined” and “processed” here (photo below), but the cost of fuel (to pump the saline ground water to evaporation pans) has gone up and sea salt is increasingly competitive.  As a result many of the villagers here are having a hard time.

This is the area for (Greater) Indian Bustard and Grey Hypocolius.  Flamingos can be found in season and large raptors are common.

Accommodations tend to be scarce - in the western part of Kutch I stayed at the Kutch Ecological Research Centre.  If you are interested in staying there contact them at kerc99@rediffmail.com, food and lodging are both good and the village of Tera is enchanting.

Near the Little Rann I stayed at Camp Zainabad, I recommend it heartedly.

From a post entitled: Bulbuls and Drongos

It is funny how I identify some species with specific places, in the case of Bulbuls and Drongos the association is with India.  Not just because most are endemic to the sub-continent, but because they somehow capture the essence of the place.  Like Oropendola nests and the new world tropics.

This was a good trip for both groups.  I photographed or videotaped a number of Bulbul species, including; Red-whiskered, Himalayan, Red-vented, Black-crested, White-eared (photo above), and Black.  On the Drongo side I had luck with; Black, Ashy, and White-bellied.  I know that many people look to the Vultures, Raptors, and Bustards when they think about India -- for me, I will sit back and think about the Bulbuls and Drongos.  Nothing specific about the events around these species, just a pleasant memory.

From a post entitled: Heading to India

From my notes of January 3 and 4, 2007.

An early morning flight to Chicago, where I cooled my heels for a few hours.  We started to board the flight to Dehli at 7:00 p.m. and finally rushed down the runway at 200 mph and lifted off at 8:45 p.m.  Among other things, American Airlines seemed to have trouble scheduling a push off from the gate.  As we waited on the runway, the guy who sat behind me was telling his seat-mate that this was much better than before.  In the past he would have to take British Airways to London, then to Athens or Istanbul, then to Tehran, then to Karachi, and finally to Dehli.  I guess that 45 minutes for a push-off is not such a terrible thing.  The Boeing 777 is a huge plane.

In route: Cruising between 31,000 feet and 41,000 feet at speeds around 600 mph/1000 kph.  The flight from Chicago is only 15 hours, but because of time changes it eats a day.

I am met at the Dehli Airport by my handlers (Gurudongma North and Birding India) who did a nice job of explaining what would be happening to me -- not that any of it stuck in the “fog of travel”.  Got to my hotel at midnight plus two minutes on the morning of January 5.  The handlers were great on this trip, everything as planned, nice support and a great job all the way around.  I even had a chance to photograph the Indian Peafowl (below) - the national bird of India.

From a post entitled: A Long Drive Full of Color, Motion, and Sound

From my trip notes of Jan. 5, 2007

It is 3:45 a.m. and I am wide awake. The time in Portland is exactly 12 hours ago - ignoring the 1/2 hour all-India time zone for the moment.  I am tired, but I really should be doing something...

No sleep last night.  We left Delhi at 8:00 and arrived at Camp Corbett at 4:30 in the afternoon.  A long drive full of color, motion, and sound: 

1. Kids playing cricket wherever there is an open space;

2. Brick kilns with tall smoke stacks, belching black smoke into the air;

3. Mustard, sugarcane, potatoes, and chilies growing in the fields and for sale beside the road;

4. Markets and stands with everything imaginable for everyday life - including roadside stands with nothing but motorcycle helmets; and

5. Many nice birds.

Jan. 6

There are two things to consider this morning: one - it is not light at 6:30; and two - candle light.  I noticed a candle in the room last night so I did everything to ready myself for today by electricity before I went to bed.  Now I’m sitting here by candle, bundled against the chill, writing by soft light.  Tea will be on the way in a moment.  This is remarkably pleasant - after an onslaught of activity and noise over the last few days the quite and ease is wonderful...

...Tea is here, exactly as promised and light is creeping over the hills.  The teacup is warm in my hands.

We walked for four hours through the hills and along the river.  The ford of the river was rocky, I have not gone barefooted for a while so the bottoms of my feet took a bit of a beating during the ford and they hurt.  Video of two species of monkey and various birds.

The only problem with Indian food is that I eat to much of it.

In mid-afternoon we left and headed for Pangot in the foothills, the Himalaya fills the skyline.  A narrow road with sharp blind curves and a fair amount of traffic.  I preferred not to watch the front, the sides were much more interesting and a lot less scary.

From a post entitled: The Himalayan Foothills

I stayed at about 6,500 feet when in the foothills, but even at that elevation I was huffing and puffing a lot.  There are forests here, but they are quickly being cut down as the human population grows and small farms expand into this area.

At night I share my bed with a hot water bottle - a first for me - and I enjoy it. When I awake it is cold, below freezing - all of the standing water is frozen solid.  I jump into my clothes and head for the eating area where I spend time huddled around the fire with the guides waiting for breakfast and the sun.

An amazing thing about this area is that later in the day, it will be “T-shirt” weather.  Flowers were blooming in the gardens, which astounds me -- here there is ice in the pond and blooming Iris by the door.

The birds that I remember from this area are Laughingthrushs -- White-throated, Streaked, Chestnut-crowned, and Striated.  In the forest there are Woodpeckers (Rufous-bellied, Himalayan, and Brown-fronted) and Bar-tailed Treecreepers.

Many of the local people are being priced out of land here, people with money from the lowlands are purchasing land for their summer place.  There is a lot of resentment about the changes that are occurring, people feel like they are being forced out of their traditional lifestyles by strangers from other parts of India.

Indian Road

From a post entitled: Large Mammals

India is a good place for large mammals.  After leaving the foothills I ventured down to Corbett National Park.  Just as dawn was beginning to break on the first morning we were loading the Gypsy with equipment, all of us bundled in jackets and gloves, it was quite cool.  Two elephants taking people on “elephant safari” lumbered by in the mist, their huge mass and the heavy fog making a great picture - or would have, if I had the right camera out.

We drove slowly down the track listening for Tiger alarm calls and looking for fresh pug marks.  After stopping several times because we had heard Tiger alarm calls, each of which sounded different to me, I just had to ask - “What is there here which causes a Tiger to give an alarm call?  Is it us?”.  A stare of non-comprehension from the park guide, followed by laughter -- “No, no. It is not the Tiger which is alarmed, it is the deer and other animals, they give a Tiger alarm call when a Tiger is near.”  I joined the laughter, that made more sense - of course, my naturalist standing had fallen more than a few notches with my team.

Tiger

At Corbett we saw:  Tiger, Jungle Cat, wild Indian Elephant (and a number of domestics feeding in the grass lands), Hog Deer, Wild Boar, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, and a species of Otter.  We also saw a Tiger cub crumpled dead beside a Marsh Crocodile which had just killed it.  Elsewhere in India, I added Indian Grey Mongoose, Nilgai, Indian Gazelle, Ganges River Dolphin, Rhesus Macaque, Hanuman Langur, Indian Hare, Northern Palm Squirrel, and Asiatic Wild Ass - not bad for a video trip focusing on birds.

Of note, strangely, were the otters.  I saw four frolicking in the river, chasing each other back and forth and cresting out of the water like so many dolphins, only they would clear the water completely as they dashed about after each other.

From a post entitled: Corbett National Park, India

Places like Corbett are maddening for me - a wonderful place with wonderful animals and flora, and I am confined to a Gypsy.  To be sure, it is a better experience than most, the open area Gypsy holds only myself, my guide, the park guide, and the driver -- instead of the multitudes -- but it is incredibly restrictive.  I can buy the arguments about not disturbing the animals, but that isn’t the typical argument, the typical argument is that it is for my own safety.  Let me worry about that!

Dinner at the park is buffet style with more European foods than Indian.  A little Indian kid at the next table kept chanting “I love pasta”, as he steadily diminished his macaroni.

From a post entitled: Road Travel Within India

Although I travelled by automobile, airplane, and train in India I am not really qualified to speak to the full traveling experience within India.  Here are some of my notes, though, about car travel.

Jan. 8 -- We are heading back down the mountain (from the foothills) to Camp Corbett.  The road down was as winding, narrow, and full of honking as the road up (being the same one, that probably makes sense).  My stomach, which is generally well fortified, was a bit queasy.  We had excellent views of the Himalayas today...

Jan. 9 -- ...Driving is an experience here, first of all you drive on the left side of the road - and people do that fully half of the time.  Pedestrians and bicyclist are everywhere, as you overtake them at twice the posted speed limit, you honk your horn.  When you come upon a slow going transport, or just a slower vehicle, you honk your horn.  When you come upon a blind curve, you honk your horn.  When you are passing a motorbike and there is an oncoming vehicle you honk your horn.  There is constant honking, yours and everyone else's.  It is not possible to drive in India without a horn...

...As we zipped through the early darkness last night I felt like I was in a video game my son is so good at - and I am so miserable at -- the headlights flashing on trees, houses, people, bikes, and animals as I watched out the side window - the blinding light of an on-coming car.  First the car was to the right of the road and then the left as we wove through the moving populace of India, the constant honking, Indian music on the radio, it is all very surreal...a mass of movement and sound.  People, motorbikes, trucks, bicycles, and cars all trying to go somewhere by passing through the same point at the same time...

Jan. 11 -- Today will be a long driving day.  We are leaving Uttaranchal and heading toward Rajasthan.  We will stay here at Camp Corbett until about 9:00 a.m., leaving late because there is a state border crossing about an hour and a half away and their offices open at 10:30 a.m..  Vehicles must pay taxes in each state and our driver will need to do that at the border crossing.

Jan. 25 -- Especially in this area of Gujarat there are a lot of goat, water buffalo, and cattle herds on the road - it takes a little time for the car to work through them, the cattle sometimes get a bit annoyed and give the car a whack - big horns...

cattle horns

Jan. 26 -- I would never try to drive in India.  The traffic is hectic, it is a left hand drive nation, etc., but I think the lack of signage (in any language) is a real problem.  Even the drivers have to stop and ask directions periodically - and they will stop several times to validate the information they are getting (sometimes I have the feeling that some people, especially in the cities, have a vision of the world that only extends a kilometer) - poor roads, poor signage, traffic/people/animals all over the place - not a good combination.

Jan. 29 -- A long drive to Ahmedadad, terrible traffic and pollution in the city...

Summary:  Driving in India can be difficult for two reasons.  First of all, there is very poor signage, so it is difficult to know where you are and where you are to go, when there are signs they may be in English (if you are in a large city or near a military compound) otherwise...  Secondly, even in large villages there is a mass of commotion on the highways, I was amazed at the skill of the drivers -- in this maelstrom there were few accidents.

In the villages, however, things can be very calm - as in Tena, below.

From a post entitled: The Dig (Water) Palace

The Dig Palace (aka Deeg Palace) is easily my favorite of the two “tourist sites” which I visited - the other being the Taj Mahal.  It is a difficult to capture the essence of the Palace in photographs because it is a large diffused complex of lovely gardens and fountains.  The Taj, on the other hand, has obvious focal points.

The engineering at the Dig Palace (photo of a portion, above) is astounding with hundreds of fountains, each fed from a reservoir by an individual conduit into which different colored dyes can be introduced.  They were dry during my visit, but it is something I would return to India to see.

From a post entitled: Camp Corbett

I mentioned my stay at Camp Corbett in an earlier post and thought I would take a moment and reinforce my appreciation of the place and the staff.

Logistics:  It is a good staging area for the foothills and for Corbett National Park.

Staff:  The people of India are courtesy, thoughtful, and punctual -- and the staff here are the same.  I enjoyed siting around the fire pit talking with the camp guide about the local fauna and his trips to Sikkim.

Facilities:  Comfortable and safe, good and plentiful food.

Birding:  On the grounds of the camp I videotaped birds like the Red-billed Leiothrix, Crimson Sunbird, Oriental White-Eye, White-tailed Rubythroat, three Bulbul species, and Blue Whistling-Thrush.

From my notes of Jan. 13:  The eating area at Camp Corbett was a circular building with a thatch roof.  The most interesting feature was a fire pit in the middle of the room.  In the morning and the evening I would sit by what amounted to a camp fire with my guide and the camp guide.  I listened to them compare birding and trip notes - occasionally stopping to translate for me, much of the talk was about Sikkim and Corbett National Park.

From a post entitled: River Bottoms and Owls

From my notes of Jan. 10, 2007:  A good day of video including both Tawny and Brown Fish-Owls.  At one point we birded a river bottom, during the monsoon the rivers are full or at flood, now during the dry they are restricted to one side of the very bottom.  The river bottoms are covered with boulders and stone, not easy walking and the bottom of my feet hurt.

The river bottom mentioned above was also a good location for Brown Dipper, Little Forktail, and Spotted Forktail.

This was an excellent trip for owl species - nine in all; Tawny Fish-Owl, Brown Fish-Owl, Himalayan Wood-Owl, Collared Scops-Owl, Oriental Scops-Owl, Indian Eagle-Owl, Spotted Owlet, Dusky Eagle-Owl, and Brown Hawk-Owl. (There have been several recent splits in this group of Owls so check your references -- Indian Eagle-Owl has been split from Eurasian Eagle-Owl [which was also split further] and Himalayan Wood-Owl was split from the Brown Wood-Owl.)

From a post entitled: Searching For Transformation

Early in the trip I blew my electricity transformer up -- it just went pop when there was a power surge.  So on the way “home” from a hard day’s taping I looked for a transformer in a small town.  Now I know that Indians have no use for a device that converts their voltage to my voltage (120), but I had to try anyway. 

In the early hours of darkness the towns become bee hives of activity - even more so than during the light.  As I started my search I showed the defunct transformer to a shopkeeper, after a bit of explaining he understood what it did, no he did not have anything of the sort - but if he could open it up he could fix it - there is no way to open it other than with a saw and I know from past experience what a mess it would look like inside.  So I thanked him and moved on.  But his response was typical, I think, everywhere you look you see little shops, nothing more than half-sheds where people are working on things, spot welding along side of the road in the middle of nowhere - repairs on the spot.

signage

I turned off the main street and headed down an alleyway for several blocks.  The alleyway was about ten feet wide, lined with two-story buildings.  The bottom story was consumed by shops sharing common walls, each about eight feet wide and ten feet deep, the front completely open to the alley.  The variety of shops created an amazing texture of shape and color.  Goods tended to be the everyday items needed to get by - this was not a tourist center.  Down this alley, hundreds of people were going to and fro, milling, transacting business, almost entirely men.  Thru this mass of humanity people rode bicycles and motorcycles, horns blowing, all going quite slow.  The occasional cow would meander through.  The smell of humanity without facilities massed together and mixed with gas fumes was toxic.  The differing lights from the shops created a kaleidoscope of color which lit the way.  I am not a good city person, even subdued western cities grate at me, so here I felt numbed by the overwhelming sensory input.  It is a stunning and rewarding memory.

From a post entitled: Hornbills & Forgotten Images

I knew I had a chance for Indian Grey Hornbill in this part of India, but I had put that thought aside - in a part of my head which I rarely visit.  Hornbills are one of those exotic types which excites me greatly, they are different, both in behavior and in appearance.

The park (Keoladeo Ghana National Park) was very dry during my visit, there had been a very poor monsoon and what little water there was existed because they were pumping ground water.   Despite that, I was able to shoot a lot of video there and on my first day - right at the ticket control point, there were Hornbills (and a Green Sandpiper).  How does that work I wondered?

The park is great - I can only imagine what it looks like when it is full of water - and I enjoyed walking the trails.  Whenever I came back to the main road there was always my bicycle rickshaw, a first for me - it felt good to be off my feet sometimes, but rather strange to see someone working hard to move me from one location to another.

The people there were very friendly.  For instance, there is a temple on the road into the park.  We stopped to see Indian Peafowl.  There was a holy man there, barefoot, rags, a blanket, hair a mass of knots, he was very willing to show me a good spot to take video from when I returned -- this after I had scattered the flock to the wind.

Flycatcher, Red-throated 10

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It does not matter where you are, small flighty birds are difficult to photograph or videotape.  So it was with some surprise this morning when I found this image as I reviewed video.  I don’t recall the bird.  I know that I worked hard on Red-throated Flycatcher, and I thought that I worked hard without much to show for it - apparently I do have something to show for it, about two minutes of video of a bird which was apparently very cooperative.  Oh.... the aging process is a bummer.

From a post entitled: A Superficial View of Indian Women

From an outsider’s superficial perspective, women seem to have two purposes here: one is to add color, traditional bright clothing of multiple colors are worn by all; and two, to carry large heavy objects on their heads, perhaps most dramatically when they are carrying large bundles of grass (larger than a roll top desk) with the strands of grass hanging down so that you cannot see their heads.

I say this with a slight tongue in cheek and realize that this is a very superficial view, created in part by the strong segregation of the sexes in public forums, but it is a strong impression.  Indian women do a lot of hard physical labor in the countryside, seemingly more so than the men.

The exception to those roles seems to be the matron who runs everything with great power (from an inn to the nation) and authority.  The women who were filling those roles were the only ones which I came in contact with on my trip -- four to be exact.

Indian Women

 From a post entitled: Dutch Birders

Although there was little water at Keoladeo Ghana National Park there were great land birds.  I mentioned the Indian Grey Hornbills two days ago but the number of common (but to me exotic) birds was exceptional.  I saw birds like Rose-ringed Parakeet (photo below), White-throated Kingfisher, and Bluethroat several times a day - everyday.  Bulbuls, Chats, and Robins were also common -- not to mention Spotted Owlet.

Two Dutch birders stayed at my hotel for a couple of days.  We regularly exchanged information about what we were seeing and what we anticipated seeing -- the typical birder exchange -- and shared a lunch spot one day when our paths crossed in the park.  I think, that without a doubt, the Dutch are the world’s best birders.  They are always prepared, always knowledgeable, and they work very hard.

From a post entitled: Staked Out Snakes

I rarely see snakes in my travels, they are difficult and I have a secret aversion to actually finding them.

Keoladeo Ghana National Park in India (in winter) provides a “gimme” for Indian Rock Pythons, however, and I could not pass up the opportunity.

Vimeo

During the winter the Pythons congregate in their burrows, emerging in the early afternoon to warm themselves.  I set up near the burrows and waited, the thought of taping a 4 meter snake emerge from a hole in the ground was pretty exciting.  There are many snakes sharing the same burrow system but, generally, only a few come out at any particular time.  On this day I was able to tape three different snakes, all long and large in circumference.  Unfortunately some of the burrows are known sites -- and although they are marked for restricted access -- tourists sometimes walk on top of the mounds to get good looks at the holes.  That tends to disturb the snakes and they decide not to come out -- the warming activity is an important part of their coping technique and such disturbances should be avoided.

The snakes were emerging from burrow holes all about so there was a need to keep an eye open - they were in front, to the sides, and sometimes in back of where I set up.  It was on this occasion that while taping I heard the quiet but stern voice of my Indian guide say - “Sir, we have to move now.” - and looked around to see a python, which was less than ten feet away, making steady progress toward us.



 

© Robert Barnes 2018