Sunday, 18 September 2011

Birds and bikes

It's been quite a week. A two day visit to Kolkata and a two day skills conference in Delhi pretty much meant that work took over all my time since last weekend, hence my paucity of postings. So it's now been over a week since Rishneet and his friends took me along on a day trip to the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, about 200 km south of Delhi. It's a World Heritage Site known for its diversity of birdlife, and is long established as a refuge for migratory birds particularly during the winter season.

We were there during the low season, so there were no massive flocks to be seen. Indeed, in recent years the park has seen steep declines in the numbers of visiting birds, as the water supply to the park has dropped local demand for water has risen (the immediate vicinity is relatively densely populated). As a result, it's in danger of losing its World Heritage status unless current efforts to boost the water supply by the park management are successful.

Still, Keoladeo is a beautiful place to pedal around (despite my hire bike being about the right size for an 11 year old), full of lush green vegetation and punctuated by small lakes (a lot smaller than they used to be, apparently):

Our route took us past a place that pretty much encapsulates the extremes of India. I wish I had taken the time to get a better picture of this, but you get the idea:

The massive flocks may have been absent, but we did spot quite a number of birds, including green bee-eaters, grey hornbills, and (my personal favourite) a roosting flock of storks standing proudly silhouetted against the twilight sky:

The day also featured the ugliest and greediest turtles I have ever seen, who live in a lake in the grounds of a temple where they are fed by the temple keepers. Watching them approach the jetty where we were standing - a formless lump pushing ominously and rapidly towards us through the green surface algae like the monster in a B-movie - was genuinely unnerving, and those jaws looked powerful enough to keep us all well back from the water's edge:

The temple also hosted a religiously-inclined pig:

As a parting gift just as we were about to exit the park (very sweaty and with rather a nasty headache from overdoing it in the sun), we were treated to a beautiful sight as the sun approached the horizon. Peacocks are ten a penny in India, but this one just demanded to be photographed:

It was a (very) long and tiring day - we set off at 3 am from Delhi and we didn't get back until the same time on Sunday morning! Fortunately for me my companions were highly tolerant of my grumpiness on the trip back (the headache didn't help in this regard). Despite that, it was a great day and a completely different side of India - it would be nice to go back some time in the Winter months and see what the park is like in its peak season. 

I couldn't help but feel a bit sad, though, as I read about the park's troubles and its decline from its glory days. It seems like the price for development is paid most consistently by the natural treasures each country has, and India, being crowded as well as fast-developing, is more vulnerable to this than most. No surprise either that it is water that is the issue. India is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, and its developing industries are inevitably exacerbating that demand.

As the ground water on which much of India depends becomes more fiercely contested, what chance do the migratory birds of Keoladeo have of getting their share? I wonder whether a visit to the park will be as rewarding in five or ten years' time, and whether Keoladeo can ever return to its former glory. Just another challenge on India's road to development.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow - some pretty amazing photographs there. I'm not sure about the religious pig... Hmmmm.

The contrast in wealth-vs-poverty (sat. dish) is shocking. I'm not sure what I'd ever make of India.