We wrapped up our dinner around 10:30 and decided to go to bed. The park opens at 6 am in the morning and we did not want to miss the early morning action. As I lay on my bed, the conversation between me and Nitin started echoing in my mind.
Should we carry a football, badminton rackets some other games for children with us? I think we should hire a self-driven car so that we can go to different places. Very stubborn, yet gently convincing, I said no to every proposal Nitin came up with. The only argument I had was you won’t find time for all this.
You enter the park at 6 am when it opens and exit around 6:30 pm. If you mean serious business, in those 12 hours you easily walk 12 to 18 km. By the end of the day, you are dead tired.
But as the thunderstorms increased by the passing hour, I could visualize a complete washout of the first 2 sessions at least. I could not imagine 5 children and 7 adults including my mother, all stranded in the rooms of a lodge and cursing me for the wrong choices I made.
My only hope was IMD. For the first time, I was finding their predictions work to precision. From the day we did our booking for Bharatpur, I was tracking the weather report. It consistently said heavy rains and thunderstorms on Jan 26th from 7 pm to 3 am.
After that, the clouds were to vanish and it was to be nice and sunny. I hoped the precision continued. With a slight uneasiness, I don’t know when I fell asleep. 4:30 am my alarm went on and the first thing I realized was there were no rains. I knew the next 5 sessions, 2 and half days were going to be full of action.
We stepped into the park as planned. Hired a “cycle ricksha” for my mom and to keep all our belongings so that we could walk around hassle-free. My mom could not walk much then. Cancer had almost drained her physically. The mentally strong lady was committed to sit in the cycle rickshaw and admire the beauty of the forest.
Children were super excited right from the word go. The floor of the forest was still wet. There were small waterholes around. Compared to the previous year there was very less fog. The best part was the birds and animals were clean. They had an extended bathing session the previous night and that was clearly showing up across the board. As we entered, we witnessed a couple of jackals sprinted past us, some birds like the yellow-footed green pigeon, flame back woodpecker and a few peacocks here and there were coming to terms with the morning. One peacock seamed to enjoy the warmth of the rising Sun.
We continue our walk further. The cycle ricksha kept pace with us. Suddenly the driver pointed towards a jackal staring at us. Me and my daughter, Nitin with his elder brother and son, we froze. We went down and crawled to the other end a bit closer toward the Jackal and quietly lied down in the wet mud to observe the Jackal from a closer distance. Binoculars and camera lenses were in action. Slowly we realized it was a pack of Jackals. Not everyone would come together. One of them would keep an eye on us and the others came into the scene and left after making sure we were harmless. In one corner there was this lovely pair that was busy playing. When the children witnessed this action from about 20ft they were awed. The first connect was done. Questions were pouring in as the jackals left the scene. Happiness and pride on their faces meant we need not worry about them anymore. I was now very much relaxed.
All this time may be for 2 years, the Pelicans were playing at the back of my mind. The light at Bharatpur and the Pelicans were something I wanted to add to my photo gallery. Last year only 4 pelicans landed in the park one afternoon and left before sunrise the next morning. This year we were supposed to be lucky. There was a flock of 50 to 70 Pelicans that had parked itself in the park for the last 3 weeks. I checked with a couple of cycle rickshaw drivers about
their coordinates. All mentioned that they are deep inside. Out of sight since morning. So we changed our plans. We moved to look for some Owls, Nilgai, Spotted Deers, Kingfishers, Raptors, Painted Storks, Darters, Cormorants and the pride of Bharatpur, SARUS!!!
Compared to the morning where the Peacocks, Jackals, and Owls had significantly marked their presence, the afternoon and evening were a bit dull. We could clearly hear the call of the Sarus but could not see it. The weather went a bit warm and we found some shade for us to sit and observe the birds. Photo sessions of family members were done. After witnessing a gorgeous Sunset we moved out of the park.
As expected everyone was tired and had hardly any strength to move around. However, a key session of the day was pending. “Chaat” and honey soaked “Gajar-ka-Halwa”. Are we going to go to the same place tomorrow? My daughter asked me while going to bed. I said yes. But there are still zones that we have not visited. Plus today you neither had a clear sighting of the Pelicans nor the Sarus. Good night sweetheart! I said to her and slept peacefully.
The routine was the same the next morning. I had barely walked a KM into the park when someone shared the coordinates of the Pelicans with me. I took a bicycle on rent and rushed to the spot. Indeed those beautiful birds were close enough. I observed them for long. Then a few folks walking into the sight disturbed them. And they flew deep inside not to be seen for the rest of the 3 sessions we were there.
I never got the perfect frames I had planned for. But I could make a few frames that I still cherish. Hope I get another opportunity some other time. That afternoon, I got to see the uncommonly common kingfisher. That was the closest encounter I had with the bird so far. All the way I was also remembering my stories of the previous years.
Marsh harrier killing the Stork, the calling and dancing of the Sarus, the clash of the Darters, Cormorant making the kill. There is so much happening in every corner of the park that you can’t be at all places at the same time. Trust your luck, follow your instincts and remember patience is the name of the game. The children had learned it by now. By the 4th session, all of us were wondering in the wild on our own. We decided on a place to meet at 6 pm and left. Everyone had their own stories by the evening. A fun packed session had come to an end. Almost everyone had mentally resigned for the day as soon as we reached the hotel. Dinner that night was dedicated to eggs. I could not miss my share of Gajar-ka-Halva.
Everyone said that they won’t join us for session 5. They were all too tired and wanted to rest. On the other hand, I decided to make the most of my last session. I was the first person to enter the park that day. I rented a bicycle as I was also tired of walking. In 2 days I had walked around 28 to 30km. I don’t how many times did I sit down and lie on the floor to try and get the eye level shots.
The best part was today there was dense fog. I could barely see beyond a foot. As I was riding the bicycle, I felt as if I saw something red moving in the dense fog. I turned back and looked around. My eyes stabilized to find a beautiful pair of the Sarus. They were quietly munching on their breakfast. Finally!!! I got off the bicycle and then sat down. They danced, the sang and I kept looking at them from the gallery all alone. No one to bother us. Pati, Patni our MAI 🙂
For me, a photography trip is like a test match. I usually have 4 to 5 sessions between evening and morning. I play it by the session. Plan for what kind of pictures I want to make but not limit myself to the plan. 90% of the times, I have come back with good images that I had not planned for.
If Kashmir is heaven on Earth, then Bharatpur is the palace of Lord Indra. It’s just irresistible!!!