Archive for the ‘Delhi’ Tag

Northern India part 8: Sultanpur Jheel and Delhi: 31st November – 2nd December 2019.   Leave a comment

This is the 8th and final post about our trip to Northern India in November 2019. In order to combine natural history with cultural sites we arranged a custom tour organised by Jo Thomas of Wild About Travel

On our final day we spent the morning at Sultanpur Jheel reserve, about an hour’s drive from Delhi and did some sightseeing in the city during the afternoon.


I had been to Sultanpur Jheel on my first visit to India in 1986, but the area held one bird that was a lifer for me, so a return was called for.


Much of the northern lowlands of India, especially the Ganges plain, is affected by smog and pollution in the winter, this is worst by far in Delhi where an acrid haze hangs over the city.


Sultanpur Jheel (jheel refers to a shallow lake or flood) is a small reserve compared to Bharatpur but still contains a wide range of waterbirds. Here Coots, Grey-headed Swamphens and various ducks can be seen.


In this photo a flock of Spoonbills and a Painted Stork are flying in …


… as well as the Coots and a single Moorhen plus Shoveler and Pochards.


This species was originally called Purple Gallinule, but this was also the name of a species in the New World, so the alternative name of Purple Swamphen was employed. Then the species was divided into six on morphological grounds and this one that occurs in South and South-east Asia is known as Grey-headed Swamphen, although this one doesn’t look all that ‘grey-headed’!


Other regular birds were Indian Pond Heron (which can be found in just about every puddle across the sub-continent) and Glossy Ibis.


In the dense vegetation we found a wide range of Phylloscopus warblers; Siberian Chiffchaff, Greenish Warbler, Tickell’s, Hume’s, Large-billed and Brook’s Leaf Warblers, none of which I got decent photos of, as well as this Ashy Prinia.,


There were also a few Nilgai, also known as Blue Bull, the largest antelope in India.


But most of our targets were in the dry scrub outside the reserve – Indian Thick-knee (or Indian Stone Curlew) …


… Yellow-wattled Lapwing (which is far rarer than its red-wattled cousin) …


… and the bird I most wanted to see, Sind Sparrow.


Smaller than a House Sparrow with a greyer crown and a broad rufous supercillium that extends behind the ear coverts, Sind Sparrow is restricted to north-western India, Pakistan and south-east Iran.


Any bird that only occurs west of India, south of Uzbekistan and east of the Levant can be most difficult to find in the current political climate. Fortunately I was able to catch up with this little gem, only the second life-bird of the trip, near to Sultanpur Jheel.


We headed back into Delhi, Indian roads are the source of endless wonder and amusement. We wondered what this strange contraption was …


… it proved to be just a man on his bike delivering a huge fridge!


We headed for Qutub Minar. The traffic in Delhi was just awful. India seems to have a unique set of road rules, but in spite of the constant blaring of horns, the rapid braking and dodging of stray animals, everything seems good natured. Delhi was different, drivers seemed mean and would cut you up to gain a six foot advantage. A typical three-lane road would become five lanes as drivers squeezed past each other with literally inches to spare and most cars were dented from the inevitable collisions. Fortunately our driver was calm and level headed.


Once at Qutub Minar we wandered around the ancient buildings.


From Wikipedia: Qutub Minar (or Qutab Minar), is a minaret and “victory tower” that forms part of the Qutb complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Mehrauli area of New Delhi, India. The height of Qutub Minar is 72.5 meters, making it the tallest minaret in the world built of bricks. The tower tapers, and has a 14.3 metres base diameter, reducing to 2.7 metres at the top of the peak. It contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps.


Again from Wikipedia: The Minar is surrounded by several historically significant monuments of the Qutb complex. Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, to the north-east of the Minar was built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak in A.D. 1198. It is the earliest extant – mosque built by the Delhi Sultans.


We wandered around …


… marvelling at the architecture.


More from Wikipedia: It consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and architectural members of 27 Hindu and Jaina temples, which were demolished by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak as recorded in his inscription on the main eastern entrance. Later, a lofty arched screen was erected and the mosque was enlarged, by Shams-ud- Din Itutmish (A.D. 1210-35) and Ala-ud-Din Khalji.


The cloisters can be seen here …


… and here.


Qutub Minar was begun after the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which was started around 1192 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The mosque complex is one of the earliest that survives in the Indian subcontinent


Another view of the tower …


… and a close up of the intricate carving on the base.


Our intention was to visit Humayun’s Tomb, the tomb of the Mughal Emperor dating from 1558 but however we tried we just couldn’t get near due to the congestion. It was a Sunday and the roads around all tourist attractions were packed. Eventually we told our driver to abandon the attempt and just take us to India Gate.


… but of course the roads around were also heavily congested and there was nowhere to park.


Our driver dropped us off by the adjacent government buildings …


… where we admired the seat of government of the largest democracy in the world (India’s population is over 1,300,000,000!).


In one direction we could see the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Presidential palace (formerly the Viceroy’s palace during the days of the Raj) …


… and from the other all the way down to India Gate. From Wikipedia: The India Gate is a war memorial located astride the Rajpath, on the eastern edge of the “ceremonial axis” of New Delhi, formerly called Kingsway. It stands as a memorial to 70,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in between 1914 and 1921 in the First World War, in France, Flanders, Mesopotamia, Persia, East Africa, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and the Far East, and the third Anglo-Afghan War. 13,300 servicemen’s names, including some soldiers and officers from the United Kingdom, are inscribed on the gate. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the gate evokes the architectural style of the triumphal arch such as the Arch of Constantine, in Rome, and is often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and the Gateway of India in Mumbai.


Around the building we saw the ubiquitous Common Myna and …


… overhead large numbers of Black Kites. I have commented before about lack of vultures and kites in the skies above India compared to say my visit in 1986. However here at least Black Kites were numerous.


On the 2nd December, our final morning, we were dropped off at airport at 0800 in good time for our flight back home. Delhi now has a modern and easy to navigate airport, a far cry from my experience in 1986.


… and nine hours later the east coast of England came into view. Imagine my surprise when I realised that we were right above Margaret’s daughter’s house in Maldon, Essex. The Blackwater Estuary, the River Chelmer, Heybridge Basin and  lakes, the Chelmer-Blackwater Navigation Canal and Maldon itself can be seen in the photo. It’s almost possible to make out her house.


So I’ll conclude this account of a highly successful and most enjoyable trip to India with another view of Qutab Minar, a trip that encompassed wildlife, local culture and history. I can’t wait to get back, I have another India trip pending – just waiting to the Covid situation to improve!



Western India part 1: Delhi, Amritsar and Harike – 12th – 15th January 2016   Leave a comment

This January I spent nearly three weeks in north-western India. This was my third visit to India and my fifth to the subcontinent (I have also visited Bhutan and Sri Lanka). My first trip was in 1986 when I joined a group of 17 for an event-filled tour of northern India with a visit to the Desert National Park in the west. My second visit in 2001 was to the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya in the north-east.

This trip was mainly to the north-west and the states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat with a short visit to the state of Maharashtra in the centre. This post covers our time in Punjab and our visits to Amritsar and the wetlands of Harike. But first we have a morning in Delhi before our flight to the north-west

IMG_2271 Bull in Delhi

To the western visitor India is full of contradictions: modern roads full of fast traffic that have to dodge bulls that wander unrestrained even in city centres, people stopping to feed monkeys on the way to work and the very poor and very rich living in close proximity.

IMG_2275 RNPs and pigeons

During our short time in Delhi we visited the Delhi Ridge park in the hope of seeing the rare Brook’s Leaf Warbler. The best we can say about the warbler was that we probably saw it, but most of us got better views later at Harike. India is a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar. Here Rock and Collared Doves join Rose-ringed Parakeets, a scene that could be replicated in, for example London, but here the parakeets and the Rock Doves and are wild rather than feral.

IMG_2278 5 Striped Palm Squirrel

Less familiar was the abundant and quite tame Five-striped Palm Squirrel.

IMG_2299 Golden Temple Amritsa

Soon after landing at Amritsar we headed off to see the wonderful Golden Temple, the Holy Shrine of the Sikh religion. Cultural aspects are in short supply on most Birdquest trips but with little quality birding close to the city we had several hours to fully appreciate this wonderful site.

IMG_2314 Frank at Golden Temple Amritsa

Here our tour leader Frank Lambert, with whom I travelled to Tibet in 2005, stands in front of the Sri Harmandir Sahib (the Abode of God) usually known as the Golden Temple of Amritsar. As you can see we had to go bare footed, which became quite chilly as the afternoon drew on.

IMG_2321 Robb & Heidi

Rob and Heidi display an interesting choice in head-gear – all visitors must have their heads covered inside the temple precinct.

IMG_2325 Holy dip for Heidi

No birder likes a dip, even if it’s a holy dip just for the ladies.

IMG_2316 Golden Temple Amritsa

Up to 100,000 people visit the temple precinct daily to worship. We visited on the day of a holy festival, but fortunately the majority of pilgrims had left before we arrived, but the sky was full of paper kites flown to mark the occasion.

IMG_2326 Golden Temple Amritsa

At the centre of the ‘holy tank’ is the Sri Harmandir Sahib itself, the location of the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism. The tank was excavated from 1570 and the temple was completed in 1604 but had to be rebuilt in the 1760’s following attacks by the Afghans. The gold leaf was added in the early 19th century. More recently, in 1984, the temple came under attack from the Indian Army in an attempt to defeat Sikh nationalism, an outcome of this action was the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by Sikh bodyguards..


Pilgrims line up to see the Holy Book of the Sikhs, the Adi Granth inside the Sri Harmandir Sahib. Photography is not allowed inside so this photo and the next (ATP Photography) were taken from the Internet.

111 Golden-Temple

Within the Sri Harmandir Sahib the pilgrims sit to hear the words of the Adi Granth read out aloud.

IMG_2346 free meal Golden Temple Amritsa

Incredibly the 100,000 pilgrims and tourists that visit daily all qualify for a free meal ….

IMG_2347 free meal Golden Temple Amritsa

…. these kitchens serve what must be the biggest fast food joint in the world.

IMG_2353 Harike fog

We spent the entire of the next day and the early part of the one after at Harike, an extensive wetland formed by the damming of one of the regions rivers. Whilst the dam has allowed this former arid region to flourish through irrigation and has created wildlife habitat it has also produced fog. This thick mist hardly cleared all day and it was midday before we could see 100m ahead of us. This was our least successful day of the trip with only three of the eight specialities of the area seen (although we were able to catch up with one later and only one of the missed birds was a lifer for me). Even so I saw one life bird, Rufous-vented Prinia – which is now a babbler not a prinia, but bird photography was out of the question given the conditions.

IMG_2362 Harike Macaque

Indeed the only species I photographed was this Rhesus Macaque. With the trees all numbered it looks like she’s waiting outside of her front door

IMG_2380 Hazzards of Indian roads

On day three, after some further dipping at Harike we headed south towards Rajasthan. As always on Indian roads there were multiple hazards, such as these loads so wide that they take up the entire road and prevent their driver having any idea of what is behind him. Indian traffic operates with completely different rules than anywhere else, driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway, overtaking a vehicle that is already overtaking another, expecting oncoming vehicles to get out of your way in spite of the fact that you are on their side of the road and the continual use of the horn seem perfectly acceptable.

IMG_2369 Red-naped Ibis

On route we came across a flock of Red-naped Ibis, a bird I missed in 1986 due to a poorly timed ‘bush stop’. I was delighted to catch up with this bird after 30 years of waiting.

IMG_2480 House Crow

Other birds seen on route included the ubiquitous House Crow, a bird that has spread around the world by hitching a ride on ships and has even established a breeding colony in Holland ….

IMG_2462 Southern Grey Shrike

…. and the elegant Southern Grey Shrike. The grey shrikes or ‘jackie hangman’ as my wife calls them, are in taxonomic limbo, different authorities recognise one, two or three species, but a recent paper proposed seven or more species based on genetics. If this was accepted this would be Indian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora

In the evening we arrived in Bikiner in Rajasthan, more about that in the next post.