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Rajasthan & Gujarat

Tal Chhapar - Bikaner - Khichan - Desert National Park - Siana - Mount Abu - Little Rann of Kutch - Kutch - Khijadiya

Extension to Gir & Velavadar National Parks

 

Overview

 

Of India's many landscapes, the arid northwest is perhaps the most surprising.  In places seemingly inhospitable, this region is home to a great diversity of species, most notably including increasingly scarce subcontinent endemics confined to the diminishing desert and natural grassland environments, accompanied by a rich variety of more widespread birds and vast numbers of wintering waterbirds.

 

Our 15-day birding tour provides comprehensive coverage of this region, traversing the western edge of the desert state of Rajasthan, and northern Gujarat to the south.  We begin at Tal Chhapar on the fringes of the Thar Desert in search of overwintering Yellow-eyed Dove, moving on to the citadel of Jaisalmer, our base for exploring the Thar and its speciality birds, most notably Great Indian Bustard, and witnessing the spectacular congregations of thousands of Demoiselle Cranes in the village of Khichan.  From here we head south into the Aravalli Hills, a rugged landscape home to a wide diversity of species including Green Avadavat and Leopard, before moving into Gujarat to the Little Rann of Kutch (or Kachchh), a fascinating landscape home to the last remaining population of Khur, or Asiatic Wild Ass, and one of India's most reliable sites for Sociable Plover.  We end the tour in Kutch, where our base at Moti Virani will allow us to explore the unique environment of this peripheral part of the Thar Desert, whose arid landscape, vast grasslands at Banni, and scrub forest are home to a diverse avifauna rich in enigmatic dryland species, and along whose Arabian Sea coastline we can expect a good selection of waders including Crab Plover, complemented by vast numbers of waterbirds in the freshwater and brackish wetlands of Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary.

 

This itinerary provides an in-depth exploration of this unique arid environment, amid a landscape dotted with fortresses and palaces that are a testament to a bygone era.  A host of sought-after desert specialities are accompanied throughout by more widespread residents and winter migrants.  A tour extension adds the opportunity of a good diversity of mammals, including Asiatic Lion, Blackbuck and Striped Hyaena at Gir and Velavadar National Parks in southern Gujarat. 

 

Outline itinerary:

Day 01 - arrive Delhi, Delhi to Nawalgarh

Day 02 - Tal Chhapar to Khichan

Day 03 - Khichan to Jaisalmer

Day 04 - Desert National Park

Day 05- Jaisalmer to Siana

Day 06 - Siana to Mount Abu

Day 07 - Mount Abu to Dasada, Little Rann of Kutch

Day 08 - Little Rann of Kutch

Day 09 - Dasada to Moti Virani, Kutch

Day 10-12 - Kutch

Day 13 - Kutch to Jamnagar, Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary

Day 14 - Jamnagar to Ahmedabad, fly to Delhi

Day 15 - depart Delhi

 

Tour extension:

Day 14 - Jamnagar to Gir

Day 15 - Gir

Day 16 - Gir to Velavadar

Day 17 - Velavadar

Day 18 - Velavadar to Ahmedabad, fly to Delhi

Day 19 - depart Delhi

 

 

Tour focus: Birds, in particular desert and regional specialities, plus Blackbuck, Leopard and Asiatic Wild Ass and a host of smaller desert mammals.  Ont he tour extension: Birds and mammals of woodland and savannah grassland, in particular Asiatic Lion and Striped Hyaena.

 

Best time to visit: mid-November to late February

 

 

Highlights:

• Comprehensive coverage of northwest India's desert environment

Easy birding with a number of sought after desert and regional specialities

• Spectacular congregations of migratory Demoiselle Cranes at Khichan

Opportunites of a wealth of mammals including Leopard, Asiatic Wild Ass, and smaller desert species

• Aditional mammals on tour extension only, including Asiatic Lion and Striped Hyaena

A variety of birding experiences - on foot and by open jeep

Comfortable accommodation

• Simple vegetarian fare at Moti Virani, excellent north Indian cuisine elsewhere

 

Tour info

 

Tour code:  NW003

 

To register:  Contact us, or see our tour calendar for forthcoming dates and prices, or to arrange a custom tour.

 

Duration:  14 nights / 15 days (18 nights / 19 days with tour extension)

 

Arrival & departure:  This tour starts and ends in Delhi

Arrival in Delhi miust be by 1000hrs on day 1, departure from Delhi may be at any time on day 15/19.  You may require additional domestic flights and accommodation before/after the tour which we would be happy to arrange for you.

 

Tour price:  on enquiry

 

Prices:  Our tour prices are inclusive of all road transport and domestic flights, accommodation, all or most meals, all birding/wildlife activities, park entry fees, and guiding throughout by one of our professional bird tour leaders.

 

Tour documents:  Participants will receive detailed tour information with important details regarding health precautions, accommodation, clothing & what to bring, spending money, the visa application process etc., as well as a comprehensive species checklist and list of recommended field/sound guides.

 

Maximum group size:  10

  

Key species

 

Key birds:

• Indian & Cream-coloured Coursers

• White-tailed Lapwing

• Sociable Plover

• Great Indian and Houbara (MacQueen's) Bustards

• Yellow-eyed Dove

• Green Avadavat

• White-browed (Stoliczka's) Bushchat

• White-naped Tit

• Grey Hypocolius

• Asian Desert Warbler

• Bimaculated and Greater Hoopoe Larks

• Red-tailed Wheatear

• Marshall's Iora

• Sykes's Nightjar

• Crab Plover

• numerous waterfowl, including the chance of rarities such as Baikal Teal and Marbled Duck

• thousands of overwintering cranes, storks, pelicans and flamingos

 

Key mammals:

• Leopard

Asiatic Wild Ass

• Desert Fox

• Blackbuck

• Asiatic Lion (extension only) 

 

Other key species:

• Spiny-tailed Lizard

 

Itinerary

 

Day1: arrive Delhi, Delhi to Nawalgarh

Arrive in Delhi, departing in the afternoon on the drive to the small town of Nawalgarh (4hrs) in the state of Rajasthan.  The journey will be a fascinating transition from the city, its surrounding plains with their irrigated farmland and into the desert environment of the fringes of the Thar as the landscape becomes distinctly drier to the west.  Throughout the journey become acquainted with a host of India's more common and widespread species, such as Black and Black-eared Kites, Common Myna, Spotted and Laughing Doves, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Common Hoopoe and House Crow.  Arrive by evening to spend the night in a restored Haveli in Nawalgarh.

 

Day 2: Tal Chhapar to Khichan

An early morning start for Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary (2.5hrs), to spend the morning within this small area of savannah grassland and tropical thorn forest.  Despite its small size Tal Chhapar is home to a diversity of dryland species, most notably White-browed (Stoliczka's) Bushchat, the scarce and localised Indian Spotted Creeper, and flocks of Yellow-eyed Dove; a scarce winter visitor from Central Asia.  Other species here include White-eared Bulbul, Common Babbler, Brahminy Starling, Egyptian Vulture and the first of many species typical of the arid landscape, including Southern Grey Shrike, Variable and Desert Wheatears and Brown Rock Chat.  Raptors are numerous and include Tawny, Steppe and Eastern Imperial Eagles, and Laggar Falcon.  Mid-afternoon drive west to the small village of Khichan (5hrs), arriving by evening to spend the night in a comfortable resort.

 

Days 3-4: Khichan to Jaisalmer

Wake early to witness the remarkable avian spectacle of Khichan's Demoiselle Cranes.  Up to 20,000 overwintering Demoiselle Cranes fly in from the surrounding sand-dunes each morning, congregating to feed on vast quantities of grain provided by the villagers.  As the cranes disperse mid-morning depart for the desert town of Jaisalmer (2hrs).  Spend two days exploring this eastern corner of the Thar, or Great Indian, Desert, which stretches south into the state of Gujarat and west into the Sind district of southern Pakistan, protected around Jaisalmer within Desert National Park, or 'DNP'.  This is one of India's largest protected areas, established as a vital refuge for the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, our key target here.  Sand dunes comprise 20% of the reserve, complemented by sparse grass and scattered shrubs, and interspersed with craggy rocks.  Part of the area is fenced, protecting the natural grasslands from overgrazing by cattle, and although the bustards can be found elsewhere this enclosure provides the most suitable habitat and will be the focus of our search.  DNP is also home to White-browed (Stoliczka's) Bushchat, a species restricted to the Thar Desert and peripheral areas, and Chestnut-bellied and occasional Black-bellied Sandgrouse, drawn to pools of water.  Other notable species include Cream-coloured Courser, Isabelline Wheatear, a variety of larks including Greater Hoopoe, Desert, Bimaculated and Greater Short-toed, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Whitethroat, Graceful Prinia, Trumpeter Finch, Common Raven, and a host of raptors including Tawny and Eastern Imperial Eagles, and Laggar Falcon.  Mammals include Chinkara (Indian Gazelle), the secretive Desert Cat, Bengal and Desert Foxes, the Indian endemic Blackbuck, and diurnal Indian Desert Jird.  Spend two nights in a comfortable hotel in Jaisalmer.

 

Day 5: Jaisalmer to Siana

Depart Jaisalmer in the morning, heading south to Siana (6hrs), a small village lying where the Thar Desert begins to merge into the rugged Aravalli Hills.  Siana is surrounded by dry plains disrupted by rocky outcrops, and the begininng of the scrub jungle which cloaks the deeper Aravallis.  The mosaic of habitats supports a good diversity of birds, including Sirkeer Malkoha, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark, Indian Bushlark, Striolated Bunting, Yellow-legged and Barred Buttonquails, Rock Bush-quail, Indian Thick-knee, Red Collared Dove, the scarce and localised White-bellied Minvet, Dusky Crag-martin and Indian Eagle-owl.  Siana's primary attraction, as seen in David Attenborough's 'Life of Mammals', is as one of the best places in India to encounter Leopard, and an evening jeep drive will provide excellent chances of this instinctively secretive big cat, alongside smaller Jungle Cat, and with a realistic chance of the elusive Indian Wolf.  Night in a comfortable rural lodge in Siana.

 

Day 6: Siana to Mount Abu

Spend the morning at Siana before heading south into the Aravalli Hills to Mount Abu (2.5hrs), a small hill station at an elevation of 1220m on the large plateau formed by the peak of the same name.  This is one of few places where the rare, endangered and delightful Green Avadavat is regularly seen, and this will be our key target during the afternoon spent around Mount Abu.  Night in a comfortable heritage hotel in Mount Abu.

 

Days 7-8: Mount Abu to Dasada, Little Rann of Kutch

Depart Mount Abu in the morning of day 7, driving southwest into the state of Gujarat to Dasada (4hrs), birding en-route, in particular for the numerous raptors of the region which include Bonelli's and Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-headed Falcon, and six species of vulture.  Here in northern Gujarat the southern edge of the Thar Desert develops into the vast saline flats of the Great and Little Ranns of Kutch (or Kachchh), perhaps the bleakest, dustiest, most desolate region of India.  This unique environment is preserved as India's largest protected area, a part of which is the Wild Ass Sanctuary whose principal role is the strict protection of the last remaining population of Khur, or Asiatic Wild Ass.  From a base at Dasada spend two days exploring the birdlife of the Little Rann, astonishingly rich given the inhospitable conditions and almost featureless landscape.  Birds are concentrated around elevated patches of scrub, surrounding villages, and vast seasonal wetlands such as those at Tundi and nearby Nawa Talao, key species including Houbara (MacQueen's) Bustard, Bluethroat, Blue-headed Rock-thrush, Orphean Warbler, Graceful Prinia, Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin, Indian Courser, and White-tailed Lapwing, with the possibility of rare Sociable Plover.  13 species of lark have been recorded in the area, including Greater Hoopoe, Rufous-tailed and Sykes'.  Resident Sarus Cranes and Lesser Flamingos are accompanied in the winter months by thousands of Demoiselle and Common Cranes, and Greater Flamingos, alongside sizeable groups of Great White and Dalmatian Pelicans, Painted, Black-necked, Black and White Storks, Indian Black, Glossy and Black-headed Ibis, Collared, Oriental and Small Pratincoles, Bar-headed and Greylag Geese, and huge congregations of a variety of ducks.  Nights in a comfortable wildlife lodge on the edge of the sanctuary.

 

Days 9-12: Dasada to Kutch

Depart Dasada in the morning of day 9, heading north across the Gulf of Kutch into the Kutch peninsula to Moti Virani near the town of Bhuj (6hrs).  Spend the remainder of the day plus a further three full days exploring this peripheral part of the Thar Desert.  During the long dry season this is a land of sun-baked alluvial mudflats, however despite first appearances the region is particularly rich in birds.  The inherently saline soil is naturally suited to the growth of nutritious grasses and succulents which, along with stretches of water in dhands, natural depressions left by the monsoon, and islands of dry thorn forest that punctuate the otherwise flat landscape, provide food and refuge to great numbers of waterfowl, waders, raptors and larks.  This is the only known wintering site of Grey Hypocolius in India, which we will search for in the Fulay village region within the grasslands of Banni.  Among the key species in the area are the striking White-naped Tit and Rufous-fronted Prinia in the thorn forests of Phot Mahadev, Marshall's Iora, Grey-necked Bunting, Indian Courser, Red-tailed Wheatear around the rocky outcrops that punctuate Banni's otherwise featureless terrain, Short-eared Owl, Sykes' and Savanna Nightjars, and various waterfowl in Banni's Chhari Dhand.  A host of gulls, terns and waders can be found in the Jakhau mangrove swamps and Pingleshwar sea coast, including the striking Crab Plover, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers, rare Great Knot, Black-bellied, Caspian and Whiskered Terns, Great Black-headed Gull, and a selection of egrets.  Some of the more distinctive mammals of the region include Desert Cat, Chinkara or Indian Gazelle, Long-eared and Pallas's Hedgehogs, and Indian Desert Jird.  Nights in a simple but comfortable guesthouse run by a conservation organisation.

 

Day 13: Kutch to Jamnagar, Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary

Depart Moti Virani for Jamnagar (6hrs) on the southern shore of the Gulf of Kutch.  Spend the evening at Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary whose vast saline and freshwater lagoons host overwintering cranes, storks, flamingos and pelicans which congregate here, along with waterfowl in their thousands.  Overnight in a city hotel in Jamnagar.

 

Day 14: Jamnagar to Ahmedabad, flight to Delhi

Depart Jamnagar for Ahmedabad (5hrs) to connect to a domestic flight to Delhi.  Night in a city hotel.

 

Day 15: Depart Delhi

Depart Delhi on your onward journey.

 

 

Tour extension:

 

Days 14-15: Jamnagar to Gir

Depart Jamnagar for Sasan Gir (5hrs), scrub gradually developing into one of the world's largest tracts of dry deciduous woodland as the terrain becomes more undulating to the southwest.  Within this landscape is Gir National Park, the last refuge of Asiatic Lion, a highly endangered species whose range once extended as far as Greece.  Today the population of this species stands at around 300 individuals which, together with the 300 or so Leopards within the sanctuary, bestows Gir with one of the most significant concentrations of big cats in India.  Other key mammals include Chinkara, or Indian Gazelle, and Chousingha, the world's only four-horned antelope.  The forests, interspersed with grasslands and dissected by rivers, also support a diverse avifauna, with key species here including Brown Fish and Mottled Wood Owls, Laggar Falcon, White-bellied Minivet, Rufous Treepie, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Marshall's Iora, Tawny-bellied and Yellow-eyed Babblers, Rufous-fronted Prinia, and Black-headed Cuckooshrike.  Spend the afternoon and following day exploring the forests of Gir from open jeep.  Nights in a comfortable wildlife lodge on the edge of the sanctuary.

 

Days 16-17: Gir to Velavadar

Transfer by road to Velavadar National Park (4hrs) to spend the afternoon and following day exploring the extensive tropical savannah, the only one of its kind in India to be designated this level of protection.  Primarily established to protect the country's highest concentration of the endemic antelope Blackbuck, the reserve is also home to an important population of the notoriously elusive Indian Wolf, its primary predator, alongside Hyaena and Jungle Cat. The jeep tracks through the grasslands provide an ideal wintering site for harriers, hosting one of the largest roosts of Eurasian Marsh, Pallid, Montagu's and Hen Harriers in the world.  Other key species at Velavadar include Desert and Variable Wheatears, Sirkeer Malkoha, Sykes' Lark, Chestnut-bellied and Painted Sandgrouse, Painted Francolin, and the globally threatened White-browed (Stoliczka's) Bushchat.  Nights in a comfortable wildlife resort on the edge of the sanctuary.

 

Day 18: Velavadar to Ahmedabad, fly to Delhi

Depart Velavadar for Ahmedabad (4hrs) to connect to a domestic flight to Delhi.  Night in a city hotel.

 

Day 19: depart Delhi

Depart Delhi on your onward journey.

 

 

What to expect

 

In summary

Easy to moderate walking requirements

Comfortable en-suite accommodation throughout

Road transport in modern, comfortable car, jeep or minibus

• Roads mostly good, some long distance drives

• Comfortable, even weather - hot by day, cool to cold by night, extremes especially pronounced in desert environments

• Good photographic opportunities throughout

Exciting birding with knowledgeable guides

 

 

Tour grading & health requirements

The walking requirements of this tour are easy to moderate, and although much birding is on foot no long treks are involved.  Some birding will be from open jeep by necessity.  There are no specific health considerations providing you are in good health and can walk reasonable distances at a normal walking pace.  Mosquitoes are not especially problematic during the winter months, however suitable precautions should be taken.

 

Travel

All road travel will be in modern, comfortable car(s) or minibus, with the use of jeeps in wildlife reserves and to navigate the grasslands of Banni during our stay at Moti Virani.  There will be some long drives, however roads throughout the region are generally good, and we will stop to break the journey when we can, usually for some en-route birding.

 

Climate 

Temperatures are likely to be warm to hot by day with cool to cold nights and early mornings.  Extremes will be especially pronounced in the desert environment of Jaisalmer and Kutch, where days will be hot but temperatures at night may drop below zero.  The limited rainfall experienced by this region is concentrated in the monsoon (Jun-Sep), outside of which conditions are invariably dry.

 

Accommodation & food

Accommodation throughout the tour will be in comfortable, good quality hotels, birding and wildlife lodges.  Nights at Moti Virani will be in simple yet comfortable accommodation of a newly-built lodge run by a conservation organisation.  All accommodation is en-suite.  Meals are often served as a buffet incorporating a range of delicious local dishes, with a limited choice of local Gujarati vegetarian fare at Moti Virani, but Indian, Chinese and Continental cuisine available elsewhere.

 

Special requirements

None

 

Map

 

Click the blue location balloons to learn more...

 

Images

Laggar Falcon Cream-coloured Courser Asian Desert Warbler Rufous-tailed Lark Green Avadavat
Laggar Falcon Cream-coloured Courser Asian Desert Warbler Rufous-tailed Lark Green Avadavat
         
Asiatic Wild Ass Crab Plover Sociable Plover Great White Pelican Sirkeer Malkoha
Khur or Asiatic Wild Ass Crab Plover Sociable Plover Great White Pelican Sirkeer Malkoha

 

 

Click here for more photographs from northwest India in our tour gallery...