India: Royal Rajasthan Train Journey Jan 22—31, 2010
Posted by David Bishop
India is a remarkable place with a diversity of peoples, antiquities, exquisite food, fascinating landscapes, and best of all, its fabled wildlife. Perhaps on no other tour can you be guaranteed such a range of experiences. Our focus was on the birds and other wildlife, but India is so much more that it was literally impossible to ignore the astonishing fortresses, palaces, and historical monuments that grace the subcontinent. VENT's Royal Rajasthan Train Journey epitomized this juxtaposition of riches with birding in the deserts of Jaipur one morning followed by a sumptuous lunch in a gigantic fort and hordes of waterfowl on a town lake in the afternoon.
Undoubtedly the tour highlight was watching the courtship of a newly "wed" pair of tigers and their discrete mating not fifty yards from our jeep. But what of the imposing Jodhpur Fort and its exquisite palaces replete with greater mouse-tailed bats; the humongous fort at Chittorgarh; the fortified city of Jaisalmer; the surprise at breakfast as we watched three endangered Great Indian Bustards gaining on our train; that final morning in Bharatpur where despite the drought and lack of water (thanks to unacceptable politics), we were treated to an astonishing 80 species in less than three hours of wonderful birding: Gray Nightjar at its roost; Collared Scops and Dusky Horned owls; endearing Spotted Owlettes; endangered Black-necked Storks; and Himalayan visitors in the form of richly-clad Ruddy Shelduck and dapper Bar-headed Geese. But best of all were the extraordinary views of so many raptors. The views of a mature Eastern Imperial Eagle will live long in the memory, as will a small kettle of Indian Spotted, Steppe, Greater Spotted, and Booted eagles. Truly India is a place to savor and visit time after time.
Thanks to everyone for helping to make this most unusual tour such a success. The combination of traveling by train, fine cultural sites, and some good birding, as well as mammals, made for an almost overwhelming diversity of riches.