Chambal Esoteric Realm of Bandits

by pateluday

Urbanization in India has come with its own unique character. Once a hotbed of bandits, the remote confines of Chambal River are now a tourism hub teeming with reptiles and birds.

In our younger days, the news of ravages and plunder by bandits or dacoits in the confines of the Chambal River would send shivers down my spine. The notorious gangs would end up killing more than a hundred each in their lifetime. Invincible in this remote heartland they would loot, kill and vanish in the inaccessible dunes and ravines on horseback. Personal vendetta, caste discrimination, and the rule of the mafia added fuel to the fire.

The saga of bloodthirst still rings in my ears. Famed and named this scourge of criminals seemed unending. Then the impending urbanization removed the social inequities, unemployment, and distances making the people return to civilized life.

Today this pristine land we call Chambal is no more a terror hub but has become a land of peace and tranquility where farming and small business as means of livelihood prevail. The dunes and the shore are devoid of the bandits they only live in Bollywood movies and folklore. Reptiles and birds now flourish to create one of the finest spectacles where tourists flock in hundreds.

Birds of Chambal

Sarus Crane
Sarus Crane
Sarus Crane
Margret Norah

River Landscape A Lost World

Journey to Chambal

Painted StorkWhen I first stepped into this region it was with trepidation, the gory memories of its past still rang in my ears. 

"There is nothing like the past anymore," enjoy the birds. The local guide informed me and put me at ease. "Our target species at Chambal.....and we will see." The conversation changed my outlook on this most damned place on Earth, and I began to see the beautiful avian all around me...

We were on the way to a village in North India or Uttar Pradesh called Bah about seventy kilometers from Agra. In India, the primary concern whence you step out on a long drive is the condition of the road...

The road was good enough for smooth sailing and our group unaware of the turbulent past was engrossed in the picturesque landscape of the remote.  

We were on the way to Bah where lies access to the pristine river, our guests were deeply engrossed in the changing landscape of rural India. The low-lying mountains, green fields, and quaint hamlets filled the whiteboard creating a mesmerizing landscape far removed from the chaotic urbanity that we were leaving behind.

After driving for more than an hour we reach the Chambal River Lodge an ancient structure a former Kothi or Nobel house of a landlord converted into a hospitality enterprise. We are greeted by the staff and escorted to our rooms. All around us, I can see green fields with ripe mustard yellow flowers and groves quite a pleasant surrounding. There is only one activity on the agenda and that is birding. 

Post lunch we stroll around with a guide to spot avian species that inhabit open lands and fields and we are not disappointed. Our first sighting is that of grey francolin, peafowl, black-breasted button quail, plain prinia, ashy prinia, coucal, red and black-headed buntings, jungle bush quail, grey hornbill, yellow-footed green pigeon, rain and common quails, brown capped pygmy woodpecker, yellow-crowned woodpecker, yellow-eyed babblers, crimson throated barbet, jungle and grey babblers, common babbler, wryneck, chestnut bellied sandgrouse, painted sandgrouse and more. 

In the local waterbody, we come across dunlin, greenshank, redshank, wood sandpiper, marsh and green sandpiper, and black-tailed godwit to name a few. The wintering warblers in the woodland among the groves offered interesting sightings. We come across Brook's leaf warbler, Hume's Warbler, booted warbler, common chiffchaff, and the noisy greenish warbler.   

After an exciting birding around the surroundings, we moved into the Kothi for rest and a fine dinner of locally sourced food cooked in rural style. We were eager for a boat ride at Chambal River early in the morning. In such confines, sleep comes easy.

Indian Skimmer

Indian Skimmers
Indian Skimmers
Margret Norah

Chambal River

A River Sanctuary

Chambal TerrainThe drive to Chambal River is twenty kilometers from Bah and an interesting one. The early morning period post-dawn is the best period for watching the birds. Our first sight was that of jungle prinia and Southern coucal followed by that of innumerable species all along the way. 

As you drive further the desert-like landscape becomes evident and the dunes spring a surprise. A journey without changing the landscape is like a failed expedition. The World becomes real whence you experience varied terrain...and constantly changing. The astounding maze of sandy dunes and ravines that at one time accorded sanctuary to the bandits. You are immersed in the surroundings. 

We look for birds in a nearly barren land dotted with sparse trees and bushes. Surprisingly the avifauna is astounding and we spot many before we eventually reach the shore. 

The long stretch of river is pristine and unpolluted and a large portion has been notified as a sanctuary. The river flows one thousand plus kilometers through three states of India namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.  It emerges from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh and submerges into the Yamuna River in Uttar Pradesh.

Chambal River & Lodge


River Boating

A Esoteric Experience

GharialThe shore of Chambal from where we were to embark on a three-hour journey by boat had few hangers-on. The curious village flock arriving for morning ablution. 

A sight of pranticoles, sand larks, and imposing long-legged buzzard greets us on the shore. The river lapwings, sandpipers, stints, egrets, gulls, and terns can be seen all around. The noisy red-wattled lapwing is the only audible feature of this pristine river that seems to have frozen in time. Silence prevails in this tranquil retreat. The part of the river we have planned excursions on is in the State of Madhya Pradesh or Central India.

We are eager to see the Indian skimmer and not at all disappointed as we come across a flock in flight.  They breed on sandy mounds that emerge from in between the flowing spectacle and offer sanctuary to these birds in the impending summer season. 

We could barely sight anything as we board the motorboat amidst the dense fog. The boat slowly purrs along amidst lofty mountains of sand with jagged edges, spurs, and scarps. A lone laggar falcon on the mountain edge throws an inquisitive glance as we ride past. The jagged edges of rocky outcrops in the middle of the deep river look threatening. It is these small jutting rocks that intrude in the flowing river that accord space to basking reptiles - the marsh crocodiles and endangered gharials. This is an intriguing spectacle and you feel to have been transported way back into eons. An occasional Ganges River Dolphin pops out in front of the boat and goes down instantly before you manage to click. But this is what people come here for and yes the birds and mammals on the shore. 

The Chambal is a river ecosystem and a marvelous one at that. My guest cannot stop admiring the pristine environment we are boating in. The winged wonders are aplenty on the plain shores while on steep cliffs raptors abound barely visible in the cryptic surroundings. A spotting scope becomes indispensable along with good quality binoculars.  

The guide accompanies you on the ride and points out the avians that inhabit the shores and the blue sky overhead. Storks, pelicans, cranes, geese, sandgrouse, larks, gulls, raptors, terns, sandpipers, lapwings, and pipits throng all along. An occasional jackal or hyena can be spotted at the embankments and if you are lucky a wolf or a leopard will pop out.     

Boat Ride

Boat Ride at Chambal
Boat Ride at Chambal
Margret Norah

The Boat Ride Back

End of The Tour

ReptilesThe pristine environment, the rugged terrain, and the silence are invigorating, all you hear is the sound of the engines in a vacuum. The ride is a big thrill in dangerous waters, the depth, the jutting rocks with reptiles, shallow shores, and aquatic vegetation that sometimes stalls the engines. It is the skills of the helmsman that brings you back safe and sound. A real adventure indeed.

The Chambal boat ride is engrossing in the time-lapse you get to see more on the return ride than what you have missed. The experience is comprehensive a mix of enchanting terrain, reptiles, birds, and wild animals. I have found the Chambal birding tour to be the most exhilarating. A checklist made in this bird heaven is always robust and the thrill of boating on a unique ecosystem is difficult to express in words.  

Other places of interest are the Bateshwar temples and the Sarus conservation center. There are many places of archeological significance along Chambal highlighting age-old civilizations that flourished in ancient times.    

The destination could be reached from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary near Agra as well. Another boating point is near Dholpur in Rajasthan organized by MPTDC or Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation.  

Updated: 12/05/2022, pateluday
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
pateluday on 11/13/2020

Painted Stork!

DerdriuMarriner on 11/12/2020

pateluday, Thank you for the practical information, pretty pictures and product lines.
What bird is featured in the image under the heading River landscape: a lost world?

pateluday on 04/28/2020

Yes Ospreys, Bonelli's Eagle, Long Legged Buzzards and even large owl found in plenty in Chambal prey upon small birds. Thanks for the query!

blackspanielgallery on 04/28/2020

Are any of the larger birds predators of the smaller birds?

You might also like

How to Enjoy Wildlife at Kanha National Park?

This is an article about Kanha National Park situated in Central India in the...

Tiger Safari Pench Unique Sightings

Pench is well known as the land of the tiger made famous by Rudyard Kipling. ...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...