Bloody Paradise: A workshop on Chambal Ecology
Ancient Indian mythology narrates the creation of the Chambal River, in a strange and unorthodox manner. The Chambal river, as we know it today, originates in the desert state of Rajasthan, and flows through Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to join the Yamuna and take its name. Mythology however, tells a different story. The word Chambal, or Charmanyavati, means the blood of cows. Legend has it that the mighty river was formed when blood flowed from the heads of a thousand cows sacrificed by a Hindu king.
These “ unholy” origins protect the river from encroaching villages, cities and temples, making sure that the Chambal does not suffer the same fate as the Ganges.
On the 22nd of May, a small group of us, set off from the bustling metropolitan national capital, to observe, and study the ecology and biodiversity of the Chambal River.
Bordering the small town of Bah lay the serene Chambal Safari Lodge. Though far from the river itself, it hosted a resident herd of Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), which is the largest species of Asian antelope, and a treeful of Indian Flying Foxes (Pteropus gigantus) also called Indian Fruit Bats. The surrounding land and plantations, housed abundances of Grey Francolin, Black Drongo, Laughing Dove, Common Waterhen and the lesser seen Indian Hare.
Our first day was spent more or less exploring our surroundings, and observing the plants, animals, and insects of the area. On the second day, we drove through the Chambal ravines, once known for the notorious bandits inhabiting them, till we reached the wide, slow-flowing yet majestic Chambal River. Ironically, the bandits were another source of protection to the river as no one dared approach it while they reined its banks, helping the river to retain its serenity.
It is here that we were introduced to Disha and Saurav, biologists working hard to preserve the biodiversity of the river. They told us about the freshwater turtle hatchery set up on the banks of the river to ensure the well being of the two resident endangered species, the Three-Striped Roofed Turtle (Batagur dhongoka) and the Red-Crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur Kachuga). Next, on the occasion of World Turtle Day (23rd May) we were allowed to release new born Batagur dhongoka hatchlings into the river.
In the evening we walked through the National Chambal Sanctuary (that is, the part with the ravines) till the river bank, where we departed on a river safari by boat. In the last glows of the sunset we saw several aquatic birds, such as the Indian Skimmer, Eurasian Openbill, Comb duck, and the Spot Billed Duck. The highlights of the trip were, however, The Marsh Crocodile (Crocodilus palustris), Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) and the Indian Tent Turtle (Panshura tentoria).
The last day of our trip dawned, with a visit to the Blackbuck (Antelope cervicapra) sanctuary, one and a half hours away from the lodge. We were lucky to see two mature male Blackbuck fighting for supremacy over a herd of about 20-25 female animals. After lunch we unwillingly packed our bags to leave for our polluted city homes again.
The Chambal may not be river of blood, but it truly is a life-giving energy, stemming from the barrenness of the desert.
– Soham Kacker
Vasant Valley School