Bhigwan is a small town about 102 kms from Pune (Maharashtra, India) very well known for the multiple species of migratory birds, especially the Greater flamingos, Painted Storks and Sea Gulls. A steal deal for travellers around Pune who want to feel this wings’ waves and be back home within 6 hours. The best time to visit is between November and February.
Before I start with my virtual journey let me inform you that I am not a birds enthusiast. I am more of a trek loving person and forts are like another home to me however special thanks to my friend Narain who shared his interest in birds with some live observations during our Prabalgad trek which lit the spark of observing the birds and I also learned from him few species found near mountains. Before this day birds were just another creatures soaring in mid skies which did not mean anything to me, rather it does not mean much to most of the people but once you know them, once you watch them you will surely fall in love with them forever.
I had planned to visit Bhigwan the weekend before the Saturday that I actually visited but none of the friends turned in for the plan which postponed it to 31st Jan. The push in dates made no difference in the count of attendees i.e. 1 and I was set to kick off the journey with myself. The backpack which is usually semi-packed due to the 11th hour planning and execution was ready on Friday night and the alarm was set to 4:45 am. I moved out wrapped in thermals and winter wear at 5:15 am. The target was to reach the birding spot before sunrise to get the bird shots with sunrise in the backdrop. The route was quite simple, hit the Pune-Sholapur highway — Hadapsar — Loni Kalbhor — Yavat — Patas — Bhigwan. The best part of leaving early is that you get to witness empty and peaceful city roads, the darkness and the street lights creates its own welcoming ambiance. There was a long patch of road between Hadapsar and Loni where there was work in progress which made bikers life miserable with dust clouds formed by zooming transport trucks. It becomes a challenging quest whether to keep the helmet screen down or open.
After Loni the count of trucks reduced giving plenty of room for smooth riding. Solapur highway is anyway very wide and well developed. What a beautiful feeling it was to ride with self, the only companions were my play-list and the road. The thought process was clear as mirror, never felt this good. I did not find any tea stall open right from Yavat till Patas so I decided to just stop after the toll booth to get the some back relief and to answer nature’s call. The sun was already up and Bhigwan was yet 35 Kms away. I overestimated my bike and the late winter sunrises, nevertheless I did frame the fully rose sun.
Once I was arriving closer to Bhigwan I started noting the rise in the count of birds flying around. The feeling is very much like when you are on the way to car showroom to book your sedan, you notice every sedan model on your way to showroom. There are 2 known spots for bird watching in Bhigwan, namely Diksal and Dalaj no.2. both are actually 2 opposite shores of Bhima river. So, before entering Bhigwan there is a narrow diversion where you have to decide which point you want to visit. My plan was to go to Diksal and later also go to Dalaj No. 2 so I took the diversion off highway and headed towards Diksal. Once you reach a T junction with a narrow bridge on your left, take left turn. On the way to Diksal about 4 kms from highway there is a mid sized hotel ‘Jai Bhawani’ where I have one of the tastiest country side ‘misal’ and ‘jumbo wada pav’. The destination was not very far and my speed also slowed down due to head up riding, watching birds on the way. About 1.5 kms from ‘Jai Bhawani’ I arrived at a cross road junction and the right turn from the junction leads to the old rock bridge (Kettur — Bhigwan Road) which leads to the bird watching site (thanks to gmaps and GPS). This rock and mud bridge is the pathway to the paradise of birds. I bet you cant drive from one end to another without stopping over at every 20 mtrs. There are all colors of wings, even for a person like me who is not aware of most of the species was taking great effort and patience to follow and capture as many as possible in my digicam.
It was too late than what I had planned, as far as the position of sun was concerned however there was no room for the plan and pictures in my mind. All I could feel was the serenity along the river shore and the the soft flapping of the birdies. At the end of the bridge are few single room homes of the local fishermen who also run business of bird watching boat rides during migratory period. I was of the thought that I will be able to watch all the birds from the river bank but I was wrong, the Greater Flamingos and Painted Storks are seen far away on the marsh islands in the middle of the flowing water body. I did not even notice them at the first instance until one of boatman approached me for ride to have closer look at the flock. The rate was 250 per head but since I was only head he asked me to wait for another group to approach, few groups already sailed away when I reached. This guy came back and asked if I am okay to sail in his old boat, that will cost INR 200 and more over the cost the lone wolf flow will remain intact. I negotiated and the deal was finalized for INR 150 which later proved to be worth 10 times more than that.
The guide delegated the responsibility of the voyage to his son who was in his school uniform. He first removed the accumulated water in the boat with a half cut saffola oil bottle. If we put the sail route in geometric terms, it is more or less a 270degree or 3/4th circle around the marsh lands. As we sailed off, a gang of Ciconia Episcopus was waiting at the first junction to welcome however the boat did not stop, I took some 10x zoom shots. The climax begun when I saw a wide spread marsh at distance super crowded with Greater Flamingos. One lesson I learned many years back, first click the photo in your mind, let your eyes enjoy what they are looking at, feel the nature’s frame and then bring the lenses & viewfinders between. I was speechless at the first sight of flamingos (not that there was anyone to speak with :-P). The boat boy told me that this point gives the closest view of Flamingos, though you will be able to see them through out the ride.
The wet lands were on the left side while the sail was in progress which gave ample opportunity to observe smaller species of birds mostly found in groups. Never mind if one doesn’t have knowledge on the species (someone like me :-D), it is like watching stars, even if you don’t know them by names, yet the view is always magnificent. Once we reached the farthest end of the journey, there wa s a massive marsh land in front of which were all tourist boats parked in reverse gear and loads of lenses pointing in directions of the avifauna. If we compare a cinema halls’ seating arrangement with the visible marsh land, the sea gulls were at the silver class seating, Painted Storks were settled on the gold class and Greater Flamingos had covered all of the background with the VIP/Executive seats. For a while my mouth was open and jaws were down, it was that Awe moment where even the most beautiful words found in the dictionary was not sufficient to describe the heavenly view your eyes are looking at. It was absolutely stunning. Even the 576 mega pixels of my eyes were not sufficient to frame the entire beauty in my mind. While all other peoples fingers were busy clicking I was breathing the beauty in. The oarsmen carry fishes to feed the storks and seagulls so that birds can come closer and sightseers can well photograph them. Its like the best bird show ever. Especially the mid air food fight between the storks and gulls. It beyond awesome. It was time I started shooting with my fixed lens camera. Focusing the birds in flight was the uphill battle for my photographic equipment.
I was on the saturation point of watching the storks and gulls and was almost about to turn back for the stream back when the boat boy pointed in the mid air towards the opposite riverside. At the first glance I did not notice anything, then I watched closely, there were 100s of Flamingos who took the flight from the farther shore towards this marsh land. It was the first time I was witnessing such a huge flock of migratory birds in a natural habitat. It was marvellous. I just couldn’t resist to tape the soaring and landing in 720pi.
The time was 11:20 am and the return journey began, by this time I was synced with the environment around. Between the peaceful silence there were few mini chats with the boat boy. The only reply I remember is that the school had been called off since one of the professors passed away. The old boat reached the old port and I paid the said amount with a special thanks. I chopped the further plan for visiting the Dalaj no. 2 spot and had to hit the road back so that I can get good rest for the Sandhan valley trek for which I had to leave on the same day’s evening.
I put the helmet on, kick started the biked and vroomed towards highway. Remember to exit from the same point you entered from if you want to return to Pune from Diksal, if one wants to visit Dalaj no. 2 don’t take right after crossing the small bridge, go straight. I was on the highway and with consistent speed and one back straightening break reached home at 1:15 pm. Had a hot water bath, delicious home made food and a tight 5 hours sleep. With the end of this travel there was one more migration, that of the birds from Bhigwan into my mind.