Very seldom do you happen to plan a trip which covers places never heard before and still leaves a mark, exceeding all your expectations!
It was only by chance that I ended up visiting National Chambal sanctuary as my friends didn’t want to celebrate New Year at any ‘conventional’ partying destination. It was the notion of doing something different that led us to decide on National Chambal sanctuary. NCS was a name not many had heard. But the source it came from said: if you’re a wildlife lover, there’s much more to explore in Madhya Pradesh apart from graceful tigers of Bandhavgarh and Kanha.
NCS is a tri-state protected riverine sanctuary on the river Chambal. Sheltering the critically endangered Ghariyal, red-crowned roof turtle and endangered Ganges Dolphin, the sanctuary covers an area of 540 sq km. It is located 30 km from the city of Morena and 70 km from Agra.
We started off from Bhopal in a friend’s newly bought XUV.
December! What a month to be on a roadtrip in the centremost part of the country. Riding past the mustard fields that swayed charmingly in cool breeze underneath a lukewarm sun, enjoying ‘garadus’ draped in exotic masala and occasionally stopping at roadside stalls for multiple cups of chai, it was one indulgent drive to Morena.
Legend insists that river Chambal was formerly known as Charmanyavati – originating from the blood of thousands of cows sacrificed by the Aryan King Rantideva. Such dark myth kept the river from being called ‘holy’, hence it proved to be a boon as Chambal flows ostentatiously without much human intervention in the heart of India; natural, pristine, free from pollution.
We arrived in Morena in the evening. Despite having no booking for accommodation luckily we sought vacancy in a forest rest house in Devri. The twilight air carried birds’ chirp. Behind the rest house was Ghariyal Breeding Centre where they were separated yearwise and at the age of four they’d be released into the wild.
Next dawn came with an adrenaline rush as we stood by our guide and boat on the banks of Chambal at 6 am. With the first light of the day, the calm of the river broke and two Gangetic Dolphins flew up tearing the sheet of water, took a royal roll and submerged back into the river. ‘Happy New Year!’ I murmured to myself. Gangetic Dolphin is a blind creature that navigates through sonar on its head.
About half a dozen ghariyals were resting on the bank and numerous were in the river. It was thrilling to come close to one of the most ferocious reptiles. Nothing less than an ardent adventure as we drew close to them with goosebumps all over the body! Sighting of red crowned turtles was rare but the place surely was a birdwatchers’ heaven, offering multitude of species and their mellifluous chant. It is listed as an Important Bird Area as the species here include Sarus Crane, Pallas’ Fish Eagle, Indian Skimmer, etc.
The camera kept clicking but, like i always say, it couldn’t capture what the eyes had seen and senses had felt!
An exotic ride came end. The guide bode farewell advising us to visit Mitawali and Padawali temples near Morena.
After drooling over the Forest Rest House’ delicious lunch, we headed for the temples which were spectacular beyond words!
The evening was spent on foot exploring the local markets of Morena. It had started to get foggy when we went inside a diner. The tempting smell of freshly prepared warm ‘gajjak’ lingered in air. We indulged and how!
Exhaustion of two days hung heavy and easily showed in our eyes. But faces were still radiant. A small journey with big memories was coming to an end.
The moon ruled the sky with pride and grace. And a group of friends strolled slowly in the hazy streets of a place which is believed to be dry and arid, yet the thirst to explore it had quenched and how!