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Old 8th December 2022, 12:44   #1
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Migratory Demoiselle Cranes in Khichan (Rajasthan)

Meet the visitors from the Eurasian Steppes

Migratory Demoiselle Cranes in Khichan (Rajasthan)-img_0881.jpg

Traveller Information
I did not find much information about this topic in this forum, I hope you will find this writeup useful. A visit to this place is recommended if one is interested in the natural world and visiting Jodhpur between October and February. Khichan is around 140 km northwest of Jodhpur, and it takes around 2.5 hours to reach this place. When I visited this place, the 2 lane highway was in good shape. Traffic is sparse on this route, and the drive through the arid landscape is scenic. Carry enough water and snacks, as there is not much habitation en route.
If one does not mind a detour, one can also visit this place while driving from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. After visiting Khichan, one can drive to Jaisalmer through Ramdeora. These places do not have much population, so the chances of experiencing wilderness are very high.

My experience
The opening scene of the episode "Mountains" in David Attenborough's Planet Earth gives an aerial view of the magnificent Baltoro glacier in Karakoram, the largest mountain glacier on planet earth, and the episode ends with scenes of Demoiselle cranes crossing the majestic Himalayas. These cranes start their journey from the steppes of central Asia and Siberia and fly all the way to western India, crossing unimaginable barriers. In the final lap, they lift themselves upto 30000 feet to cross the Himalayas. This is the journey of the Demoiselle cranes from the Eurasian steppes to the arid landscapes of western India. This was how I came to know about these majestic birds way back in 2010.

Sometime around 2015, a friend of mine told me about a place called Khichan in north west Rajasthan where these birds make their home in the winter. She had visited the place and sent me some photos of her journey. Khichan had been on my mind since then. It was sometime at the end of December 2017 that I visited Rajasthan, and while driving from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, we detoured to visit Khichan. The roads were empty, with patches of dry deciduous trees, thorny bushes, and arid plains. Like the traffic, mobile network coverage was also sparse.

If you ever find yourself in north Rajasthan during the winter, make a point of visiting this location.Now that place has become popular among nature enthusiasts and photographers. Due to the ladylike gait of the crane, apparently, the name "Demoiselle" was given by Marie Antoinette, the famed queen of Louis XVI. It was much before the couple met their end in the guillotin.

We went to a place where there was a large water body and the cranes were on the opposite bank; it was around 12 p.m., and to my surprise, most of the cranes were standing still and some of them were staring at us. I wonder whether we went to see them or whether they came all the way to see us. The calling of these birds provided an apt background score for the moment.

The birds were first seen here fifty years ago, when there were only a few hundred; today, it is estimated that nearly a lakh flock here.This was possible due to the effort of one man - Ratanlal Maloo. Every morning and late afternoon, he and his wife used to feed the cranes jowar/bajra seeds arranged through donations from the local Jain community. Today, a trust manages this feeding operation, with the majority of funds donated by the local communities.As the number of birds increased every year, the community created a fenced feeding ground, known as chugga ghar, to protect the cranes from local dogs. It is a sight to behold when large groups of cranes come in batches to the feeding ground. One can find several videos on this topic on YouTube. It also offers good photography opportunities, especially when the first batch arrives in the morning at the chugga ghar.

Now let me highlight a darker side of their stint in Khichan. This region has many wind power projects and high tension electric lines, and every year many cranes die either due to collision or electrocution. Last year, in a landmark judgement the Supreme Court passed an order to convert overhead transmission lines to underground cables wherever possible.

The Great Indian Bustard is sharing the same fate at the moment; habitat loss, a low fertility rate, and our pursuits for a better life have driven these birds to the verge of extinction. At present, around 180 birds are alive on the Indian subcontinent. The bird thrives in arid and semi arid grasslands, which can be found only in the western and some southern states. As these birds are low flying terrestrial animals, their frontal vision is weak, as a result, many of them die due to collisions with the electric cables or poles. On December 4 of this year, I read some news that gave me hope for their survival. The Chief Justice of India has asked the Chief Secretaries of Rajasthan and Gujarat to submit a report on the extent to which electrical overhead lines have spread over these regions, possible mitigation steps like bird diverters laying the cables underground, and the possibility of creating reserves for these birds along the lines of Tiger Reserves in India. A bigger problem is that these birds often cross over to the Cholistan Desert (the part of the Thar Desert that extends to Pakistan), where it becomes difficult to track them. Sincere and persistent efforts over the past decade in captive breeding have yielded encouraging results at the GIB captive breeding centre in the Desert National Park in Jaisalmer. Around 20 chicks have hatched in the last couple of years; this is a remarkable achievement because in the 70s and 80s captive breeding success rate was close to zero. As a bit of trivia, the GIB was proposed to be the national bird of India, but eventually the idea was dropped as it was a homonym of an expletive.

Arid landscapes or dry deciduous and thorny bushes are not wasteland that can be repurposed for commercial use. They host diverse biomes and play a crucial role in carbon neutralisation. While government policies and top court intervention are crucial in sustaining biodiversity and the natural wealth of the planet, community-based conservation plays an equal, if not greater, role. Community based conservation has been very successful all over the world where the local communities have learned to coexist and nurture the natural world around them.

The glaciers of the Himalayas and Karakoram are receeding at an alarming rate, and the polar ice caps are shrinking every year.

The question is, do we look forward to a post in this forum in which someone writes about their off-roading trip with a 4X4 to one of these glaciers?

Can you spot the electrical power lines in the background?

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Migratory Demoiselle Cranes in Khichan (Rajasthan)-img_0886.jpg
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Au Revoir...
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Last edited by scorched_earth : 8th December 2022 at 13:03.
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Old 9th December 2022, 07:09   #2
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Re: Migratory Demoiselle Cranes in Khichan (Rajasthan)

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11th December 2022, 19:37   #3
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Re: Migratory Demoiselle Cranes in Khichan (Rajasthan)

I just saw this (Demoiselle cranes in Kichan) in a 2-part documentary called “India from above”.

Absolutely worth watching… since it helped me add a few more interesting places to my overlanding expedition (in the future.)
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Old 16th December 2022, 18:09   #4
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Re: Migratory Demoiselle Cranes in Khichan (Rajasthan)

Absolutely stunning. This place is going to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.
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