Sunday, January 18, 2015

PURBASTHALI : A PARADISE FOR BIRDS AT CHUPIR CHAR

Little Grebe
If you are interested in the winged species, Purbasthali is heaven for you. A small place in Kalna subdivision of Burdwan district where on the banks of river Bhagirathi (Ganga) an Oxbow lake have been formed as the river changed course continuously over the years. The natural lake spreads over almost three and half square kilometres and the channel of water extends in a closed loop shape for almost 11 kms. The lake is still fed by river water through a narrow opening. However due to rapid sedimentation and the river changing course further, it is now under threat to get cut off from the main river in near future. During monsoon when the water level rises the whole area gets flooded but in the winter when the water subsides, lots of small islands rise up. This has created a unique ecosystem where tall grasses and scrubs grow in abundance on these islands making it the safe haven for the birds, both resident as well as migratory. Birds fly in from as far as Siberia. Come winter, birding enthusiasts flock to Purbashali, armed with powerful binoculars and cameras fitted with long tele lenses which would put the barrel of a Russian made T 90 battle tank to shame. 


I was planning to come here since last three or four years but could never made it. Frankly I am not a ‘birding’ person and I definitely lack the enthusiasm of a true blue bird watcher and photographer. I am quite bad at identifying bird species as well. But that apart Purbashali itself is a beautiful place and a must visit for nature lovers who prefer serenity. Finally, in December 2014 the trip materialized solely due to the enthusiasm of my two friends Sumit Biswas and Arindam Ghosh, both birding enthusiast and keen wildlife photographers.

It was kind of last moment decision that we will make it on the weekend. We called up and luckily managed to reserve one room out of only two available at “Parijayi Abas”, the only accommodation at Purbasthali.

A hasty packing of bags, loading of cameras and tripods and a breathless last moment escape from office saw three of us at Howrah Station boarding the 2:45PM Katwa local. During the three hour journey we did not spare any hawker selling anything edible and devoured everything ranging from jhalmuri, chanachur, peanuts, telebhajas, oranges, boiled eggs and innumerable ‘bhar’ of tea.

It was almost dark when we got down at Purbasthali station. A quick round of shopping at the marketplace adjacent to station to stock up on mineral water, some more peanuts and cigarettes and we were good to move. We started inquiring around for transport to reach “Parijayi Abas”.  Locals told us it’s about five odd kms from the stations and ‘Totos’ or the battery operated rickshaws are available. So we bargained on the fare, settled at Rs.20/- per head and boarded the rickety contraption. Fifteen minutes of bumpy ride in darkness with several intermittent moments when I was almost sure that this vehicle is going to split into pieces, we reached our destination. The driver was a pretty friendly middle aged guy. He was talking about the birds and how the locals were involved in ensuring that Purbashali remains a safe sanctuary for the birds. People come here for the birds and he realizes that this drives the local economy to a large extent.

Parijayi Abas was a neat place, with a large lawn in front and the elevated house at the end. There is a large veranda in the middle and the dining room at the back which are flanked by two large rooms on both sides. Arrangements are bare basic but tolerable. We retired in one of the rooms for the night.

Next morning we woke up early. The only cause of worry was the ‘mist’ which often would hang thick in the morning resulting in poor visibility. The threat is more on waterbodies where mist tends to hover low till late in the day. However we were blessed with a clearer day and we could see the sun shining by 6AM. Our boatman was already waiting for us and we started off for the lake. It’s a walk for about a kilometre from the ‘Parijayee Abas”, the road wining through the village and then through a beautiful mango orchard. The place looked mesmerizing in the morning, with sharp rays of early sunlight piercing through the thick foliage of the ancient trees. It created a surreal effect. We had clicked few photos they do not do justice to what eyes had seen.




We reached the lakeside, it was huge, calm, spreading miles before our eyes. We could already see flocks of birds flying on the water, the silence of the winter morning often broken by their shrill calls.


 The next four hours were pure bliss. The boat silently floated across the length and breadth of the lake, cutting through the hyacinths and passing close by the marshlands. The water looked dark but when I looked down it was amazingly clear. I could see the bottom of lake and the gently swaying water plants and weeds. As the boat slowly moved on, the huge variety of birds, both migratory and resident unfolded before our eyes. The advantage of being on a boat is that we could often get very close to the birds without disturbing them. Our cameras went on overdrive, the only sound apart from the bird calls were the clicking of our cameras. We saw Lesser Whistling Teals, Red Crested Pochards, Marsh Sandpiper, Little swallow, Little Grebe, Black Drongo, Common coot, Bronze winged Jacana, Black headed Ibis, purple moorhens, Kingfishers, Cormorants and a few I could not identify. The Purple Moorhens were beautiful but they are shy birds, often popping their colourful heads over the thick growth of hyacinths, giving only a fleeting moment for us to photograph them.

Purple Moorhen

The Lesser Whistling teals were in hoards, crating quite a cacophony. Often they would take off and streak over the surface of water, leaving a wake on it’s trail. 



Lesser Whistling Teals




Lesser Whistling Teals in flight

The huge black headed Ibis with their long legs, trundling through mud and often dipping their long curved bills into water to look for food, Blue kingfishers sitting patiently on bamboo poles, Cormorants spreading their wings, the majestic Red Crested Pochards lazily floating thru’ the water, the marsh sandpipers walking on the small islands, everything was a visionary overdose. 

Black Headed Ibis

Kingfisher

Cormorant 

 Red Crested Pochards

Red Crested Pochards (male & Female)

 Marsh Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper

Little Swallow

Asian Pied Starling

Drongo

A bird I couldn't identify

 Bronze Winged Jacana

Common Coot

Floating ducks

Time flew like magic; we were on the boat for almost four hours. Our boatman was an experienced birdwatcher and had an uncanny talent of spotting birds in the shrubs which our inexperienced eyes surely would have missed. He was well versed with the bird species and identified birds for us. He knew exactly where the birds nested, understood light which was critical to photograph the birds and navigated his boat accordingly. It was a pure pleasure to have him as our boatman and guide.

 Sumit and Arindam on the boat

Seen on the Lake

Once done we came back to “Parijayee Abas” had a quick lunch, packed and went to the station to get back again to the reality, the hustle and bustle of the city.

Blue Throated Barbet seen at the compound of Parijayee Abas 

Green Dove & Common Babbler also seen at the Parijayee Abas compound

Purbasthali first came to limelight in the winter of 1989 when members of Junglee www.junglee.org an NGO which works for conservation of wildlife, did a survey of this area and bird species. The members were amazed to find the variety of migrating birds coming from far off lands like Siberia & Africa. However there was no effort to preserve this bio-diversity and poaching of birds, particularly the migrant ducks, were rampant. Heavy poaching led to decreased migration of birds and had they not stepped in by that time, things would have been quite different now. They talked to the locals, made them understand the importance of conservation and with their help slowly eradicated poaching. Some 15 years back, ‘Kasthashali Banabithi’ a body formed by the local people started working actively for preservation of the biodiversity of the lake area and the birds and make the place popular to the birdwatchers and tourists. They understood that this would be an unique opportunity to develop the area as a tourist destination and thus local economy would see an upsurge. Their vision is coming to reality and today ‘Purbasthali’ is an important bird sighting place of Bengal. They have tried to develop this in the ‘Manglajori Model’ on Chilika, Odisha. However tourism also has it’s vices as mindless crowd with no respect for the nature and wildlife would pour in for picnic, hauling huge speakers belting out music in thousand decibels and practically littering the whole place with garbage and plastic. So the job of this body is also to keep such activities at bay which itself is quite difficult task. However strong and sincere efforts are on and that’s what really counts. From January 2014 they have come up with their own magazine named “Banahansi” which talks and showcases their efforts.

Purbasthali water-body area basically comprises of two villages, Chupi and Kasthashali. The oxbow lake is also known as ‘Chupir Char’ which is named after the village.  Both villages have rich history and I could see big old mansion like houses which indicated that residents are wealthy. Quite a few eminent Bengalis are from this area. The most prominent is sir Upendra Nath Brahmachari, inventor of Urea Stibamine which effectively eradicated Kala-Azar (Visceral leishmaniasis) which was much feared and considered to be life threatening at that period of time. Poet Satyendra Nath Dutta, novelist Dharmadas Mukhopadhyay are few others worth mentioning who are from this area. The village Chupi has two very old terracotta temples, though due to paucity of time I could not see them properly.     


HOW TO REACH:

By Train: The easiest way to reach Purbasthali is to board the Katwa local from Howrah. The journey takes about three hours to reach Purbashali Station. From Station area you will get ToTos (Battery Operated Rickshaws) which will take you to ‘Parijayee Abas’ also known as ‘Pakhiralay’ to the locals. The journey takes about 15 minutes. I have given the details of train timings below.

Howrah to Purbashali:
No.
Name
From
Dep ↑↑
To
Arr
Duration
37911
Howrah-Katwa Jn Loca...
HWH*
05:38:00
PSAE
08:16:00
2h 38m
37913
Howrah-Katwa Jn Loca...
HWH*
07:53:00
PSAE
10:21:00
2h 28m
31111
Sealdah-Katwa Jn Loc...
BNXR
08:12:00
PSAE
10:53:00
2h 41m
37915
Howrah-Katwa Jn Fast...
HWH*
10:00:00
PSAE
12:27:00
2h 27m
37917
Howrah-Katwa Jn Loca...
HWH*
12:10:00
PSAE
14:29:00
2h 19m
37919
Howrah-Katwa Jn Fast...
HWH*
14:30:00
PSAE
16:53:00
2h 23m
37921
Howrah-Katwa Jn Fast...
HWH*
17:05:00
PSAE
19:31:00
2h 26m
37923
Howrah-Katwa Jn Loca...
HWH*
18:00:00
PSAE
20:13:00
2h 13m
37925
Howrah-Katwa Jn Loca...
HWH*
19:25:00
PSAE
21:47:00
2h 22m
37927
Howrah-Katwa Jn Loca...
HWH*
20:25:00
PSAE
22:59:00
2h 34m

Purbashali to Howrah:
No.
Name
From
Dep ↑↑
To
Arr
Duration
37912
Katwa Jn-Howrah Loca...
PSAE
04:12:00
HWH*
07:00:00
2h 48m
37914
Katwa Jn-Howrah Loca...
PSAE
06:08:00
HWH*
08:43:00
2h 35m
37916
Katwa Jn-Howrah Loca...
PSAE
06:52:00
HWH*
09:25:00
2h 33m
37918
Katwa-Howrah Local
PSAE
07:30:00
HWH*
10:20:00
2h 50m
37920
Katwa-Howrah Local
PSAE
07:57:00
HWH*
10:55:00
2h 58m
37922
Katwa Jn-Howrah Loca...
PSAE
11:13:00
HWH*
14:05:00
2h 52m
37924
Katwa Jn-Howrah Loca...
PSAE
14:47:00
HWH*
18:05:00
3h 18m
37926
Katwa-Howrah Local
PSAE
15:32:00
HWH*
18:48:00
3h 16m
31112
Katwa Jn-Sealdah Loc...
PSAE
16:26:00
BNXR
19:10:00
2h 44m
37928
Katwa Jn-Howrah Loca...
PSAE
19:18:00
HWH*
22:42:00
3h 24m

The ideal way would be to take a train in the afternoon. You will be reaching ‘Parijayee Abas” by evening. Spend the night, and start early on the next morning.

By RoadSome of you love to drive and prefer going by road. You love the freedom rather than be bound by the train timings. However I must warn you that road conditions will not favour you always and you need to be ready for a bumpy ride. There are three options:

1st Option: (133 KMs approx.)

From Kolkata take BT Road, drive to Barrackpur, then towards Kalyani via Barrackpore Kalyani Expressway. After Kalyani cross the Ganges via Iswar Gupta Setu and drive via Balagarh, Kalna, Nabadwip, Parulia to Purbasthali.

2nd Option: (141 KMs approx.)

From Kolkata take Jessore Road, cross Barasat and keep driving straight to Krishnanagar via NH-34. From Krishnanagar you need to leave NH-34 take left and drive towards Nabadwip via Nabadwip Katwa Road. On this road from Parulia you need to take a right and go towards Purbasthali station.

3rd  Option: (142 KMs approx.)

Take BT road and at Dunlop take left and cross the river via Bali Bridge or Nivedite Setu. Proceed by NH-2 till Memery. From Memary take right, drive straight to cross old Delhi Road then pass through Memary town, cross the level crossing and come on the road leading to Dainhat. Go past Maldanga and once you come to Satgachia crossing you need to take right towards Nabadwip. Again you need to drive till Parulia crossing and from here you need to take left and go towards Purbasthali station.


WHERE TO STAY:



‘Parijayee Abas’ run by  the organization Kasthashali Banabithi is the only option here. This has only two rooms. The rooms are big and each room has two beds which can accommodate four adults. Each room has attached large western style bathrooms. The arrangements are Spartan but reasonably clean. Try to get the room on the left. The room on the right has a resident rodent and you need to share the room with him. There is no air-conditioning and in the winter months you don’t need them as well. Winter sees lot of birding enthusiasts so it will be advisable to call and book in advance. There is no way to remit money so you can’t buy that peace of mind but I did not face any issue and the room was kept for us. You need to tell them about your expected time of arrival though. The room rents are Rs.500/- (Rupees Five Hundred) per night. Check in check out timing is 9AM to 9AM. If possible check out of the room while you are going bird-watching in the morning. If you are late(beyond 11AM) they will also charge you full for another day. Booking Details are as under.

PARIJAYEE ABAS
Kasthashali Banbithi  
Post – Kasthashali, Police Station: Purbasthali
District - Burdwan
PIN – 713513
Phone Nos: The phone nos are changed. I will post once reconfirmed.



Ask for Sanjay Singha. He arranges the booking and he is also a very experienced guide, very well versed with the bird species and excellent spotter. It will be great if you can have him as a guide else he will arrange for you one and you will not be disappointed.

Sanjay will also arrange boat for you. Please ask him to arrange for the boat while you are making the booking. The boat charge is Rs.150/- per hour. If Sanjay comes as guide, his charge will be extra. He would take some Rs.200 - Rs.250/-. You can negotiate with him. 

Alternatively you can stay at Nabadwip town which has few hotels. But you need to hire a car from there to come to Purbasthali early in the morning and then to go back. There are trains available from Nabadwip. From Nabadwip you can catch a bus and come to Krishna Nagar. You will get plenty of local trains from here to Sealdah.

WHAT TO EAT:

There are no restaurants here. At Parijayee Abas they have arrangement with a local lady who will supply lunch, dinner and breakfast. Meals are only prepared against order and there is nothing available 'ready made'. You will have to place your order well in advance to give her time to cook for you. Menu is absolutely basic. You get rice, Dal, Subzi and Chicken / Fish Curry. Food will be supplied in a tiffin carrier and the dining hall has basic utensils like plates, bowls and glasses. Everything is self-service. Dinner will be supplied by 9PM. Please carry mineral water. This area is arsenic prone hence avoid drinking water from tube wells. You will not get anything near Parijayee Abas so hard and soft drinks as well as snacks to accompany needs to be carried from Kolkata. Do carry few paper plates and old newspapers. They come handy in such situations. Carry your own towels, they don’t provide any.

If you have sweet tooth you can visit ‘Bhai Bhai Mistanna Bhandar’ at Kasthashali Bazar which is about meters from Parijayee Abas.

FEW TIPS:
  • Do carry binoculars and cameras with long zoom lenses. You will be suitably rewarded.
  • Do not make noise while on the boat. Please do not insist the boatman to get too near to the birds so as to disturb them. It’s illegal.
  • Please do not wear any bright coloured clothing. Dark earthen colours like green, dark grey will be more suitable.
  • Please do not make sudden movements on the boat in the excitement of spotting a bird. This will destabilize the boat and it might capsize. You don’t want a dip in the water with your expensive photographic gear on a chilly winter morning.
  • Please do not drop anything on the lake water. Plastics are seriously banned.
  • Do carry a torch, candle & matchbox with you. Though power cuts are scarce, it's always good to be prepared.  





   




25 comments:

  1. Excellent write up, both the description and all the information. Exactly what I needed for my upcoming trip. Thanks a lot.

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  2. Very helpful, covered everything I wanted to know. Thanks a lot.

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  3. good guide... thank you for update all the details

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  4. can anybody tell it would wise to carry tripod in boat or be stick with handheld photography, have you any boatman no at reasonable rate

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  5. Hi Deb, It is difficult to place a tripod on the boat, so it's not advisable to lug around one. Handheld shots are your best bet but if you are using a very heavy telephoto lens, say a 600 prime, then you can think of a monopod. However I haven't used such a heavy lens so experts can tell better. but tripod wont make sense.

    For boatman you can call at the given numbers and all arrangement shall be made by them.

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  6. Hi Sagar, I stay within 50kms from Purbasthali, so need not to spend night there in Parijayee Abas. I am planning to drive to Purbasthali and spend the whole day there and return in the evening. But could you tell me in such case how to arrange a boat as I am not supposed to contact any local person?

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  7. Very informative with lovely pictures. Keep up the good work. Thanks a lot Mr. Sagar Sen

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  8. Very helpful and informative with lovely pictures, covered everything I wanted to know. Thanks a lot.

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  9. Excellent. Thank you very much.

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  10. Thank you so much. This is an extremely comprehensive and informative blog, and leaves no room for questions. Much appreciated. :)

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  11. Very informative almost a FAQ on Purbasthali. Thanks for the blog.

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  12. Very detailed and informative travellogoue. Could you please provide me With ghe contact number of your boatman?
    Did you take any guide with you? If so, could you please provide his number?
    Thanks in advance.

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  13. Thanks very much for the lovely write up. Seems to be a very attractive place for bird watchers! Hope, the "picnic infection" has not reached this place yet. Will give it a try next winter, when I'm in Kolkata -- P. Basu / Bangalore

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  14. saptarshi chatterjeeJuly 2, 2017 at 8:14 AM

    sir u are awesome ... u writing impressed me i am saptarshi chatterjee a photographer.. will like to be on ur next tour .. let me know - 7003748670... whats app do ping me there

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  15. Thank You.........
    Suddenly I found your blog and read carefully, got very useful information....hope picnic party is not gathering there

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  16. You have described the place and its pros and cons so vividly , that I feel as if I am already there. Thanks .Will definitely arrange a trip at the earliest opportunity.

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  17. Very good information.
    Thank you.
    I plan to check this out by January 2018.

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  18. Awesome post. Have just finalized a trip to Chupi Char after reading it.

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  19. Great Post. We visited the place last weekend. The info helped us a lot. Sharing my experience as well

    https://lepchajagatblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/chupir-chor-east-burdwan-bengal-india/

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  20. Contact nos are not working. Plz share the updated contact no of PARIJAYEE ABAS

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  21. Great post. Very infomative. Planned to go there bu Feb'18.

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  22. The local Panchayat Samiti has inaugurated four eco-cottages just beside the lake this January. They are fully equipped with dining facilities, geysers, TVs etc. You can book it at www.purbasthali.com or call 9073565723 (Monday to Saturday, 11:00 am to 06:00 pm). The enquiry phone stays closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.

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  23. Nice write up.... Want to go there. Hope early March will be equally good time for birds seeing.

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  24. Lovely write up Mr. Sagar...you allure me to visit it...but can I get any bird in the month of October2018...

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  25. Very nice and informative.
    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete