The trip to the Lakh Bahosi bird sanctuary Vihar in Kannauj, was my first and only visit to a protected bird sanctuary. Frankly I hadn’t planned on it and didn’t expect much considering the sorry state of conservation efforts and infrastructure across Uttar Pradesh. But I must say that having been there, I have mixed feelings about it. I have since visited the Sandi Bird sanctuary in Hardoi, and shall perhaps cover that in a future post. For now, let’s talk about Lakh Bahosi!
Location of Bird Sanctuary
The sanctuary is located about 40 kilometres from the city of Kannauj. It is easily accessible from Kanpur along the Delhi – Kolkata NH 24 (known as Grand Trunk Road). If you are coming from Lucknow take the newly constructed Agra – Lucknow expressway.
The nearest airports are at Chakeri, Kanpur (around 110 kms.) and the Amausi airport in Lucknow (about 120 kms.)
For the adventure seekers, there is another route along the trajectory of Kanpur branch of the lower ganga canal. It is supposedly non-motorable and hence more suitable for cyclists involving many detours through a relatively uncertain and rugged terrain.
History & Establishment of the bird sanctuary
Once a hunting ground for local zamindars , the Lakh Bahosi bird sanctuary in Kannauj was established in the year 1989. Its establishment was aimed at conservation of wetlands at the confluence of two shallow disjointed ox-bow lakes – Lakh and Bahosi, formed due to drainage and seepage from the Kanpur branch of lower Ganga canal.
Spread in a large area of about 80 sq kilometres, Lakh- Bahosi is one of the larger bird sanctuaries in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is also one of the 94 bird sanctuaries across India recognized under the National Wetland Protection Scheme. Studies suggest that around 50, 000 waterbirds flock to the wetlands of Lakh-Bahosi between the months of December and March.
A total of 250 bird species, native and migratory, are supported by the sanctuary’s distinctive ecosystem at different times during the year. The migratory species arrive from far flung regions in Siberia, Tibet, Europe, Central Asia and China.
The sanctuary is also home to many terrestrial species and mammals. You may read more about them in the links at the end of the article.
The Visit :
I started early, about 7 in the morning with nothing else but a camera and a bottle of water. The sanctuary is around 65 kilometres from my ancestral house in Farrukhabad. On the 100cc CD deluxe I rode, it took me a little more than 2 hours to make the journey.
More committed riders may call that slow, but it’s not too shabby for a 100cc bike. I did make a couple stops while passing through Kannauj. To drive along a relatively deserted GT road , with periodic gusts of cool morning breeze grazing the length of your arms, leaving in their wake a gentle hum, is quite something.
It was early may. Entering Kannauj I came across rows of bullock carts and trucks carrying tonnes of water melons and melons, parked close to the mandi (market). There was a minor jam. I stationed my bike in a quieter corner and haggled with a couple hawkers who were offering slices of freshly harvested watermelons sprinkled with black salt. As I enjoyed my piece of refreshment, the traffic had cleared out.
Nearing the sanctuary, you might need to ask around a bit. Once you are off the GT road and towards the Bahosi village, the road will get patchier. The last kilometre or so was just mud and rocks. Perhaps it has improved since.
Inside the Bird Sanctuary
My first sighting of the sanctuary didn’t instil much confidence. The boundary wall was broken in places; the large entry gate was rusty, paint peeling off, flung wide open. There was no guard, no employee to be found anywhere. A bunch of guys chatted under a shade. I approached them and asked about the ticket counter. Obviously humoured they told me that the counter is out of order and the officials don’t come either. Retrospectively, it made sense.
Inside, a couple observation decks were built around the lake that had all but dried up due to summer heat. There were small patches of shallow waters here and there. The larger one was occupied by a herd of buffaloes trying to cool off.
Their herder puffed on his bidi at a manageable distance, eyeing them once in a while. I parked my bike and after blowing away a thick coat of dust off one of the cemented benches, rested for a while. Close to the bench I saw few metal boards painted with species that one may find there.
Considering it was way past the migratory season, most birds I saw must have been native. I would not know anyway, since I am no birder. But despite the miserable upkeep, the dried up lake bed splintering under heat, I was lucky to have come across a sizeable population of birds.
There were flocks of black headed Ibis poking their dark beaks into muddy waters for god knows what. I did look closely and there weren’t any fish in there.
The painted storks stood out with a hint of bubble gum pink in the plumage covering their butts. There were a bunch of herons too all over the dried wetland, a bit disorganised to be called a flock.
And once in a while I could see small plovers gallivanting carelessly amongst the giants.
But the birds that really caught my attention most were the Sarus cranes (Grus Antigone-scientific nomenclature). The Sarus pairs ambled about majestically, with the peculiar red marks around their necks. The younger ones trailed apprehensively behind their parents.
Not many would know but Sarus , the tallest flying avian is the official state bird of Uttar Pradesh. Rough estimates suggest that there are between 13,000 to 15,000 Sarus cranes in the state currently. They are known to be stubbornly monogamous, and mate with a single partner for life. Read the last sentence again and ponder. Jeez!
Since the lake bed was dry it was possible for me to get a bit closer to the flocks without frightening them to get some good shots. There was certainly some harsh quaking at times to alert against my harmless intrusions from a distance but no sudden flights. The lake was situated right next to a rural habitation and the birds seemed used to humans frequenting their habitats.
Infact, while I was busy taking pictures, a herd of sheep swarmed the area , drinking water from same patch in the middle , which was occupied earlier by buffaloes and now by the combined flocks of Sarus, Ibis and other fowls. Each went about their own business without doing much bother to others. A little something that people in India can learn given the sad times we live in.
I had arrived around half past nine and it was now late afternoon. Besides a slice of watermelon, and a packet of chips I ate on the way I didn’t carry any food supplies with me. I had run out of water too. And the camera battery had given up. There were no food shops around that I could see.
I had hoped to take few silhouette shots before the sunset. But perhaps some other time. For now it was time to leave.
The trip to Lakh-Bahosi wasn’t planned. I would have certainly packed some more food, taken care to fully recharge camera batteries and carried an extra bottle of water. However, I kind of liked the fact that it is relatively less famous than a Jim Corbett or a Bharatpur. It is quieter, less commercialized and secluded. And while the sanctuary can do with a little maintenance and care not to say a little more attention by the men on government payroll who don’t turn up, all the rest is fine.
Conservation efforts and development
As I have mentioned multiple times before that I am not a professional bird watcher. So all the bird names you read above were managed after reading thoroughly on the matter. I went through publicly available government documents on conservation and research papers by biologists and environmentalists. I also used a good amount of Google reverse image search to identify the birds. I will be attaching all the links in the references below for those interested.
I would specifically like to mention the Sarus Crane Conservation Project undertaken by Tata Trust in consultation with Wildlife Trust of India with the help of Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. They seem to be working across ten East UP districts to spread awareness about Sarus conservation by sensitizing farmers about nesting processes through community led Sarus Protection Committees and local youths trained as Sarus Mitra (friends of Sarus). You may read more about the project in this research paper published by Mr B.C. Chowdhury, Arshad Hussain and Samir Kumar Sinha for the Tata Trusts.
The greatest obstacle in conservation is perhaps the vast portion of private and agricultural lands within the protected wetland sites. In Lakh Bahosi alone about 6000 hectares out of the protected 8000 hectares is private land. As far as the development of protected sites is considered, it is a relatively newer domain for Uttar Pradesh. Rupees 50 lacs in aid was announced by the current dispensation in 2017. The infrastructure however and any progress so far is not perceptible.
- Lakh Bahosi Bird Sanctuary. Does a canal route exist? . Accessed from https://www.cse.iitk.ac.in/users/amit/bicycling/lakhbahosi/ (On October, 10, 2018)
- Fact Sheet on Lakh Bahosi Bird Sanctuary. Accessed from http://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/lakh-bahosi-bird-sanctuary-iba-india (On October, 10, 2018)
- Flocking to the wetlands of Uttar Pradesh by Sanjay Kumar . Accessed from https://www.saevus.in/flocking-wetlands-uttar-pradesh/ (On October, 10, 2018)
- Lakh Bahosi Sanctuary : A Waterbird Abode by Adesh Kumar and Amita Kanaujia. Accessed from http://www.journalcra.com/article/lakh-bahosi-bird-sanctuary-waterbird-abode (On October, 10, 2018)
- Crane Constituencies by B.C. Chowdhury, Samir Kumar Sinha, Arshad Hussain. Accessed from http://www.upforest.gov.in/StaticPages/lakhbahosibird_Faq.aspx (On October, 10, 2018)