Flamingos on the backwaters of Bhigwan
Our boat sliced through the waters of the lake in the early morning. The sun was just about rising in the sky. A little while later, we stopped and our guide pointed towards the horizon. And we saw a sea of pink dotting the shores in the distance.
Bhigwan is small sleepy town located about 100 km from Pune. The town shot to prominence in recent years as the “Bharatpur of Maharashtra” when the backwaters of the Ujain Dam became a destination for migratory birds. The place is especially famous for the flocks of Flamingos that can be found here in the winter months of January and February. Besides Flamingos, Bhigwan plays host to a number of other water birds as well as scrub land birds.
I joined an excursion planned by Mumbai Travellers, a local adventure travel outfit, to Bhigwan. We left Mumbai in the night hoping to reach Bhigwan in the early morning. The plan was to stay overnight at the village and maybe manage to do about 03 trips out to the lake to try and see the various migratory birds.
Most of the bird watching at Bhigwan happens from two launch points – Diksal and Kumbhargaon. You can hire boats from these places to take you into the backwaters for close sightings of the birds. The boat operators are fairly experienced and will try and get you as close to the birds as possible without spooking them off. Our destination this time around was Kumbhargaon.
While we reached fairly early, nothing prepared us for the hordes of people that were already there at day break. It seems that Bhigwan is a very popular weekend getaway from Pune and lots of people make the trip to Bhigwan for a nice calm boat ride on the backwaters. After much wrangling, we finally secured a boat and were off into the lake.
The initial ride from the shore did not lead us to seeing many birds along the way except maybe the occasional gulls and herons. Once we reached closer to the other shore more birds became apparent. We spotted a pair of Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) floating away in the lake. Our boatman then took us towards the much awaited Flamingos.
After a short ride through the waters we spotted a flock of Flamingos in the distance. We could get a few quick photographs of the birds before the birds flew away in an awesome pink overflight display. We were somewhat disappointed that we couldn’t see much of the Flamingos. But the promise of two more outings on the lake was enough to dispel any disappointment.
On the way back we saw a few people fishing on the lake. Numerous Gulls and Egrets were amassed around them. We moved closer to these fishermen to be rewarded with some awesome scenes of Gulls fishing out discarded fishes from the lake waters. With this final look at the birds on the lake we headed back to shores.
While the water birds of Bhigwan are what brings a lot of people to Bhigwan, the shores and scrub land around Bhigwan also teem with bird life. Spending the afternoon and early evening around the shores of Bhigwan can also be a fairly rewarding experience. I spotted Green Bee-eaters, Bhraminy Mynahs, Long Tailed Shrikes, Paddyfield Pipits, Little Ringed Plovers, Red Wattled Lapwings, Yellow Wagtails, Oriental White-Eyes, Purple Sunbirds, Drongos, Ashy Crowned Sparrow Larks and even a Common Hoopoe around the shores of Bhigwan!!!
A visit to Bhigwan isn’t complete without sampling the simple but tasty local food of the village of Kumbhargaon. We had all our meals at the village. The fare included simple but tasty poha with tea for breakfast and delicious fried river fish along with an assortment of vegetable dishes for lunch and dinner.
The evenings excursion yielded more views of Flamingos, Ibis, Painted Storks, Bar Headed Geese, Ruddy Shelducks and other water birds. But the most amazing thing we witnessed was on the way back to the shore.
Suddenly in the distance we saw a large black mass that moved about in the sky making wonderful patterns. This was a “murmuration” of little birds. The birds kept flying in the sky making ever changing patterns in the dying daylight. Probably one of the most awe-inspiring displays of wildlife I have seen of late !!!
The next day we set out on our final trip on the lake. This time we were rewarded with some lovely close shots of the Flamingos and some views of other birds set against the backdrop of a misty lake. We returned to shore, rejuvenated with our brush with nature, and ready to return to the humdrum of city life for yet another week.
Bhigwan is about 200 km from Mumbai. To get to Bhigwan, you can drive through Pune and then take the Solapur road. Bhigwan is about 95 km from Hadapsar on this route. You can also get to Bhigwan by train. Siddheshwar Exp (12115) from Mumbai is probably the fastest way to get to Bhigwan with the train taking about 5 hours to reach Bhigwan. From the station you would need to hire a cab/ auto-rickshaw to get to Diksal or Khumbargaon.
Best Time to Visit
Migratory birds can be found in Bhigwan in the winter months. The best time to visit here is January to February.
Where to Stay
Bhigwan does not have any traditional stay options, but stay and meals can be arranged at the village. Food is generally simple but tasty village food. Kumbhargaon has developed some facilities for tourists to use during their stay in the village. The trip can also be planned as a long day trip from Mumbai with some planning. Alternatively you can join one of the organized tours to this region. Both Mumbai Travellers and Moments Shoot organize regular trips to Bhigwan during January and February.
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