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Published: November 12th 2016
My first day in New Delhi I left as a "get used to New Delhi day". Basically I wanted to just wander round the alleys and try to get a sense of where everything was (the metro stations, restaurants, etc). I found a little bookshop which had the new edition of Vivek Menon's Indian Mammals Field Guide
for 850 rupees (about NZ$17, much less than what it would have cost me to order it online before I came to India). The smoke/smog issue didn't seem too apparent to me, although there was a definite haze across the sky which cut out the sun a bit so it didn't feel like 35 degrees at all. The dogs, as I said earlier, are all perfectly well behaved. I saw a langur man - that's a person who has a pet hanuman langur on a leash, who hires himself out as a macaque scarer (macaques are scared of langurs). Male hanuman langurs are huge! If I was a macaque I'd be scared of a langur too - although I'm already scared of macaques so it stands to reason I'd be scared of langurs as well.
The friendliness of everybody here is a bit
disarming, even for a New Zealander, and one is never sure if they are just friendly passers-by or if they are tourist agents. More often than not it is the latter. They engage you in conversation - usually starting with "I like your beard" or "I like your hair" (I haven't seen anyone else here with long hair at all, and surprisingly nobody has a longer beard than me) - and walk along with you, then suddenly "oh, here is my shop, I'll get you a map" and then they put in the hard-sell for tours and tell you that where you are going is no good. One guy got really angry with me because half way through his spiel I said I wasn't interested in tours, I just like to wander where I want, and he launched into a tirade about "that is what is wrong with New Zealanders, you make up your own mind and think you know better than an Indian person and then when things go wrong you blame India - you don't know what you want to do in India, only I know because it is my country" etc etc.
Another guy in the
this was actually taken at Sultanpur the next day, but I needed more than two photos...
street refused to acknowledge that I was just wanting to walk around. All the shops here are closed (everything opens very late in Delhi), I should go to a particular store which is open, that auto driver there will take you. I wasn't sure if he was trying to be helpful or if he was in cahoots with the driver. Either way I repeated that I wasn't shopping, I was just walking around seeing where everything was, and he kept repeating that everything was closed and I needed to go to this particular store. After a bit I was just like "yeah, okay then" and walked off. I always try to be polite but it gets a bit wearisome when you are being harangued about how you don't know what you want. Pretty much that same conversation happened repeatedly through the morning with different people. Surely they couldn't all be agents of that particular shop?
Wandering the streets I saw a few birds, as well as lots of five-striped palm squirrels (tiny, stripey, cute; what more could one want in a street mammal?). Black kites swirl in clouds everywhere above the city, while even greater numbers of house crows and feral pigeons fill the lower levels. I haven't seen any sparrows, but I did see one collared dove feeding with some crows, and Indian ringnecks and jungle babblers were seen in some roadside trees.
The next morning was my first birding foray of Delhi. I was heading for a place called the Okhla Bird Sanctuary which is on the Yamuna River which flows through the city. I'd left it until the second morning so I wouldn't make a hash of getting there on the first morning, but it turned out to be dead-easy to reach so I should have just gone yesterday after all. The start-point is the Rajiv Chowk metro station which is about ten minutes walk from the Main Bazaar where my residence is. On the way I saw all the birds of the day before, as well as a female koel.
The metro train system is as easy to use as anywhere else, albeit more crowded (!). From Rajiv Chowk station I travelled to the Botanical Gardens station (note: I don't think there actually is a botanical gardens there, it is just a name, like the next station which is called Golf Course for some reason). A minor hiccup was that the route I was on had a junction point, with one line going off to Noida City Centre (the route I wanted) and the other to Vaishali (er, the route I ended up on), but it was an easy fix - I just jumped off before the junction station and waited for the correct train to come along a few minutes later. It's thirty minutes from Rajiv Chowk to Botanical Gardens, and then from there you have to take an auto-rickshaw for the next 3km to the sanctuary's gate. I didn't know what this should have cost me, so I got ripped off (naturally) but at least not by as much as their starting price which was 350 rupees, "because it is 18km" - I bluntly told them it was 3km, and got them down to 120 rupees; on the return trip, flagging down an auto-rickshaw from the side of the road, it cost me 60 rupees, and I think even that was inflated. I expect the real price is probably about 20 or 30 rupees.
I got to the sanctuary's southern gate just after 7.30am and paid the 350 rupee entry fee. Their website says there is also a 1000 rupee camera fee (about NZ$20) but nobody mentioned it so I didn't either. The sanctuary is mostly ten-foot-high reed-beds with scattered areas of open water. From the southern gate there is a three or four kilometre walk along a paved path to the northern gate. This path isn't very interesting because a lot of the water is screened by a narrow strip of dry forest inhabited almost solely by house crows. There were a few rhesus macaques near the gate too, but they declined to attack me. They must not have been reading the right newspapers. Where water was visible it was mostly empty. I think I must be just a touch too early for the southwards migration of waterfowl and wading birds. There were a lot of little and Indian cormorants, and a few common cormorants and Oriental darters. The feeding parties of cormorants were shadowed overhead by small flocks of black-headed gulls. Ducks were sparse, although I saw reasonable numbers of spot-billed ducks, northern shovellers, Eurasian wigeon and common teal. The only wading birds I saw were various common herons and egrets, an Asiatic black-headed ibis and a few red-naped ibis. The latter were a lifer for me (one of only four today, out of 54 species seen) but they were all out of camera range.
At the northern gate the paved path ends and a dirt track begins, with some narrow trails leading off that through the reeds. There are a couple of watch-towers along here, although they mainly overlook thick reeds and one in particular feels decidedly unsafe with the degree to which it sways when you are standing on it. I got a lot more passerines and other "land-y" birds along these trails, some of which were unexpected like rufous treepie, yellow-footed green pigeon, common starling, Eurasian hobby, and blue peafowl. The only mammal I saw in this second half, cows excepted, was when I was walking along a narrow trail through the reeds and heard a smashing noise which I assumed was a cow feeding. Instead it was a bull nilgai, which looked at me in bewilderment while I exclaimed in surprise, and then he turned and charged away through the reeds. They are rather large when wild and only a few feet away! That was my first new mammal for the Indian part of this trip (the palm squirrels I'd already seen in Calcutta and Perth; and the rhesus macaques in Assam).
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