The Lure of the colourful beauty

It all started when my 5 yr old asked me the name of this beauty in Valmiki Thapar’s Book on tigers.
I knew it just by name till then, but that image had a terrific & magical effect on me.
I started researching the details about its habitat & habits in right earnest. This was mid May!

I read up about it in Salim Ali’s books & other birding books & my mind was made, i had to go an photograph this beauty of the western ghats.
So i got into touch with the man who is at the forefront of conserving these & other wildlife species in the ghats. Mr. Nishikant Tambe, “Nandu” to his friends, is a man on a mission. He conserves the Oriental dwarf kingfisher & other birds, & the money he earns goes into buying forest/ uncultivated lan to convert them to virgin forests.
He informed me that these birds will nest around late June & so tole me to plan my trip around mid July.
So it was planned that i made my bookings for going to Chiploon in western ghats on 14th of July 2017.
The plan was to get some decent images of the oriental dwarf kingfisher. I am an admirer of the kingfisher sect as a whole but am dovoted to the common/little blue variety till then.
A friend of mine joined in & so it was that the two of us flew down to pune on the 10 am flight.
We landed in Pune & after hiring an extra Camera body in pune we took a cab which was to take us to Chiploon.
The driver knew nothing about the route so google maps came to our rescue.
The route we took turend out to be absolutely picturesque.
We left Pune via Satara road, & from satara we proceeded to Umbraj, getting off the NH-8, we went towards Patan & joined the Karad Chiploon highway near Malharpeth, we crossed Paatn around 8 pm. It was getting dark. there had been no rains in the prior week in konkan, but it was shoeing a change in fortunes as we descended into Konkan that night.
With nothing nut the Mighty river Koyna to give us company along our lleft & google maps to show us the way we headed forth as we passed Koynanagar Settlement.
Passing the hamlets of Bopoli & dhankal we reached Ghatmatha. The surreal vision will never leave me, as we descended towards Chiploon fromt the might peaks of sahyadri the hamlet of ghatmatha was in the backdrop, enveloped in a mist due to the monsooon vlouds & the lights of oncoming vehicles illuminated that hamlet in an otherworldly light.
We descended further into the bling twists & turns of the Sahyadri ranges. We were in the famous Kumbharli ghat which passes through the Koyna wildlife sanctuary. What heavenly beauty this section of the ghat is. It had started like the fabled Konkan Monsoon, umpteenth numbers of small , big & huge waterfalls were cascading all around us & some onto the road. It was pitch dark & the whole setup was errie yet very enchanting.
At the foot of the ghat we crossed the Pophali town. From here we reached chiploon around 10 pm, a total of 5 hours for a 240kmcjourney.
We had had nothing since morning in our excitement & were famished, se we stopped at an eatery for dinner. It was a simple yet sumptuous fare.
Nishikant was in touch with us, his place being 18 Km further on the chiplun guhagar road.
we finally reached his place groping our last 18 km in pitch dark with nary a signboard nor marker to giude us, with Nishikant guiding us across an extremely patchy mobile network.
He made us comfortable for the night & asked us to be ready by 6:30 the next morning.

we were up betimes, got ready to leave & what do you think is the first thing i saw stepping out of the house? Well a pair of Malabar pied hornbills flying past at an arms length form the verandah of the house & settling into a tree nearby!! What a start i said to myself!!!!!

Nishikant took us to his farm where he has made arrangements for us to see the ODKF at a distance of 50 feet. A canopy made up of cancas cloth 5 folding sttools to sit & bang in front of us was the perch onto which the King of colours perched i was told!
so we settled down around 8:45 into our stools!!

Minutes went by, the weather was overcast but has a near cinema like effect of the sun intermittently showing up only to be shooed out of sight by some seriously grey clouds. Setting an exposure was a challenge.
Surrounded by stunning greenary of the wheat field on all sides we waited with bated breath for what i can surely say will be some of the most memorable period in my life.
Imagine!! Absolute stillness all around, no mobile network coverage, grey storm clouds, cool weather & the anticipation of being in the august presence of the ODKF made it a state of pure exaltation.
& then after a wait of nearly 30 min we heard a small chirp, at first it seemed that someone had thrown a bundle of saffron ( the spice) towards us at incredible speed. But before the eye blinked the ODKF had settled with a skink in its beak for us to admire, what magic!
The first burst of frames was a sheer waste- i was sooo worked up that i messed up, all images were blurry & burnt!!! I was distraught because in a span of 7 minutes the birdie had flown in, posed for the shutter , fed its nestlings & had zipped off.
I, being used to the vagaries of Tiger darshan, felt that i had messed up the one single opportunity & that my trip was all a waste & that after all this i was doomed to return empty handed !!
But Nishikant told me to calm down & concentrate. I took his word & lo & behold, the lord was there again in 15 min , this time with a mashed up crab as a feed. I had some images bang on the money! I was happy.
This continued on till 2 pm when, lunch was called at the nearby traditional house.
We had seen the ODKF with a crab, a skink, a spider, a lizard a couple of tadpoles in this time.
What amazing colours & what speed of flight!
There are all shades of red/crimson i could imagine, black, maroon, yellow, purple, burgandy & whatnot on this 9 gm winged wonder!!!!!

The lunch that followed was a simple yet prfectly Konkani fare, made by Nishikant’s cousin brother-an outstanding cook & a great person.

post lunch A friend of nishikant who soon became my chum, Mr. Rahul Belasre, took me under his wing & took us to another conservation sight some 10 km farther into the country, near a small hamlet nestled deep inside the magical konkan landscape.
This time the little beauty came in with a few skinks & grasshoppers to feed the young ones in a nesting nearby!!
We had a great time photographing the ODKF , all the while Rahul, himself an accomplished photographer & a keen birder giving me some superb insight into the behaviour of the ODKF.
At sundown we trooped back, the rain was pouring down by now. Deep into the heart of konkan i lost me heart to the phenomenon of Monsoon. The largest weather phenomenon in the world. Never before had i felt so happy when it rained, rain being viewed as something mundane & nothing more than requiring an umbrella to get past. But here was rain in its most beautiful form, embellished with the atmospherics we miss out in the distraction of city life!!! What song & dance! What rhythm!
Nishikant took me to his own home, a typical konkani house, mud tiles ( kavelu) , a big courtyard replete with all the amazing trees we read about in Pu La deshpande’s litrature of konkan- Coconut ( narali), Areca nut ( supari/ pofali), bamboo, Jackfruit ( Fanas) & what not!
we went in, the wind & rain howling outside.
After putting our bagagge down Nishikant asked me to take a bath, at 9 pm, i was a bit quizical. He insisted & what beauty— no shower/ tap water. You had to just take a small bucket ( 12 ltr) 7 pick water straight from a flowing stream, part of which ran inside the bathrooom in th vast openness. ( Bathrooms in these old houses are always a bit away from the main structure). Amidst the howling of rain & wind & the song of crickets. Never have i felt so refreshed after a bath!

Then came the dinner, another simple yet surreal experiences of culinary excellence!!!!!!

We slept on the mud floor & woke refreshed at 5 am. Got ready . Went out & were greeted by some bulbuls, maynas, spidercatchers & bee hunters!
Nishikant told me that later in the season Blue eared kingfishers make nests just outside his room window.
I was totally envious of this man & his house location.
We did some more of the ODKF, but i swear even with a 14 FPS camera & some very fast f/4 L series telephoto, it is very difficult to get this small rocket bang into the focus frame, try as you may, its speed is simply irresistible!!

We had to trudge back on our return journey so after a nice lunch at Nishikant’s, we bundled ourselves into the taxi & were on our way back to Pune. Kumbharli ghat during day in fierce rain was a sight for the dore eyes.
The waterfall near ghatmatha village was in full glory. In that roaring rain & with the waterfall as a backdrop quite a few corn vendors ( bhuttawalas) were making a quick buck selling some tasty, spicy & refreshing corn roasted on embers, right there in front of your eyes.
We had a couple apiece in that amazing monsoon rains!
We wound across the kumbharli gaht the way we came & so across Koynanagar, Patan & malharpeth we joined the NH-8 near Umbraj & before we knew we were back into the heart of Pune, back into the cacophony of urban life.

What i experienced there at chiploon, the nature, the verdant landscape, the rainfall, the wildlife the simple yet true hospitlity of the Konkan folks & the beautiful Oriental dwarf kingfisher/ Black backed kingfisher/ the Three toed kingfisher, tugged quite a few strings of my heart. & i have fallen in love fora lifetime & more with the beautiful western ghats & its denizens- wild & otherwise.
Sure to return one more time & once more & so on!!!!

 

 

 

I am reminded of the Zahid fatahpuri Ghazal verse ( sher)-

Abhi sukun mila tha, ke mil gayee nazarein!
Na-jaane dil se nigahaon ke dushmani kya hai!

( अभि सुकूं मिला था, के मिल गयीं नज़रें।
न जानें दिल से निगाहों की दुश्मनी क्या हैं।)
I had just achieved some peace of mind , (having admired the beauty of the tigers in my case) and our eyes met! God knows what is the enemity between my eyes & my heart!

Dr. Abhijit Deshpande

Tour details:-
I did this trip in 2.5 days flat- Nagpur-Chiplun-Nagpur.
The route we took_ Nagpur- pune by flight.
Pune – Satara- Umbraj_-Malharpeth-Patan-Kyonanagar-Ghatmatha-Pofali ( via Kumbharli ghat)- Chiploon & back.
The stay & all meals along with the photo opportunity at Nishikant tambe’s place cost us 6000/- per person ( iT is worth it, take my word for it).
The travel time from Pune to chiploon is 5 hours, the roads were pretty good, but the ghat section needs some careful driving through.

I went there a skeptic but i admit that now I am an unabashed admirer of Konkan & a devoted lover of the Oriental dwarf kingfisher.
I am sure anyone who goes in search of this beauty will find an echo in my blog.

Cheers!!

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