It was a dedicated band of government servants and bureaucrats in Uttar Pradesh who worked to have the area around two shallow, canal-fed, saline lakes about six kilometres apart declared as the Lakh Bahosi Wildlife Sanctuary in 1988, thus turning what was once a shooting range for local zamindars into an obscure nature grail that draws dedicated wildlife enthusiasts. While jackal, nilgai, mongoose, fishing cats and some minor amphibian and reptile species are also commonly seen, Lakh Bahosi’s rich sightings of birds include residents like open-billed storks, white-breasted kingfishers, white ibises, sarus cranes, egrets and herons, and significant migrants from elsewhere, like pelicans, bar-headed and greylag geese, as well as less exalted visitors like pintails, spotbills and red-crested pochards. On a good day, you’ll also find spotted eagles, darters, black-winged stilts, Eurasian hoopoes (their numbers, however, are declining, sadly), Indian rollers, brahminy kites, purple moorhens, black redstarts, ruddy shelducks, and ashy-crowned sparrow larks. The larks, in particular, have a pretty dramatic mating display: watch as they plunge vertically down from a height in order to draw the attention of their mate.
LOCATION AND HOW TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT
Visitors to Lakh Bahosi Wildlife Sanctuary will have to take a cab from Lucknow (which is 165km away), the nearest airport, or Kanpur (112km/2.5 hrs via SH68) or Kannauj (38km/1hr via NH91A), the railway stations that are the closest to Lakh Bahosi on the main line. The most convenient place to stay is the UP Tourist Rest House at Kannauj, which has AC double rooms and a restaurant. The forest rest house within the sanctuary doesn’t have electricity, and is almost always closed, and there’s no food available in the vicinity, not even at small dhabas. So it makes eminent sense to carry some basic supplies. Do ask if Karan Singh is around—his knowledge of the sanctuary is legendary, and he has to count among the most dedicated and well-informed forest department employees in India.
One of India’s larger bird sanctuaries (it’s on the government’s National Wetland Conservation Programme and the BNHS list of Important Bird Areas), the Lakh Bahosi sprawls over 80 sq km and includes a portion of the Upper Ganges Canal. The twin jheels, which are surrounded by emerald green agricultural fields, attract over 60,000 birds in 150 local and migrant species on any given day during the winter: migratory birds begin arriving from afar by November and leave around March. Lakh Bahosi has an interpretation centre, observation gazebos, a watch tower, and a 10km walkway around the Bahosi lake, which offers a fine vantage for birdwatching. Don’t miss the heronries on the babul trees.