Legend has it that Chambal was born of the blood of cows sacrificed by a king striving for absolute power, prompting the priestly class to curse and label it unholy. As a result of this, few temples were built along its banks. This is possibly also the reason why, apart from Kota, no industrial town was established near it. The absence of similar polluting units is one reason why this river is one of north India’s cleanest, and also the habitat to a remarkable variety of fauna.

The sanctuary itself was established in 1979, and occupies an area of 5,400 km. About 400 km of the river has been declared a sanctuary. Some 220 km of the river’s course is flanked by mud ravines, at times extending to 10 km on either side. These are a unique geological feature that shift with the annual monsoon flooding, creating a labyrinthine topography, which became particularly infamous in the ‘70s and ‘80s for harbouring the Chambal dacoits. Thankfully their numbers have dwindled, while the wildlife in the sanctuary is thriving. Chambal’s big predators are the freshwater crocodile and the gharial.

In the 1970s, when the government realised that unchecked poaching and fishing had brought the gharial population of India to the brink of decimation, the Chambal Valley river was identified as one of the areas where a resurrection could be engineered. Over the years, close to 1,400 gharials and a few crocodiles were released in the river through a captive-breeding programme.

The river is also home to smooth coated otters, at least eight kinds of tortoises, 30 varieties of fish and the acutely threatened Gangetic dolphin, an animal particularly sensitive to polluted habitats. Its survival in the Chambal testifies to the river’s health. In recent years, though, the area’s emergence from relative obscurity has been mostly due to its avifaunal wealth: the present bird count lists 246 species of resident and migratory birds. The vegetation around Chambal mainly comprises babul, ber and shisham. While the sanctuary is open year-round, the best sightings happen November through March.

THING TO SEE AND DO

Explore Chambal by boat, and you will get to see many birds and aquatic animals. The boat ride, in itself, is a lovely experience.

Courtesy Chambal Safari Hotels
Sarus cranes, National Chambal Sanctuary
Sarus cranes, National Chambal Sanctuary

Birdwatching

Apart from the abundance of food that the river’s waters generate for the birds, its banks are, for the most part, sparsely populated, and therefore very conducive for attracting birds. In UP and MP, the visibility is high, especially as the riverbanks leading up to the ravines are devoid of forests. Both Indian and migratory birds are seen here, the latter between November and March. From ruddy shelduck to barheaded geese and Indian skimmers, you will see them all.

River Safari

A river safari is the best way to see this sanctuary. Boats are arranged at the Nandgawan access point by the Chambal Safari Lodge, and will also include a naturalist’s services.

A boat ride on the river, in the UP side and in Rajasthan, offers an opportunity to spot crocodiles as well as gharials.

TIP River trips have to be booked in advance with the Chambal Safari Lodge

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Chambal Safari Lodge (Cell: 09997066002, 09837415512; Tariff: 6,000-10,000; W chambalsafari. com) is 62 km from Agra on the Fateh abad Road at Jarar. They organise river safaris and jeep and camel trips. Accommodation is in independent cottages. Birdwatching can begin right here amongst the trees – brown hawk owls, spotted owlets, babblers, Indian rollers, tailor birds, drongos and starlings can be spotted here.

The only place for food, apart from the dhabas of Jarar or Bah, is the Chambal Safari Lodge. The food pretty standard – Continental or Indian. The buffet-style meals are wholesome. For variety, the lodge provides packed lunches for safaris.

When to go October to March Location On the Chambal river, where Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh meet Air Nearest airport: Agra Rail Nearest rail: Agra

THE INFORMATION

Tourist/ Wildlife Offices

Department of Tourism

UP Tourism

Rajarshi Purshottam Das Tandon Paryatan

Bhawan

C-13, Vipin Khand

Gomti Nagar

Lucknow

Tel: 0522-2308017, 2308916

W up-tourism.com

Tourist Office

UP Tourism

36, Chandralok Building,

Janpath

New Delhi

Tel: 011-23350048, 23711296, 23322251

Sardhana

Regional Tourist Office

UP Tourism

Vikas Bhawan, Meerut

Tel: 0121-2656164

STD code 0121

Dudhwa NP

Deputy Director

Dudhwa Tiger Reserve

Palia, Kheri

Tel: 05871-233485

W dudhwatigerreserve.

STD code 05871

Bateshwar

Tourist Office

UP Tourism

64, Taj Road, Agra

Tel: 0562-2226431

STD code 0562

 

THE INFORMATION

National Chambal Sanctuary

Deputy Conservator of Forests

Chambal Wildlife Division

Agra

Tel: 0562-2530091

Divisional Forest Officer

Social Forestry Division

Agra

Tel: 2331297

STD code 0562

Chitrakoot

Tourist Office

UP Tourism

Tourist Bungalow Campus

Chitrakoot Dham. Tel: 05198-224218

STD code 05198

Kushinagar

UPSTDC

Pathik Niwas, Buddha Marg

Kushinagar. Tel: 05564-273045

STD code 05564