Birding Tour India: Rajasthan – Monsoon Specialties
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Birding Tour India: Rajasthan – Monsoon Specialties
This small-group birdwatching tour through Rajasthan, India, is timed during the monsoon season to target a suite of birds more difficult, or not possible at all, at other times of the year. This tour starts and ends in New Delhi and takes a circuit around the state, looking for the following major targets: Great Indian Bustard, Lesser Florican, Indian Pitta, Bristled Grassbird, Indian Courser, Rock Bush Quail, Rain Quail, Painted Francolin, Green Avadavat, Sind Sparrow, and Indian Spotted Creeper.
Lesser Florican is one of the main targets of this monsoon-season tour (photo V. Mishra).
Along the way while looking for the above main target birds we will also find plenty of other interesting birds, such as Black-necked Stork, Sarus Crane, Spotted Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Cream-colored Courser, Indian Spotted Eagle, Indian Eagle-Owl, Jacobin Cuckoo, Striated Babbler, Bengal Bush Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, and Desert Lark, and other wildlife including Indian Leopard and Blackbuck.
We also offer a wide range of other tours around the Indian subcontinent at different times of the year, such as our other Indian tours here, Sri Lankan tours here, Nepal tours here, and Bhutan tours here. There are so many incredible birds on offer throughout this part of Asia.
It is always a memorable moment when seeing a large and impressive owl such as this Indian Eagle-Owl.
Itinerary (15 days/14 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in New Delhi
After your late-morning arrival in New Delhi we will transfer to our nearby hotel for check-in (check-in is usually at noon). After lunch we will spend the first afternoon of the tour birding at a fantastic wetland site near New Delhi, where we hope to find the first of many monsoon-specialty birds, Bristled Grassbird, as well as the local Bengal Bush Lark. We will likely see numerous other common birds for the first time too, maybe the pretty Red-naped Ibis and the abundant Black Kite.
If you would like to arrive earlier and explore some of the interesting sights of New Delhi we can organize extra accommodation and cultural activities very easily, please just let us know in advance.
Overnight: New Delhi
Day 2. New Delhi to Jaipur via Sultanpur National Park
After breakfast in New Delhi we will head to the outskirts of the city to Sultanpur National Park. We could see some interesting species here, such as the restricted-range Sind Sparrow and Striated Babbler. Although a number of the birds that occur here during our January-February Birding Tour India: The North – Tigers, Amazing Birds, and the Himalayas will have left the site to go to their breeding grounds we are still likely to get an interesting supporting cast, made up of some of the following: Painted Stork, Black-necked Stork, Sarus Crane, Knob-billed Duck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Indian Spotted Eagle, Grey-headed Swamphen, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Indian Robin, and Spotted Owlet.
The afternoon will be spent driving to Jaipur, where we will stay for the next two nights as we focus on the birds and wildlife of that area. We may be lucky and find Indian Courser as we drive south.
Day 3. Jhalana Safari Park, Jaipur
We will have morning and evening safaris (as game drives are called in India) in Jhalana Safari Park, which amazingly is right on the edge of the city of Jaipur. We will be on the lookout for Indian Leopard, which occurs in the park, but we will always also be searching for several great birds, namely Indian Pitta, Jacobin Cuckoo, and Jungle Nightjar. The pitta overwinters in southern India and Sri Lanka, and remarkably the cuckoo overwinters as far away as southeastern Africa! Both return to this part of India to breed during the monsoon.
The gorgeous Indian Pitta will be one of our avian targets in Jaipur.
Jaipur has many fascinating monuments, and during the downtime in the middle of the day there will be opportunity to visit some of these if you would like, such as Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, Nahargarh Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Jantar Mantar, and more. We can provide the costs for additional guided tours to these and other interesting sights; please let us know while booking if you would like to add something cultural to your birding tour here. Our time here will also get us some great looks at the national bird of India – the simply spectacular Indian Peafowl.
Day 4. Jaipur to Ajmer
We will have a final early-morning safari back in Jhalana Safari Park, looking for our targets, after which we will commence our journey to Ajmer. We will likely stop for a few birds along the way, potentially Indian Courser and others.
Indian Courser can often be found in the fields around Jaipur.
Days 5 – 6. Sonkhaliya
We will have two full days birding in the Sonkhaliya area, where we will search for yet more of our monsoon target birds, with some real beauties and highly sought species on offer. After each day’s birding session we will return to our hotel in Ajmer. One of our big targets will be the Lesser Florican. This bird is practically invisible outside the monsoon season, but we have a reasonable chance of connecting with them, particularly if they are doing their impressive ‘leaping’ courtship display – a sight to behold, and try to photograph if you are quick enough (as shown in the itinerary cover photo).
We hope to see Lesser Florican displaying, as in the photo on the cover of this itinerary, though it would also be great to see it a bit more out in the open, such as here (photo S. S. Sharma).
We will also carefully search for a couple of other small ground birds, namely Rock Bush Quail and Rain Quail. During the monsoon the quails can be more vocal than at other times of the year, leading to a higher chance to see them. Additionally the range-restricted Painted Francolin might add a flash of color.
The male Rain Quail will stand on rocks and soil mounts to project its song during the monsoon ahead of breeding, allowing views of this usually skulking species (photo S. S. Sharma).
Day 7. Ajmer to Mount Abu (via Pushkar)
This will essentially be a travel day as we move between Ajmer and the hill station at Mount Abu. We will leave after an early breakfast and will stop along the way at Pushkar, where we hope to find White-naped Tit, Marshall’s Iora, and White-bellied Minivet.
In the evening we will have a birding session for the range-restricted Green Avadavat. This small munia has disappeared from much of its former range due to the illegal pet trade.
Overnight: Mount Abu
Green Avadavat is a restricted-range specialty that we will look for in one of its remaining strongholds at Mount Abu.
Day 8. Mount Abu to Jodhpur
We have a long journey to get from Mount Abu to Desert National Park, so we have chosen to break the drive with an overnight stop in the city of Jodhpur. Prior to our journey today we will have a birding session, where we will look for Green Avadavat and other species that may be present in the scattered hillside vegetation.
Day 9. Jodhpur to Desert National Park
We will spend the day driving between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, our base for exploring the important Desert National Park.
Days 10 – 11. Desert National Park
We will have two full days exploring the incredible Desert National Park. Here we will search for the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Great Indian Bustard, a species that is unfortunately hurtling toward extinction. This is about the best place in the world to find this species, and so this is our prime target during our time here. In addition to the bustard we will also search for Spotted Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Cream-colored Courser, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, and Desert Lark.
The huge Great Indian Bustard is now Critically Endangered (IUCN) (photo M. Aggarwal).
Day 12. Desert National Park to Tal Chhapar (via Bikaner)
This will essentially be a travel day as we leave Desert National Park and Jaisalmer behind and travel to our final base of birding during the tour at Tal Chhapar Sanctuary.
Overnight: Tal Chhapar
Day 13. Tal Chhapar
The grasslands at Tal Chhapar Sanctuary were once hunted by the Maharaja of Bikaner. The small protected area we will be birding is home to Blackbuck and Chinkara and also hosts a number of great birds. At the top of the list for most who come here is the population of Indian Spotted Creeper. However, there are also plenty of other birds to look for, such as Indian Eagle-Owl, White-eyed Buzzard, Laggar Falcon, and Yellow-eyed Green Pigeon.
Overnight: Tal Chhapar
Indian Spotted Creeper is a tough bird with a restricted range, so we will go to a specific site to look for it at Tal Chhapar (photo S. S. Sharma).
Day 14. Tal Chhapar to New Delhi
After a final morning birding at Tal Chhapar Sanctuary we will commence our journey back to New Delhi, where we will arrive early in the evening. We will have our final group evening meal together, during which we will work out the difficult task of selecting the ‘bird of the trip’ – there is sure to be some fierce competition!
Overnight: New Delhi
Day 15. Departure from New Delhi
This will be a non-birding day with your departure from New Delhi.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
BIRDING TOURS INDIA: GENERAL INFORMATION
PASSPORT AND VISA
Most people will require a visa for visiting India depending on your country of origin or length of stay. Please check your government’s advice; this may be achievable via the e-visa system (there is a small fee for most visas). Your passport must be valid for a period of at least 6 months after the date of your arrival in India. Please make sure that there is at least one empty page available in your passport. Please make sure that you also bring a photocopy of your passport, to be kept in a different location from your hard copy of your passport, in case of loss/damage.
Passports should be kept on your person for safety and ease of use. You will need to show passports and give passport details at most accommodation, trains, and national park entrance gates.
Note: If your passport changes between the time you book a tour and provide your information and your trip you must let us know ASAP so we can update the details on the national park and train tickets. Failure to do so could result in difficulties on arrival at parks or train stations.
For details on visa see the following website: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html
We strongly recommend that you purchase trip cancellation insurance to protect yourself against accidents, medical, illness, loss of valuables, luggage, etc., and travel interruptions or delays of all kinds.
Please consult your doctor regarding any vaccine requirements. All travelers should be up to date with routine vaccination courses and boosters (e.g. tetanus). There is no risk of yellow fever transmission in India; however, there is a certificate requirement if travelers have visited/come from any of the following countries: https://www.who.int/ith/2015-ith-annex1.pdf?ua=1. Some travelers may require Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, and Rabies. Risk of Malaria is considered low, although you should seek the recommendations of your doctor and please read https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/yellow-fever-malaria-information-by-country/india#seldyfm879 carefully. Please also read https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/india or a UK site that gives great info as well: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/india/health. Note that these pages are only a guide, so do consult your usual source for travel health advice.
Sunscreen should be carried, and a hat should be worn to protect from the powerful rays of the sun with sunglasses to help prevent glare. A plentiful supply of water should be carried at all times to maintain hydration. Insect repellent is recommended.
Due to air pollution in and around New Delhi it is advised to purchase a face mask to reduce the potential for breathing in dirty air. These face masks can be purchased from most chemists. A bandana can also help reduce dust intake in dusty areas such as in national parks if they are dry.
lease make sure that you are covered by medical insurance in case of an emergency while on this trip. Without insurance the cost of medical care can be extremely high. Please notify us at the time of registering for this tour of any medical conditions you think we should know about (including allergies, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.). This will greatly help us to cater to your needs and update emergency services if required.
Indian Rupee. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, including for drawing cash from ATM’s (as everywhere, bank charges may apply). Note: US dollars or British pounds cannot be used for purchases. We will be able to exchange or draw money at the airport upon our arrival and in the various cities we pass through. But it is worth noting that ATMs will give you large denomination notes, and getting smaller change (e.g. useful for tips) is quite difficult to obtain. Most ATMs only allow a maximum withdrawal of 10,000 rupees in one go. The ATM at the airport (in the arrivals lounge) can be a bit temperamental but does accept Visa and MasterCard cards.
We will experience a range of temperatures in India, including some cold/very cold mornings in the mountains of the north on the North India and Northeast India tours. Game drives here can be very cold in the early morning (the jeeps are open-top). It is advisable to bring layers, including a warm coat, woolen hat, gloves, etc., for these tours. Birding sites south of New Delhi will be hot during the day but can drop to be fairly cold overnight and early in the morning, and it may get a bit chilly in the southern Indian hills on the Western Ghats tour. A bandana or face mask would be helpful for time spent near New Delhi due to pollution but also for keeping dust out of your face while in any of the national parks on the jeep safaris.
230 V at 50 Hz. Two- or three-pronged round sockets. Adaptors are needed for overseas appliances. See the following link for details and photos: https://www.power-plugs-sockets.com/india/. Types D and M seem to be the most common sockets where we stay on our tours. The electricity can go off unexpectedly due to power shortages. A decent torch (flashlight) is essential. Power surges can be common, so ensure your devices are suitable to withstanding these.
LENGTH OF DRIVES
Whenever there are moderate or lengthy drives they are broken up where possible with birding stops and stops for refreshments, etc. Driving in India is not as good as in most of the rest of the world and can take some getting used to. Our drivers are used to the road conditions and driving style and do a great job of keeping everyone safe. Distances traveled are not particularly huge in most cases, but the roads are often in a poor condition, making drives take longer than they would in more developed areas. Many roads are in the process of getting upgraded, and there are a few very good toll roads we will likely use.
Many but most certainly not all of the places visited on our tours have WIFI in some form. This may just be in the hotel lobby and can be a bit hit-or-miss. If you want more reliable internet connection it is possible to purchase a SIM card at the airport, e.g. Airtel works well through most of the country and is fairly cheap.
WHAT TO BRING
This is not a fashion statement trip! Casual and informal, practical dress is fine in the hotels. Loose lightweight field clothing works best, with a warm fleece or jacket for cooler weather and warm clothing for early-morning game drives. Shorts and T-shirts are fine in the south. You will also need to bring some warmer clothing and a rain jacket. Rain is always a possibility, so an umbrella and/or rain gear is always useful to have. Early mornings can feel very chilly in some areas, so come prepared, especially in the northern mountains at higher elevations.
Sunglasses, sunhat and sunscreen (rated SPF 30 or higher) are useful. A pair of pants/trousers or a long skirt and a long-sleeved shirt should be included to help protect against forest vegetation and the sun. Swimwear can be brought as there are swimming pools at some of the hotels.
We would recommend lightweight walking boots when out on foot. You might like to consider sandals/trainers (tennis shoes) for use in the vehicles and for walking between your room and restaurant in the hotels and lodges.
Do not forget – Binoculars, prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs), toiletries, prescription glasses (and a spare pair), insect repellent, sunscreen and sunglasses, camera, flashlight (torch), batteries (for electronic equipment and chargers for re-chargeable batteries if required), converter plug set if needed and plug adaptors, alarm clock, money pouch, field guide(s), daypack. While our guides typically carry a scope, if you have your own scope you might wish to bring it too as this will speed up observations.
Key Documents and Cash – Passports, your travel or health insurance cards, photocopies of which can be carried by the tour leader in case of emergency, credit cards (see info above). US dollars, euros, or British pounds can be exchanged into Indian rupees if you prefer not to simply draw cash from ATMs for drinks, gifts, tips, items of a personal nature, etc., which are not included in the tour cost.
>Due to restricted space in the vehicles please pack as lightly as possible. A medium soft-sided duffle bag (not the hard-sided cases) works best for packing in the vehicles. This allows us to better fit the bags. Please bring a daypack to keep items that you wish to use or need on a daily basis.
There are several dangerous animals in India such as tiger, leopard, and Asian elephant. We will endeavor to see these beautiful creatures but remain a respectful distance from them. There are several species of venomous snakes in India, so all snakes should be viewed from a safe distance with care taken when walking in forests, scrub, and grassland (e.g. check where you are putting your hands and feet).
India is generally a safe place to travel with very friendly people. However, as anywhere in the world it is advisable to take care and remain cautious and observant for the unexpected, especially in busy areas with lots of people, e.g. train stations, airports, markets, monuments, etc.
English is widely spoken. Our local guide will assist with communication with some jeep drivers who may not speak English.
It is expected to tip practically everyone who provides any form of service in India, so try and get as many small notes as possible as early as possible (but this is not always easy!). The following is a guide, and if you feel like a service provided was better/worse than expected you can adjust accordingly. Note: Examples of tips below are per group (2-4 persons) and not per traveler and are in Indian Rupee (INR). Nature Guide (full day) 750-1250 INR, Jeep Guide (3 – 5 hours) 200 – 300 INR, Monument Guide (full day) 500-1000 INR, Monument Guide (half day) 300-500 INR, Driver 500-1000 INR/day, Hotel porters 50 INR/bag/porter (extra if lots of heavy bags), Hotel Staff (2 to 3 nights duration of stay) usually 250 INR per room per night as a consolidated amount to be put into the box or handed to the hotel manager to share among his staff, Hotel greeting staff 50-100 INR for car door opening at plush hotels, Railway porters (pay them once they have shown you to your seat and carried your bags into the carriage) expect around 100 INR/bag but agree about the price in advance, Rickshaw guides (Bharatpur) 500-750 INR per day.
The entrance fees for monument visits (e.g. Fatehpur Sikri, the Taj Mahal, and any others we may decide to visit) are not included in the tour price and are to be paid on arrival at the monument. For example, on the Northern India tour at the Taj Mahal a local monument guide is included in your tour price (he will talk to you about the history of the building, and point out interesting features etc.), but the actual entrance fee is not included.
Note: On the Northern India tour the visit to the Taj Mahal is just to walk around the outside with lots of nice photo opportunities, but it does not go inside as there simply isn’t enough time for this. If you would like to go inside the Taj Mahal we can arrange a pre- or post-tour extension where this would be possible.
Some of the places visited are ‘dry’, i.e. they do not serve alcoholic drinks. Some places will allow you to bring purchased alcohol into their restaurants, others will only allow it in your room. There are bottle shops in most towns we go through, so it is easy to buy wine, beer, or spirits here. The local Sula red/white wine is quite nice, especially in the cold evenings in the north!
There are many good photo opportunities on our tours, ranging from natural and human-made landscapes to birds and other wildlife. Depending on the size of your camera (e.g. if you have a huge lens) you may be charged a fee at some locations. The fees for this are usually very small.
GENERAL USEFUL INFORMATION
Take a toilet roll from the first hotel with you for roadside/emergency stops; there are plenty of toilets at gas stations but most are basic with no toilet roll.
Take a bottle of hand sanitizer and use after shaking people’s hands and touching money/doors/taps etc., and use it before eating. General hygiene and sanitation levels in India are much lower than in most of the rest of the world.
Never drink any water coming out of taps. Only drink bottled water or purified water. You will be provided with a couple of bottles of water by your local guide each day. Note that sometimes hotels will provide a couple of bottles of water for free, but sometimes additional bottles will be charged for, so just be sure what is or isn’t included by discussing it with the hotel.
Laundry services are available at a number of hotels we stay at during our tours, and the costs for this are fairly reasonable.
On arrival you’ll be met by our ground agent, who’ll take you to your hotel or wherever you need to be. They will have a sign with your name.
Ensure that you arrive at the airport three hours before your international flight, as there is a lot of red tape to go through and it can take a while getting through check in, immigration, and security. There should be no departure tax, which should be included in your flight ticket, but it’s worth it confirming this with your chosen airline.