Looking beyond leopards in Bera

Yahoo! India Travel

By Swayamsiddha Mohapatra and Nihit S Mhatre

Touted as one of the best places in India to see a leopard in the wild, Bera – a small village in Pali district of Rajasthan – has always been in the news for its not-so-elusive cats. However, the faunal diversity of Bera and the Jawai Bandh area far exceeds this marketing gimmick. Accompanied by two wildlife enthusiasts, I set upon planning a trip to the village to look for wildlife other than the leopard.

Bera - a small hamlet in Pali district of Rajasthan
Bera - a small hamlet in Pali district of Rajasthan
A nightjar photographed before sunrise in Bera, Rajasthan
A nightjar photographed before sunrise in Bera, Rajasthan

We booked a heritage resort at Bera in early February. We would get up before sunrise and spend a good two hours searching for nightjars. We succeeded in spotting many.

Our joy wouldn’t end there. Even something as routine as a sunrise was nothing sort of spectacular at the village. The dust would scatter the morning light, bathing the land in a golden hue.

The morning hours post sunrise was spent birding at the Jawai Bandh area or looking for mammals in the scrub forests nearby. Jawai Bandh area is home to a plethora of birds. The most majestic of them are the Sarus and Demoiselle Cranes. Though we were not lucky to find any, we did chance upon huge flocks of ducks and geese. The Bar-Headed Geese were the most prominent of all. The biggest attraction, however, was the Mugger population at the dam. In the afternoon, one could see these crocodilians basking in the sun.

Mugger crocodiles at Jawai Bandh dam in Bera
Mugger crocodiles at Jawai Bandh dam in Bera

On the other hand, safaris into the scrub forest yielded herds of Nilgai and Chinkaras. It was here that we also had one of our most intimate wildlife encounters of the trip. Parked atop a hill, we were waiting at an area where hyenas had been spotted recently. The previous morning, in the same area, had not been very fruitful. Five hours and we were almost getting ready to leave when suddenly we noticed something moving amidst the rocks on the opposite hill. Being quite a distance away it was clearly out of our cameras’ range. Hence, we decided to stay put. As our luck would have it, a hyena walked lazily onto a rock jutting out of the opposite hill and came perfectly within the reach of my lens. The intimacy of the sighting and the long hours of wait finally yielding result were probably what made the experience so unique. The scrub forest also greeted us with a good number of birds.

Waiting atop a hill for hyenas in Bera
Waiting atop a hill for hyenas in Bera
An intimate encounter with a rarely seen hyena in Bera
An intimate encounter with a rarely seen hyena in Bera

Evening hours were spent in search of owls. While driving in the dark we would find Eagle Owls camouflaged in the rocky terrain. Spotted owlets would often fly past our car.

Spotted Owlet after dark in Bera
Spotted Owlet after dark in Bera

Recently, I came across a local newspaper clip explaining how a leopard at Bera had been baited to ensure a sighting. A desire to please demanding tourists often pushes locals into ignoring the outcomes of their act. Such violation of wildlife laws could lead to permanent scarring of tourism, which in turn shall affect both the livelihood of the locals as well as the well being of the animals.

An end to the demand shall put a stop on exploitation. Sensitization to the fact that the terrain houses an array of wildlife (apart from the leopards) can reduce the pressure on trying to ensure the sighting of a single animal.

Red-vented Bulbul comes in to drink in Bera
Red-vented Bulbul comes in to drink in Bera
Sunset at Bera is as spectacular as sunrise
Sunset at Bera is as spectacular as sunrise

FACT FILE

How to get there: The best way to get to Bera is via railway. Mori Bera station is 6 km from Bera. The nearest airport, Jodhpur, is approximately 180 km from the village. The village is also well connected by road.

Where to Stay: There are two famous resorts in the village - Leopard’s Lair and Castle Bera.

Best Season: Winter (October-February) is the best time to visit

Eurasian collared dove flies after sunset in Bera.
Eurasian collared dove flies after sunset in Bera.

ABOUT THE WRITERS

Swayamsiddha Mohapatra is an avid bird-watcher and loves photographing birds. Enjoy more of his work at his website

Nihit S Mhatre is a 22-year-old medical intern who loves to travel and click pictures. With an inclination towards landscape and fine art photography, his photographs draw heavily on his travel experiences. One of his short movies was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival recently. Enjoy more of his work on 500px and YouTube