Lulled into a fitful sleep by the rocking of the car on the bumpy road, I was suddenly woken up by the urgent whispers. We had stopped on a deserted road with freshly plowed fields stretching into the distance — a typical landscape for rural Uttar Pradesh. In the field closest to us was a herd of Sarus Cranes, glowing in the light of dawn.
This sight is a common one when you travel the byroads along fields and grasslands on your way to Lakh Bahosi Wildlife Sanctuary, 40 kms from Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh and one of the largest bird sanctuaries in India. Named after the neighbouring villages of Lakh and Bahosi, this sanctuary is spread over 80 sq kms and straddles two shallow lakes fed by the Ganga Canal. Notified in 1988 with the aim of conserving the wetland for resident and migratory avian population, the sanctuary is an exciting spot for birding enthusiasts.
There is a lot to see even before you enter the gates of the sanctuary. On the way to Lakh Bahosi, keep your eyes peeled for the flash of blue as an Indian roller takes off from an overhead wire. Also watch out for Egyptian vultures in the fields, though they might be harder to spot because of their buff color. You don’t have to listen quite as hard for the loud trilling of the white-throated kingfisher or for the racket of the bank mynas. But we had to bring out our guide books to correctly identify a greater spotted eagle perched on a dead tree branch, surveying the fields for its next meal.
Because of the twin lakes, Lakh Bahosi is particularly great for spotting several varieties of waterfowl. Start by visiting the Bahosi lake first as it is the better maintained of the two. Gazebos jutting out some distance into the lake provide good vantage points to set up your spotting scopes.
Even without binoculars, you can easily identify the common coot by its white bald patch and the black-necked stork by its bright red legs and iridescent neck. In the winter months, the entire lake’s surface becomes dotted with hundreds of pointy upended bottoms of the northern pintail.
The small island in the middle of the lake is where you should turn your eyes to spot the bigger birds which often come here to roost. You can easily spot a grey heron getting some shut-eye, a Eurasian spoonbill sweeping its beak around in the shallow water for a snack or if you are visiting in the winter, even a whole herd of great white pelicans playfully jousting with their large beaks.
Take the walking track around the Bahosi lake to spot the birds up close. The path is lined with trees and shrubs, so be on the lookout for pipits, wagtails, flycatchers and hoopoes.
At the edges of the lake, you can easily spot the iridescent bronze-winged jacanas and little grebes swimming in and out of the water hyacinth. The spotted redshank, which visits India all the way from Scandinavia, is also a common sight here in the winter months.
Between December and February, watch out for migratory waterfowl such as the bar-headed geese, greylag geese, ferruginous pochard, northern shoveler and red-crested pochard. Cotton teals and common shelducks were a common sight at Lake Bahosi at one time but with increasing human activity and land encroachment, many of such migratory birds have not visited Lakh Bahosi for the past several years.
The sanctuary also has a bird interpretation centre which houses life-size models of the birds and photographs explaining their life cycle and habits.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Summer in the northern plains can be brutal so the best time to visit Lakh Bahosi is from November to March when the mercury dips and the day temperatures are more suited for outdoor activity. If you are visiting especially to see the migratory birds, wait till late December or early January by which time most of them have arrived.
By Road: Lakh Bahosi Wildlife Sanctuary is around 40 kms from Kannauj and can be reached by following the Kanpur-Delhi National Highway via Indergarh. From there it’s just about 5 kms to the sanctuary.
By Air: Both the Lucknow airport and the Kanpur airport are at approximately the same distance from Lakh Bahosi. Lucknow airport though is better connected to other cities.
By Train: Kanpur and Lucknow are both very well connected to other cities by trains.
Since Kannauj is a relatively smaller city, it would be best to stay overnight in Lucknow or Kanpur. Both cities offer good hotel options and a taxi can be easily hired for a day trip to the sanctuary.
TICKETS & TIMINGS
The entry price is Rs 30 per person and Rs 100 is charged per vehicle for entering the sanctuary. Lakh Bahosi is open on all days from 10 am to 4 pm.
• Pack snacks/lunch for your trip as there are no eateries in the immediate vicinity of the sanctuary.
• Meet up with Karan Singh if you are interested in knowing more about the sanctuary or the birds here. He is one of the oldest and most knowledgeable employees at the Lakh Bahosi Bird sanctuary.
• It is best to get to the sanctuary early in the day as it will take you a good couple of hours to explore both the lakes.