DESERT NATIONAL PARK
DESERT NATIONAL PARK
Location In the Thar Desert in south-west Rajasthan, near the border with Pakistan, spread over Jaisalmer and Barmer districts
Distances 689 km W of Jaipur via Jodhpur, 317 km NW of Jodhpur, 42 km SW of Jaisalmer
Route from Jaipur NH8 to Beawar via Ajmer; NH14 to Pali via Sojat; NH65 to Jodhpur; SH to Pokharan via Balesar and Dechhu; NH15 to Jaisalmer via Odania and Chandan; district road to Sam Village (Desert NP) via Dedha
ABOUT DESERT NP
The Desert NP is an excellent example of the diverse life in the desert habitat. An area of 3,162 sq km was declared a sanctuary in 1980 to preserve this fascinating and fragile habitat. There are 72 villages within the sanctuary. Some enclosures of barbed wire, with water holes, have been created where the villagers and their cattle are denied access to preserve the grasslands so that they can become wildlife enclaves. Sudashri is the most maintained of these enclaves, and the best place to see the fauna. The most outstanding of the fauna is the Great Indian Bustard, GIB to the initiated. Apart from the bustard, there are several others birds too in this sandy habitat.
The number of wild animals in this sanctuary has gone down as a result of grazing and agriculture. Only in portions where enclosures have been created is the safety of the animals assured.
Saving the Bustard: On a Wing and a Prayer
The bustard is related to the crane but has a rounder body, thicker neck, and a relatively short beak. They are found on the ground on open plains and fields. The term bustard simply means slow bird, and in reality, bustards are slow as a consequence of their heavy build. Although they are strong fliers, they usually do not leave the ground.
The Great Indian Bustard, or Ardeotis nigriceps, has a long, thick pale grey neck and long, yellow legs. Males grow up to 120 cm and females 92 cm. The two sexes are similar in appearance, although males have a larger black crown, long hind crown feathers and a black band across the breast. Earlier, bustards were widespread and common across the Indian sub-continent, but today, this species has all but disappeared from Pakistan, and its population in India has reduced considerably. Now classified as endangered, the Great Indian Bustard has become extinct in almost 90 per cent of its former range, as a result of loss of habitat and poaching. At present, the number of birds is estimated to be 500; a continuation of the present trend will see the species extinct in the next decade. The Desert NP was started to save the bustard.
When to go Open throughout the year, but the ideal time to visit is from Oct to Feb. At this time, the maximum temperature is 20° C and the minimum around
6° C. Light woollen clothing is best
Go there for Great Indian Bustard, desert fox, chinkara, desert cat
Wildlife/ Forest Dept office
• Deputy Director, Desert NP
Khuri Road, Jaisalmer
STD codes Jaisalmer 02992
The Desert NP is spread in the Jaisalmer and Barmer districts of Rajasthan, close to the Indian border with Pakistan. It's best to visit the park from]aisalmer. The park is located to the south-west of the city. The villages of Sam and Khuri, renowned for their picturesque sand dunes, lie on the edge of the park and are easily accessible from Jaisalmer. Sam is 42 km west of Jaisalmer and Sudashri is 10 km south- . east from there. Khuri is 40 km south of Jaisalmer and Sudashri is about 8 km further on, heading north-west.
To visit the park, you need a permit (get it a day in advance) from the office of the Deputy Director, Desert NP, Khuri Road, ]aisalmer (Tel: 02992-252489). Payments have to be made on the spot.
Permit fee Indians Rs 10, foreigners Rs 80 Park timings 10 am-5 pm, lunch break normally 1.30-2 pm; Sundays closed Vehicle fee Rs 65 Guide fee Rs 200 Cameras Still free, video Rs 200
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The two biggest draws here are the Great Indian Bustard and the chinkara, and the best place to see them is Sudashri. From Jaisalmer, there are two, almost equidistant routes to Sudashri - via Sam or via Khuri. Since the area falls under the army, the roads are well maintained and free of traffic; you can make the journey in 11/2 hrs. A jeep is the ideal vehicle to travel in and it costs about Rs 800 for a 4-hr long trip and Rs 1,500 for a day-trip.
There is a Forest Department post at Sudashri and the park personnel stay in a few huts within the fenced area. One of the gentlemen will act as your guide on the 3- to 4-km long circuit. You can either walk it or opt for a camel cart (Rs 300 for about 3 hrs). Morning is the ideal time and it's advisable to be there by sunrise. You can spend three to four hours walking, depending on how hot it gets. Alternatively, you can arrive in the afternoon, about three or four hours before the sunset.
Whatever be your preferred mode of transport, there are many animals and birds in the park that you can look out for. This includes birds such as sand grouses, partridges, bee-eaters, doves and bulbuls. Demoiselle cranes and common cranes arrive in the winter. The birds of prey seen here include tawny and steppe eagles, long-legged honey buzzards, falcons and owls.
Among the mammals, chinkara is the most common and is easily spotted. Chinkara, or gazella bennittii, is the smallest Asiatic antelope. It grows to a height of 65 cm and weighs 25 kg. Most males have very short horns, although some grow to a length of 25-30 cm. These gazelles are found in open woodlands and scrublands, which are quite suitable for them to move at high speeds. Their numbers have dwindled to a large extent and they feature on the endangered list. They can go without water for long periods and can even get sufficient fluids from plants and dew drops. Although mostly seen as solitary animals, they can sometimes be spotted in small groups. They look very hyper and nervous as they are constantly wagging their tail and frequently glancing over the shoulder to check for approaching danger. The other notable inhabitants of the Desert NP are the desert fox, desert cat, monitor lizard, spiny-tailed lizard and saw-scaled viper.
Dunes and wildlife
A round of the sand dunes is not to be missed. Contrary to the filmy perception of desert as an endless expanse of sand dunes, in reality only 20 per cent of the world's deserts are sand dunes. Similarly, about 10 per cent of the area of the Desert NP is estimated to be dunes. The best places to see the dunes are Sam and Khuri, located at the edge of the sanctuary. Take a jeep fromjaisalmer (Rs 700 to 1,000, depending upon the time you want to spend there) and come for the sunrise or the sunset. A short camel ride on the dunes costs about Rs 50.
Remember to pack bionculars; also remember to pack water and something to munch on. It's not necessary that you will see wildlife on your first visit, so don't be disappointed. Come back again.
WHERE TO STAY
To visit the Desert NP, you should ideally base yourself at jaisalmer, where there are plenty of hotels. There are a number of options at Khuri, but it's best to do a day trip to Sudashri. It's also possible to spend a night or two in Sam or Khuri during the high season, October to February. However, you will need to book a jeep from jaisalmer itself. Many travel companies such as KK Travels (Tel: 02992-253087), at jaisalmer Fort, Sahara Travels (Tel: 252609) at Gopa Chowk and Thar Safari (Tel: 254295) offer an evening to morning package at the Sam Dunes, comprising transport, camel ride, dance, dinner, night stay in a tent for two, sunrise and breakfast, all in the range of Rs 2,000-3,500 per head. The RTDC office (Tel: 252406) near Gadi Sagar arranges accommodation.
Khuri has a host of very basic staying options. Prices tend to vary according to the kind of stay option you choose (options include night stays and visits to sand dunes with camel safaris, meals and entertainment thrown in). The Gangaur Guest House (Tel: 03014-274056, Mobile: 09414271035; Tariff: Rs 600-1,500) has eight mud and thatched huts and 10 cottages with attached baths. You can opt for a night stay, which includes a Rajasthani dinner, cultural programmes, sand dune visits and breakfast the next day. If you want to return to [aisalmer after the dinner, the charge is Rs 400. They also customise 3- to 4-day budget safaris (for back- packers and students). The Moonlight Khuri Resort (laisalmer Tel: 02992- 252717; Tariff: Rs 1,050-2,050), owned by the same management that runs Hotel Jaisal Palace in jaisalmer, has eight basic huts, 15 tents (for families) and eight tents given out to couples. The package includes a night stay, camel rides, dinner and entertainment and breakfast the next day. The resort is located between Khuri and Bharna villages in the dunes.
Air Nearest airport: Jodhpur (317 km/6 hrs), well connected to Khuri by an excellent road. Taxi Rs 5.50-7.50 per km
Rail Nearest railhead: Jaisalmer (42 km/ 1 hr). Taxi cost Rs 600 approx Road Jaisalmer is located at the far western-end of India, and with road journeys to this desert town perforce being very long, this option is best avoided
Amongst the desert camps run here during high season is RTDC's Sam Dhani
(Jaisalmer Tel: 02992-252392; Tariff Rs 800-1,500), which has eight huts with attached baths and hot water. The camp organises camel safaris.
The staying options in jaisalmer are numerous and will suit various budgets, both inside the fort and outside. Most The sly-eyed green bee-eater vehicular traffic is prohibited inside the fort, so you may have to lug your bags for some distance, unless your hotel organises some arrangements.
Fort Rajwada (Tel: 02992-254862, 254608; Tariff: Rs 3,900-11,500) is one of the best hotels in Jaisalmer. Hotel Himmatgarh Palace (Tel: 252004; Tariff: Rs 2,050-3,000), on Ramgarh Road opposite Denasar Ground, has a pool, a restaurant and a bar. Other options include RTDC's Dhola Maru (Tel: 252863; Tariff: Rs 2,000-2,500), on Jethwai Road, which organises packages including a desert safari with a stay and meals option; and the Laughing Camel Inn (Tel: 251564; Tariff: Rs 500-1,100) at Hanuman Circle, which has its own restaurant. They also organise desert camel safaris.
Hotel jaisal Palace (Tel: 252717; Tariff: Rs 500-2,100), at Gandhi Chowk in Talariya Pada, is one of the oldest hotels in Iaisalmer, run by the group that owns Moonlight Khuri Resort. Hotel Moon- light (Tel: 250267; Tariff: Rs 1,050-2,050), its sister concern at Hanuman Circle, is more appealing. Hotel Killa Bhawan (Tel: 251204; Tariff: Rs 2,200-2,970) is a family-run guest house with a few rooms in an old haveli inside the fort. Desert Boys Guest House (Tel: 253091; Tariff: Rs 450-1,000) in the fort is a family-run option, with nice rooms that come with attached baths and great views.
Great Indian Bustard, Indian robin, tawny eagle, Eurasian owl, common buzzard, red-backed shrike, sand grouse, partridge, bee-eater, demoiselle crane, steppe eagle, long-legged honey buzzard and falcon
Chinkara, desert fox, desert cat, monitor lizard, spiny-tailed lizard, sandfish and saw-scaled viper
WHERE TO EAT
Sudashri has no food provisions. If you stay there, you can eat what the staff cook for themselves. Travel agencies offer excursions to Sam and Khuri, with dinner, night stay and breakfast included. If you plan to visit Sudashri, take lunch with you or tie up with a travel agency to organize a meal at Sam or Khuri.
Natraj Restaurant, next to Salim Singh Haveli, serves reasonably priced food. Plenty of vegetarian food is available in the hotels in the fort. At Rang Mahal Hotel, Rajasthani dishes are served. Fort Rajwada has a poolside barbecue.
AROUND DESERT NP
Rawal Jaisal started building the jaisalmer Fort in the 12th century. The Bhatti rulers strengthened the fort and it remained in continuous occupation, a 'living fort' throughout its history. The fort can be accessed by a ramp winding through four gates; in the last of these, Hawapol, there's a courtyard called Dussehra Chowk, from where you can see the Royal Palace, or Rajmahal. Inside the fort is a complex of seven Jain temples built in the 15th and 16th centuries. Entering the small fort in jaisalmer is like stepping into a fairy-tale land. There are narrow winding streets inside with houses, shops, restaurants and hotels.