Purbasthali Bird Sanctuary
After buying a DSLR five years ago, I came across a good friend and got a little addicted to bird watching and bird photography. I only had 18-105 lenses then. So I borrowed 80-300 from that friend and went to take pictures of birds with him from time to time. After that he moved out of Kolkata for employment and that created a long gap form me also so far as bird photography is concerned. Six months ago suddenly I warmed up myself bought Tamron 80-300. Although for bird photographers 500 mm+ would be a comfortable focal length, 80-300 is a lot for an inexperienced person like me to do the job. But yes, it is not possible to capture a bird sitting high with this lens – so I needed to find a place where you can get close to the birds. Ultimately I found one such place – Purbasthali or Chupir Char in East Burdwan.
From Sealdah at 8.06 am I took the Katwa local and reached Purbasthali in two and a quarter hours. When I went down to look for the drug store in the Kashtashali market, I realized that everyone knows Mr. Nabi Baux Sheikh (lodge owner). Purbasthali village seemed to very clean and tidy and the arrival of migratory birds is like a festival for them too. I had booked a room in 1st floor of Mr.Nabi’s Guest House from Kolkata itself at 400 / – per day rent. I found Mr.Nabi Baksh at the drug store. The gentleman’s idea of the variety of birds, their habitats, the exact place and time of different birds on the lake is quite good.
On his own initiative he said it will be ideal to start boating around 1.30 pm and specified me the spots also so that I can get ample time on that spot of the lake for bird watching. In the afternoon many birds come to that spot. He also booked a boatman accordingly.Its just 2-3 minutes walk from Mr.Nabi’s medical shop to his guest house. I checked in there and realized that those for whom the room is a matter of concern, it is better not to stay here. Instead, they can book a “Porijayi Abas” or a “Kashtoshali Bonobithi”. However, for me room has never been the primary concern and I am habituated to accommodate any basic standards.
I finished my lunch within 1.30 pm and left for the wharf. The ghat is very close. I took a shortcut through the mango orchard. I really got fascinated on reaching the wharf! The vast expanse of bluish-black water and the green gushing through it appeared to look like a few small islands. In the far north-east the ISKCON temple in Mayapur is enchanting.
River Ganga on its flow has created 3 km wide oxbow lake here in Purbasthali. However if you consider the adjacent channels to the lake, the total stretch of Chupir Char extends to almost 11 km . I found 3-4 boats tied up at the wharf. As I approached, a boatman in a T-shirt and pants came forward from one of the boats and said, “I’m a Laxman. Nabida has sent me. ” I negotiated the boat fare at Rs.150 / – per hour which is fair enough.
And without any further ado I floated away with the Laxman. After a few words with Laxman I realized that the man is not only aware of the birds, he is also quite confident about when and where a bird can be spotted and he is also aware of the best light that can be obtained by standing in a position to take pictures with him.
I spotted White Breasted Kingfisher and Cormorant on the bamboo tips where the fishing nets are tangled. The deeper I was moving, the water was getting clearer. The plants under the water are clearly visible in that clear water.
From the shore which seemed to be small islands, now as I went closer to them, I realized that some of them are actually water hyacinth and some are chars. Amongst that hyacinth I spotted Bronze Winged Jacana, Purple Swamphen, Pond Heron, Cristine Wagtail, Cotton Pigmy Goose and Wood Sandpiper.
The fun of Chupir Char is that since you are cruising on the boat, you can approach very close to most of the birds and can be approached at different angles also .I observed a primitive irrigation mechanism made out of bamboo sticks along the far bank.
And next to it are some green birds. Even from that distance Laxman easily guessed that those are Green Bee Eaters.
The Lesser Whistling Ducks in huge flocks were continuously whistling and flying over the eastern sky.
Reading the astonishment on my face at that moment Lakshman said – “Sir, you will get a lot of these Lesser Whistling Ducks later also..don’t worry. Let’s see the Red Crested Pochard first. ” I was amazed to find that Laxman is not only good at birds, but he can read minds too! Laxman sailed the boat farther in search of Pochards. On the way I saw a bird with black coat,white beak and a white tilak on the forehead named Common Coot and a little Little Grebe.
Some of the chars seemed to be quite fertile and bearing cultivable land. The farmers of the village came by dinghy boat and farmed there and now it is their turn to return home. I met one grandfather and grandson of such a farming family.
At about 4 o’clock we spotted that much desired, rare, beautiful and sweet bird. Instantly the winning smile lightened Laxman’s face and he raised his index to draw my attention and uttered – “Sir. This is the Red Crested Pochard. ” We were close enough to them and I took a lot of pictures of them to my full satisfaction.
As its winter, the daylight is fading fast. So we decided to head back. On the way I met a lot of Lesser Whistling Duck again.
While returning near the shore I witnessed the first sades of the twilight colors brushing the sky. This time I landed at another wharf. There is a watchtower on one side of the ghat, “Kashtashali Banabithi” guest house on the other side and mustard fields in the middle spanning as far as the eyes can go.
Colored with last shades of sunset and seeing the home returns of boatmen, I called it a day and returned to my lodge.
I somehow spent the night fighting the bone-chilling cold with a mattress and blanket on a cement bed. Today is my 2nd day at Purbasthali.I have already planned with Laxman to go to the big Ganges today and to start our expedition at 7 o’clock in the morning. At 7.15 am Lakshman called up and said that its not advisable to start till the fog subsides because there would be no pictures in this deep fog.
Finally we left at 8 o’clock in the morning. The water was still covered with thin layer of fog and it looked as if smoke was rising from water. In the meantime, as a starter dish we spotted a small Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Gadwall.
Today we are heading in the opposite direction from where we went yesterday in search of Ibis. I spotted a few more boats nearby with their passengers sticking their eyes on the view finder of their cameras. In this route we spotted Open Bill Stork, Common Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Barn Swallow, Pheasant Tailed Jacana, White Wag tail and Yellow Bittern. After floating for quite some time we finally spotted the Black Headed Ibis.
At last we met Black Headed Ibis .
It is as if each bird has its own unique address in Chupir Char and they are living with their family in that precinct. And boatmen like Laxman or guides like Sanjay Singh (9564642694) have those addresses at their fingertips! Meanwhile its now 10.15 am. Laxman took the boat in a narrow creek. So narrow that somehow only one boat can pass through that creek.
The trees and water herbs on both sides are stumbling on the boat. It’s like a piece of amazonia in front of me. Long Tailed Shrikes were peeking from the tall grasses.
We went through the creek and came to the main Ganges. The river is quite wide on this side. Laxman anchored the boat on a sandy island and dropped me amidst that sand dune. I found a lot of Pratincole playing around in that island.
Walking on the edge of the char I spotted a pair of Rudy Shelduck and a very rare to spot Osprey fly away with its prey in its claws.
On the way back we met again the Purple Swamphen, Black headed Ibis and Lesser Whistling Duck… they seemed to be more smart now. After cruising for almost 6 hours and enjoying the beauty of the amazing world of Chupir Char I stepped for my way to home. It is really awesome to think that for how many hundreds of years these migratory guests of Bengal have traveled thousands of miles to reach their temporary shelters in this exact location and this phenomenon is repeated at the same of the year and in the same place!
Best Time To Visit:
Purbasthali or Chupir Char is famous for its migratory birds and if you want to meet them you need to visit the place in the months of December or January depending on the arrival of the birds.
How To Reach:
Road distance from Kolkata to Purbasthali is 127 km. The place is also easily approachable by train from Kolkata. From Howrah local trains are available for Purbasthali stations. Frequency of Howrah_Katwa locals is approximately 2 hours and this train will drop you at Purbasthali.
Where To Stay:
- Mr. Nabi Baux Sheikh’s own guest house
- Parijayee Abas
- Kashtashali Banabithi
For all these 3 accommodations you can contact Mr. Nabi at 9732142362.
Places Of Interest:
Chupir Char lake’s total stretch is almost 11 km. It takes huge time to sail around and so mostly you shall spend your time in cruising and bird watching here.
Hi! I am from Kolkata, India. Travelling and photography is my passion. As I love landscape photography most, travelling goes hand in hand with it. Since my matriculation days I started travelling. I have also penned down a book on my travelling which is available in Amazon in the name of Ghuranchandi – Part 1. Whatever travel experiences I have, I have shared those in my blog in the form of travel stories.