Rajasthan is a curious mix of historical grandeur and wild beauty. It has vast tracts of scrubland dotted with dunes. Small pools of water and wetlands, tucked behind undulating plains, are a lifeline for animals and birds.
One such is Khichan Village, which is over three hours by road, north west of Jodhpur in Phalodi district. Khichan has a cluster of ponds (talao) that typically host a large variety of birds, especially waders, making it a birder’s paradise. You can mark the village by a shawl of grey fluttering over the amber dusk in the winters.
Khichan has a predominantly Jain population. The villagers go out of their way to welcome that the birds, like honoured guests.
Khichan is unusual as it hosts a single species – the demoiselle crane. This is a migratory species that is found in large numbers. Thousands of cranes flock from North China and Mongolia to escape the harsh winters there. The first flock begins to arrive around end of monsoon and the last pair of wings takes off for the return journey as spring is almost giving way to the blistering summers.
One elder villager, Ratanlal Maloo since the 70s, initiated the traders from the village to pool in grain, worth close to a crore annually. The grains are offered to the cranes in a feeding house or chugga ghar as it is known locally – built by the villagers through grant from the local government. This has not only ensured a comfortable stay for the birds but has also helped reduce conflict with the farmers as the birds don’t feel the need to raid crops to feed.
Hundreds and thousands of cranes land near the ponds, hopping to feed off the grains scattered on the ground for them. As evening approaches farmers, with their stacks of hay, and shepherds herding their cattle back return. The arrival of the cattle often creates a commotion and the birds take to the sky – perhaps headed towards other talaos nearby.
Khichan Village: 150 km from Jodhpur (3 hr driving time from Jodhpur)
Best for: Birding (the Demoiselle crane)
Best time to visit: End August – March
Best time for birding: Dawn and dusk