Our story begins on a warm, sunny day in late February this year.
A tourist bus turns off from the Bikaner – Jaisalmer highway at Phalodi and rattles its way towards a village called Khichan. As the bus passes a sign announcing that Khichan was just a kilometer away, excitement mounts. Sunglasses are readied as are cameras and binoculars. Soon the group will be seeing what they have come to Khichan for — to see the Demoiselle Cranes, which migrate here to escape the harsh winters of Eastern Europe.
Everybody in the group is a birding enthusiast. Everybody, but one person who is frankly quite bored with all the bird talk going around and trying to be as indifferent as possible to the contagious and palpable excitement filling the bus. That person is me.
As soon as the bus stops, the group tumbles out looking all around them. “Where are the birds? Where are the birds?” they demand. A local, who is passing by points vaguely and mutters “across that rise” at which the group sets off purposefully in that direction. I trail behind the group, dragging my feet and looking disinterestedly around me.
As the first of the group crests the rise, sounds of “Ooh ! Look at them, there they are”, floats back to me. My steps quicken of their own accord and in a minute I am over the rise myself and get my first glimpse of the Demoiselle Cranes. And stop in my tracks so suddenly that I almost slide all the way down to level ground.
The sight of so many live birds outside of a TV screen or a photograph is a sight that I am never going to forget for as long as I live.