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The Flight of Khichan

Flight of the cranes at Khichan-2

I had never heard of a place called Khichan, till I reached Jodhpur. However, in Jodhpur every second person I met kept referring to Khichan as a must-visit.

Having heard so much about Khichan, I decided to visit this small, back of beyond village, located some 100 km from the Pakistan border.

It was the last weekend of February, and while the travel brochures are prone to refer to Rajasthan’s weather in February as salubrious, the sun that morning was definitely hot, if not downright furious.

As the city of Jodhpur slipped away, the landscape rapidly gave way to the dry, dusty arid browns and greys of the Thar. Along the highway at a distance however ran a stunted forest, and I did catch a couple of Nilgais (Blue Bulls, the largest Asian antelopes) stop grazing, to survey our passing car with their regal gaze.

Khichan is some 150 km from Jodhpur, in the middle of nowhere. A narrow bumpy road connects the village to the nearest Railhead at Phalodi. A nondescript forgotten village, all one can see as one approaches Khichan are a block of huts and some small shops. It was mid-day when we reached Khichan, and there was hardly a soul around. A boy who was loitering around one of the shops pointed a lazy finger at a tiny ridge in the distance, when asked about the Khichan lake. I plodded across the sandy stretch and across the ridge and witnessed a sight, which will be with me forever.

Across the ridge, the desolate arid sands gave way to what appeared to be a shallow stretch of water. And nestling, frolicking, across the waters was an endless carpet of soft grey and defining black, as thousands of Demoiselle cranes dotted the water as far as the eye could see.

The story goes that in the 1970s a native from the village had returned here from Odisha, to stay with his uncle. Since the young man was jobless, he was assigned the task of feeding the pigeons. Henceforth the young man and his wife religiously took a sack of grain and spread the feed along the banks of the Khichan lake. Soon pigeons, sparrows, squirrels and an occasional peacock, started gathering there.

Then in autumn a few of the Demoiselle cranes discovered Khichan, and a new chapter took flight for the quiet village. Thereafter, every year, year after year the flocks increased, arriving around August and flying back in March. The locals call these birds Kurjas, and as the numbers grew the village folk helped the young man with a “Chugga Ghar” or feeding home and a granary. Today over 20,000 feathered visitors come here to Khichan annually, and Khichan has found its place in the Birding World magazine and a spot in history as the birding village. The cranes fly daily across the specially created rectangular Chugga Ghars, to be fed in groups, post which the birds move out to nestle across the water bodies or the neighbouring dunes.

The freedom, which allows these, winged visitors to cross boundaries and fly thousands of kilometres from Siberia across Mongolia and China, over the Himalayas to this distant corner of the Thar desert like an annual ritual, the freedom that allows them to wing the depths of those endless skies, is what makes Khichan special to me… a tiny hamlet of hope, a drop of warmth, in that ocean of dreary sands.


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Written by Xplorium

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