Reminiscing about the natural encounters from the previous year, the start of 2023 slowly shaped up to be more interesting. I got selected for 2023’s PhotoKTM5 Residency Program at Jatayu Vulture Restaurant, Kawasoti.
PhotoKTM is a biennial festival held in Patan, and in their own words:
“PhotoKTM creates conversations between the city, its public, its past, and its aspirations. The festival invites photographers and other practitioners who engage with or through the visual medium to develop, showcase and participate in an exhibition program, workshops and symposia, a residency, an incubator program for practitioners from across South Asia, a local arts education program for young people in the city, and various collaborative pop-up events among other core and collateral programming.”
The residency program was done by PhotoKTM in collaboration with Jatayu Vulture Restaurant and Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN). This was my first time having been selected for any residency program, and the opportunity to stay in Kawasoti for a month to learn about conservation was second to none.
The 5th edition of PhotoKTM will be held in Patan, Lalitpur, Nepal, from February 24 to March 31, 2023. With the residency starting on the 18th, I started working on completing the pending work and also prepared the blog posts for the individual species so that I could post them from Kawasoti as well.
While this was happening, an opportunity to go to Sauraha also popped up. I had to assist with a video shoot and couldn’t say no to a project that was outside of the valley.
Suddenly, after more than 4 years of not visiting Sauraha, this was my second trip in a month. With all the equipment packed for the next four days, the trip started. The road till Bhorle was foggy, so there weren’t any sightings of birds except for some Red-vented Bulbul and some Common Myna. Reaching Sauraha, I was excited to see some massive hives that the wild honey bees (most likely the Apis dorsata species) had made near the roof of the hotel we were staying in.
On the banks of the Rapti River, the hotel overlooked the community forest to the west. This was perfect as the winter sunset always looks magical and some of the water birds would also be visible. During my stay, I was able to see some Ruddy Shelduck, an Eastern Imperial Eagle, an Osprey diving into the Rapti River during its hunt, some Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorants, and a Black Kite. While on a lunch break, I could also spot a One-horned Rhinoceros crossing the river and heading to the Sauraha market. This particular Rhino is now a common sight around Saurah Bazaar.
After finishing the shoot, we were able to do a local canoe ride in the river nearby. The fog covering the forest on either side slowly revealed its treasures as the canoe flowed through the slow current of the Budi Rapti river. A Lesser Adjutant could be spotted perched on top of a tree, while a Common Kingfisher could be heard in the distance. We also passed River Lapwings as they were foraging around the banks.
The winter drama at its best made the experience surreal as we were able to witness a Samber Deer crossing the river far in the distance. Downriver, we also saw a herd of Spotted Deer near a jungle clearing, a troop of Rhesus Macaque in the trees near the river, and a Mugger Crocodile at the edge of the river.
PHOTOKTM – JATAYU VULTURE RESTAURANT
Back in Kathmandu and after a couple of days of preparation, the month-long stay in Kawasoti started with fellow participants Jonas Böttern from Sweden and Nilanjana Nandy from India. I don’t recall myself staying outside the valley in a single place for a month. This was a new experience for a guy who used to have a pretty active nomadic outdoor itinerary. I was super excited to experience and learn about this place, the Tharu heritage, and the vulture conservation this place is known for.
Settled in our designated home for the month, the Heaven Green Jungle Resort, we finally got to meet DB Chaudhary and the team from Jatayu. The conversation centered around Jatayu and BCN’s work, as well as our area of research for the month.
The Jayatu Vulture Restaurant, located on the outskirts of Laukani, Kawasoti, is the brainchild of DB Chaudhary and the first community-managed vulture feeding station. This place has been a haven for vultures since 2007 as it provides Diclofenac-free dead cattle given by cattle farmers around the community. The creation of this system and space has resulted in an increase in population and even different species of vultures in the area. The nesting has also increased significantly.
The next day, we went on a visit to the Jatayu Vulture Restaurant and also the Namuna Community Forest. Entering Jatayu, we could instantly see the vultures, either perched on the big Simal trees or sitting on the nests. I can’t imagine the amount of effort the team has put into making this place a safe sanctuary for vultures. This is commendable work that needs to be shared more.
Jatayu has a bird hide to observe the vultures up close, so we got ourselves a seat to observe them while feeding. As the animal carcass was placed in the center of the open ground, vultures began flying in. The sheer number of vultures that came to the feeding was impressive. I got to witness five species of vultures in one place. After the feeding, we slowly headed to the Namuna Community Forest, which was another beautiful spot to visit.
Community forests in Nepal have been a model for conservation, and this was one of those success stories as well. The community forests that I have visited in the Terai region have been a source of inspiration and a place where I have had a lot of my flora and fauna sightings. The other aspect of Naumna Community Forest that I was happy to see was its grasslands.
There are always talks about tree plantations when it comes to saving biodiversity, but grasslands are equally important, if not more. We have lost a lot of grassland in the Terai region, as well as places at higher elevations, and we are still losing more, so the conservation of these places is critical. This community forest was one exception where I was able to see that the grassland was taken seriously.
Walking through the grasslands of the Namuna Community Forest, we headed to the banks of the Narayani River and got to see some of the migratory birds that had arrived in Nepal. There were Bar-headed Goose, Gadwall, Mallards, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Teal, along with other birds like the Pied Kingfisher and Common Sandpiper.
We were also able to learn about the Tharu heritage, the indigenous methods of conserving forests, ways of maintaining grasslands, the displacement of the indigenous Tharu community when the Chitwan National Park was established, the haphazard way of distributing land to the people from outside the region that have now created problems in the biodiversity of the place and a lot of stories about the area through Birendra Mahato, the director of the Tharu Cultural Museum and Research Center in Sauraha.
This was one of those invaluable moments to know about Chitwan, and especially the indigenous Tharu community who have lived here for since time has known.
On the remaining days of the month, we attended multiple feedings and learned more about the birds at the Jatayu Vulture Restaurant. The resident program is still ongoing, and I am excited to see what the month of February has in store for us.
Below are some of the species of flora and fauna that I was able to spot in February.
Baya Weaver, Grey-breasted Prinia, River Lapwing, Common Kingfisher, White-rumped Vultures, Himalayan Griffon vulture, Cinereous vulture, Red-headed vulture, Slender-billed vulture, Ruddy Shelduck, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Osprey, Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorant, Black Kite, Common Teal, White Wagtail, Pied Kingfisher, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Jungle Myna, Common Myna, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Pied Bushchat, Plum-headed Parakeet, Greater Coucal, Indian Pond Heron, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Tailorbird, Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie, Jungle Owlet, Lesser Adjutant, White-breasted Waterhen, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongo, Stork-billed Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Red-vented Bulbul, Red-naped Ibis, Indian Roller, Common Sandpiper, etc.
One-horned Rhino, Spotted Deer, Golden Jackel, Jungle Cat, Wild Boar.
Simal Tree (Bombax ceiba), Bakena tree (Melia azedarach), Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), Water Cabbage (Pistia stratiotes), Sal (Shorea Robusta), Curry Leaf Plant (Bergera koenigii), etc.
It was a good month of traveling and learning. I’ll be back at the end of February with more stories on Kawasoti and the Jatayu Vulture Restaurant.
Ajay Narsingh Rana
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