The grand Demoiselle Crane spectacle at Khichan
An amazing spectacle of Demoiselle Cranes (Anthrpoides virgo) is seen every winter at the small hamlet of Khichan in Rajasthan, India. The Demoiselles are so called, b'coz when first brought to France from the steppes of Russia, the Demoiselle Crane was so christened by Queen Marie Antoinette, for its delicate and maiden-like appearance.
This web site dedicated to the wonderful people of Khichan village (Rajasthan, India), and to their wonderful spirit of bird conservation against all odds.
Web site launched on Wednesday, 26th
of January, 2012. The site is currently being updated and will be
fully operational only around end-March, 2012.
I first met Ratanlal Maloo in 1996. Had a repeat meeting in 1998. And, after that I visited Khichana in January, 2012, when he was no more (having expired on July 7, 2009). He and his wife (with some volunteering school kids) took care of the demoiselle cranes that come to the village of Khichan in Rajasthan in the winter. And for his tireless efforts spanning four decades, he was conferred the Salim Ali Nature Conservation Award by BNHS. He lived in his 200-year-old house in Khichan. There, sitting in the shade of a kejri tree outside his house, this septuagenarian told me about his amazing journey. It began over 40 years ago when his uncle requested him to return home from Orissa. Little did Ratanlal know that it was a decision that would change his life, and the lives of tens of thousands of demoiselle cranes over the years. Since at first Ratanlal had little to do in this rather non-descript village, his uncle gave him the job of feeding pigeons. Ratanlal and his wife Sundarbai liked this idea as they were devout Jains who believed it was their duty to feed the birds.
Young Ratanlal used to carry sackfuls of grains to the feeding place and his wife would help him spread it on the ground. Initially, the usual suspects came to feed : squirrels, sparrows, pigeons, and the occasional peacock. But then, once in the month of September, he found a dozen large black and white birds he had never seen before, feeding with the regulars. The villagers told him these migratory birds had been frequenting the farmlands of Khichan of late. They were the Demoiselle Cranes (or Kurja in Rajasthani). It was love at first sight. Ratanlal fed nearly a hundred birds that first winter. But in February, they disappeared overnight. He had to wait till winter for them to come back. And this time around, there were 150 of them. Word must have spread in Mongolia and Eurasia that there was an annual feast awaiting them in Khichan, served by this gentle soul. Their number kept on increasing year after year, until it reached a staggering 15,000 within two decades.
Once the demoiselle cranes started growing in numbers, however, problems arose. The local dogs found the three-footer birds easy prey. So Ratanlal got the panchayat to allot him some land on the outskirts of the village, and coaxed the better-off villagers to help him build a granary and a fence around the Chugga Ghar (feeding home). Grains poured in from Jain traders who were supportive of the cause. A kilo of grains will feed about 10 cranes in a day. That works out to 1,500 kilos a day for the 15,000 cranes that spent around three months last winter in Kheechan, or 1.5 lakh kilos for the season.
Kheechan today is a World Heritage Site, attracting tourists from around the world who come to see the demoiselle cranes feeding right in the middle of a human settlement. It was on the terrace of a house overlooking the Chugga Ghar that I met Torbjorn Eriksen, an ornithologist from Denmark. He said he had seen many congregations of different species of birds across the world, but never one so dramatic.
There is a simple
ecological significance of Ratanlal’s act. Because the cranes get the food
they need in the Chugga Ghar, they don’t ravage the farmlands of Khichan
and surrounding villages, thereby averting a potential conflict with
Here they sip the clear water and also gobble up pebbles on the shore. Ratanlal explained that the pebbles act as grinding stones to make it easier for the cranes to digest the whole grains they consume at the Chugga Ghar. Then they have a dip in the lake, and the more romantic among them indulge in ballet-like mating dances. Just before sundown, they call it a day and fly off to a salty field nearby called Malhar Rinn where they spend the night standing on one leg. The next morning they are back at the Chugga Ghar. This routine continues till March, when one day, without any warning, they all fly off to the land of their birth in the dead of night.
On July 7, 2009, Ratanlal too flew away from this world in the middle of the night. The cranes are still aplenty at Khichan. Perhaps some of them do miss the hand that fed them for so many years !
|Location of Khichan||Demoiselle Cranes||
Tourist attractions near Phalodi-Khichan
|History of Phalodi-Khichan||
Need a guided trip to Khichan ?
|How to reach Khichan ?||
Where to stay in Phalodi ?
|Viewing Demoiselles at Khichan||
Transportaion in Phalodi-Khichan
|From a photographers' perspective||
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