It was 8 in the morning. We’d woken up at 4:45 and driven over a hundred kilometres to Bhigwan. We waited a long while for our boat, and as we waited, we looked at terns, gulls, storks and stilts around us. And then, eventually, we boarded a boat and made our way across the waters towards the flamingoes.
As we sat there, watching geese and ibises, I looked at the water around me and thought about what draws me to Bhigwan year after year. Why do I wake up in the pre-dawn hours and travel before light to a place two hours away?
(Incidentally, when we went this time, my great-aunt had an interesting question, “Do flamingoes stink?” That was one of the questions I pondered as I sat and gazed at the pink-legged flamingoes in the distance. I still cannot answer that.)
I looked at the painted storks, which look like old men walking with their hands behind their backs.
I gurgled with delight at the spoonbills – still my favourite.
Every time the light showed me the gap in the beaks of the open-billed stork, I felt a little spurt of joy, as if it was somehow a little victory on my part.
But as we looked around, I realised that I visit Bhigwan for two reasons.
The first, as always, is stories. Everyone has a story to share, and stories about the wild are stories I love. This time, for instance, I learned that the woolly-necked stork is called वकील (vakeel), or lawyer. Look at its black coat, black hair and white collar. Isn’t it a delightful name?
When I saw the bar-headed geese, I remembered their story. They fly over the Himalayas, braving blizzards and snowstorms, and come to Bhigwan to eat grass! How incredible is that?
And that brought me to the second reason I visit Bhigwan: I am overwhelmed, year after year, by what I see as an act of faith. Birds flock here in hundreds, in thousands because they know they will be safe here. Safe from their harsh winters. Safe from cold winds. And when we pollute the waters, are we really living up to that faith?
Yet, they come. They come and stand. They fulfil mundane goals in time that is suspended. In that moment, they bring together the permanence and transience of nature. Bhigwan, year after year, fills me up.