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After two days of solid travel, I finally arrived at a simple rural hotel outside Bikaner, India. Upon arrival, I am acutely aware of the time difference; it is 12½ hours ahead of Colorado time.
The land journey from Delhi has been a blur of navigating roads congested with buses, trucks and three-wheelers. Motorcycles, a common sight, dart by with young men driving while young women sit side-saddle behind them seemingly unafraid of the sea of chaos around them. Throw in pedestrians, free-wandering sacred cows, a few stray dogs, 100 blaring horns (honks, beeps, musical tunes) and … you get the idea.
I came to India to meet with my friend and local raptor biologist Pranay Juvvadi. We were to work together for the next two weeks in the Thar Desert. This desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, borders India and Pakistan in western Rajasthan.
Although India is the world’s second-most populated country, western Rajasthan is strikingly rural and serene. Wildlife such as the blackbuck antelope and the Indian gazelle (or Chinkara) are common.
The area also is a haven for numerous species of migratory and resident birds of the desert, including birds of prey. This spot would function as a base for the next two weeks, as Pranay and I surveyed power lines for raptor electrocutions.
On the first day of field work, Pranay asked me to be ready at 6 a.m. It was pitch dark out with the room temperature in the high 40s. I turned on the light to find I had a new welcome roommate, a large, slow-moving gecko on the ceiling. Jet lagged, I could relate to his demeanor as I headed out to meet Pranay and our hired driver, Bahwar.
Winter is mild in this part of India and attracts migrating birds seeking a respite from the colder northern latitudes in Mongolia, China and Russia. Pranay assured me there are numerous migrating raptors at a nearby carcass dump. Our driver fired up the open-top jeep and we climbed in. We bounced along dirt roads for several kilometers then illegally veered across railroad tracks and onto a two-track road; this is where a jeep is required. As we approached the site, the stench of decay settled into my nostrils, making me glad it was cold. Our driver was from the city and has never spent time with a biologist before. He was taken aback by the smell and asked Pranay, “Why do you two want to come to such a place?” Pranay laughed as he interpreted for me.