There are over a dozen waterbodies in a 50 km radius around the city of Nashik. The largest and most beautiful of them is Nandur Madhmeshwar Bird Sanctuary, known as the Bharatpur of Maharashtra.
Islands of reeds float serenely in this vast waterbody created by the backwaters of the Nandur dam. It's at the confluence of two rivers, Kadwa and Godavari, and plays host to the confluence of thousands of migratory birds every year. The guests include demoiselle cranes, pratincoles, wooly-necked storks, mallards, Eurasian spoonbills, bar-headed geese and brahminy ducks.
As you gaze at them wide-eyed, you wonder what makes them take up this annual pilgrimage. Is it to escape the harsh winter in their homelands or just instinctual wanderlust? To reach their winter homes, they undertake a journey that lasts days and nights, flying nonstop through hostile landscapes, across oceans, guided only by the cells in their bodies.
The striking difference between Bharatpur in Rajasthan and Nandur in Maharashtra is the sheer accessibility of the two waterbodies. In Bharatpur, there is a network of pathways that traverse the park. You can observe the birds from up close while cycling along these paths or on a boat ride through the sanctuary. At Nandur though, you don't have the luxury of such a network. The birds have to be watched from the watchtowers built along the periphery of the park. And some of these watchtowers were still marooned in December as the waters were yet to subside. The only other option was to trek along the fringes of the lake. This too was impossible as the heavy monsoon had made the edges of the lake marshy and inaccessible.
The monsoon also delayed the coming of the winter visitors. Every year by November the early birds start arriving, and by December the lake is teeming with them. This year the lake is only expected to be full by the third week of January. Their return flight is usually in February, but it may get delayed by a month.
Changing climatic patterns have affected even the lives of these birds living thousands of miles away. In Nashik, there are many more waterbodies that host this avian spectacle: the wetlands of Waghad and Gangapur, the Dharna backwaters, and the lakes of Girna, Palkhed and Alandi.
How to get there Take the Nashik-Aurangabad highway. After 25 kms, turn right towards Saaykheda. Then after another kilometre, turn left towards Nandur. It's about 18 kms from there.
Where to stay: Tents are available with the Forest Department -- call 0253 231 7114 to book one. A better idea would be to stay at Nashik, and hit the road in the wee hours of the morning. Best time to visit: January and February.