It is a story often told. Almost every newspaper or TV station worth its salt has covered it. Even the BBC has been here. So to make it short, the local community in the village of Khichan started providing feed to a small flock of migrating demoiselle cranes. The small flock brought in a bigger one, the year later. And they in turn brought in an even bigger one. Decades later, this sleepy little village, halfway between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan is a global tourist attraction. For every year, between September and March – thousands of of these winged visitors find their way here, from their breeding grounds in Central Asia and Mongolia.
The Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo) is the smallest among the gruiformes or cranes as they are commonly known. Their petite appearance is said to have given them their name. In India they are known as kuraj or kuranja, and are considered sacred by Jains, Hindus and Sikhs among other religions.
I had of course read a lot about Khichan, and how its denizens had made it their life’s mission to serve and protect these birds. Over the years, many plans to visit Khichan had been quietly buried before hatching. It took a spur of the moment decision to pack bags and camera gear, and set off on the 600 km drive to winter home of the cranes. We stayed with Sewa Ram Mali, a man who has dedicated his whole life in the service of these birds. His humble home, abuts the feeding ground set up by the locals, and provides the best vantage point to observe them. And he told us to expect magic in the morning.