National Chambal Sanctuary

Once home to Phoolan Devi and Paan Singh Tomar, the National Chambal Sanctuary is now teeming with rare and endangered species

Suvayu Paul

National Chambal Sanctuary

Merely an hour’s drive from the Taj Mahal, Chambal is situated at the convergence of three states, Madhya Pradesh on one side and Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh on the other. Declared a protected area in 1979, the Chambal river and valley stations a national bird and wildlife sanctuary namely the National Chambal Sanctuary or the National Chambal Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary harbours several amazing faunal species, several of which you can find on the ‘IUCN Red List’, the two species of crocodilians – the Marsh and Long-snouted Gharial, the Gangetic Dolphin, the Smooth-coated Otter and the Red-crowned Roof Turtle to name a few. It is home to eight species of freshwater turtles and 330 species of resident and migratory birds including the Indian Skimmer, Black-bellied Tern, Sarus Crane, Black-necked Stork and many more.

Plan Your Trip

Getting there

Air

Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia Airport, popularly known as Gwalior Airport (IATA Code: GWL) (106km approx. from National Chambal Sanctuary/ 3-hour drive via NH719) is the nearest airport. There are regular flights from Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad by Air India, Indigo, Air Asia & SpiceJet.

Delhi International Airport is a 5-hour drive via the Agra-Lucknow Expressway. 

Rail

The nearest railhead is in Agra, just 70km away. Gwalior could be another option, which is around 106k from the sanctuary.

Road

Situated on NH45, National Chambal Sanctuary is well connected to all the major cities in North India like Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Lucknow, Jaipur and Bharatpur. You can drive your own car or hire a car from Agra or Delhi to reach National Chambal Sanctuary.

best time to visit

Though the sanctuary is open all through the year, the wildlife activity varies from season to season.

  • Winter (November – February): National Chambal Sanctuary draws maximum influx of visitors during the months of October – November and February – March every year. However, the October – November period is considered the best time to visit Chambal. Winter is cool and pleasant, the mercury doesn’t dip too low and it ranges between 10°C at night to 30°C during daytime. During this time, the wetlands of Chambal act as a temporary home to a myriad of species that migrate from the suburbs of Europe, China, Serbia and Mongolia, making it a haven for bird watchers and photographers.
  • Summer (April – June): Summer is not a good time to visit Chambal. It is extremely hot and dry, making the travel experience very unpleasant. The day temperature rises up to 45-47°C. There would be hardly any animal activity during this time.
  • Monsoon (August – September): The region receives heavy rainfall during monsoon. This makes boat safari very risky. It is better to avoid Chambal during monsoon.

History

Chambal was once infamous for its denizens – the dacoits and bandits; almost every Indian who grew up in the '70s, ‘80s and ’90s are familiar with these notorious names – Daaku Maan Singh, Phoolan Devi a.k.a. the Bandit Queen, Paan Singh Tomar and many more. The labyrinths of the Chambal ravines and its dry scrub forests gave generations of bandits a safe shelter to play hide and seek with the governmental forces. But the presence of these bandits and dacoits saw the area benefit from an environmental perspective. Due to their presence, the area has seen no industrial development and the absence of polluting units in the vicinity has essentially contributed to the survival of the Chambal river and for it to thrive untouched and unpolluted. In fact, today, it is one of India’s most pristine rivers. 

A 400km stretch of the Chambal river with up to 6km wide ravines on either side, this sanctuary is a tri-state protected area with a total area of 1235 sq. km. 

Stay

For those who are not interested in staying overnight in Chambal and would like to do just a day trip, there are a number of travel agencies which offer daily trips from Agra (only an hour’s drive away) as early as 6:30AM.

There are only a handful of options in terms of staying near the sanctuary – Chambal Safari Lodge (which I recommend) and Chambal Wildlife Safari Lodge.

Chambal Safari Lodge: Nestled within a sprawling 120 acres of reclaimed woodland and pastures, the Chambal Safari Lodge is nothing but sheer luxury. This eco-friendly resort has thirteen suites/cottages, the tariffs of which may change depending on the influx of tourists from season to season. 

Call +91-9997066002 or +91-9837415512 for details.

Room Tariff:

  • Suite: ₹9500 + 28% GST

  • Cottage: ₹5500 + 18% GST

Food:

  • Breakfast: ₹550 + 18% GST

  • Lunch and Dinner: ₹1100 + 18% GST

Chambal Wildlife Safari Lodge: Started with the idea to conserve the flora and fauna of the National Chambal Sanctuary, the Chambal Wildlife Safari Lodge is a deluxe property and luxury resort based on village theme with well-equipped ultra modern eight AC cottages surrounded by lush green farmland. 

Call +91-9536105646 for details.

Room Tariff:

  • Double occupancy: ₹7500 (inclusive of GST) for two people per night with all meals (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) 

  • Triple occupancy: ₹9500 (inclusive of GST) for three people per night with all meals (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner)

See|Do

  • Gharials are the star attraction at the National Chambal Sanctuary. The sanctuary is also home to eight of the 26 turtle species that are found in India, including the Red-crowned Roof Turtle. During the winter season, especially in the months of November, February and March, one can watch Gharials and turtles the entire day. But in December and January, due to foggy weather, visibility is less. However, the moment the sun appears the Gharials and turtles position themselves to sunbathe on the banks of the Chambal river.
  • Look out for Gangetic Dolphins, Marsh Crocodiles, Indian Striped Hyenas and Smooth-coated Otters. Also, keep an eye out for the Bengal Fox and Golden Jackal.
  • Chambal is a haven for birdwatchers. There is a good chance that you will see different resident as well as migratory birds during winter, like the Indian Skimmer, River Tern, Black-bellied Tern, Pied Kingfisher, Common and White-breasted Kingfisher, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Whistling Duck, Small Pratincole, Brown Crake, Common Moorhen, different kinds of lapwings, Painted Stork, Sarus Crane, Grey Heron, Black-winged Stilt, raptors such as Laggar Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard,  Bonnelli’s Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Dusky Eagle Owl, Brown Hawk Owl and a lot more.
  • The National Chambal Sanctuary is the only place in India for nesting Indian Skimmers. They stay in Chambal from October to May/ June and can be seen both in the morning and evening.

Good to know

  • Bah is the nearest town with all facilities like ATM, pharmacy etc. You could also dine at the roadside dhabas here.
  • There is no separate guide for the river safari. A naturalist from Chambal Safari Lodge/ Chambal Wildlife Safari Lodge will accompany you.

  • All the major mobile phone networks provide moderate to good coverage inside the sanctuary.

  • Book your accommodation at the Chambal Safari Lodge/ Chambal Wildlife Safari Lodge well in advance. There are only 13 cottages/suites available at the Chambal Safari Lodge and just 8 rooms at the Chambal Wildlife Safari Lodge.

  • Carry plenty of drinking water during the river safari. 

  • Carry your photo ID card.

What to pack

  • During summer, carry loose cotton clothes, a hat/ cap, sunglasses and sunscreen lotion.

  • During winter, carry layered warm clothing, jacket, woollen cap, muffler, and gloves. You should carry light warm clothes and mufflers even in March as you will be need them for the early morning and evening river safaris.

  • Spare batteries for your camera and a power bank to charge your mobile phone, as there could be long power cuts. 

  • Binoculars if you are an avid birdwatcher.

  • Birdwatching field guide.

  • Mosquito repellent.

  • A torch for emergencies.

  • Emergency medication and prescription medicines.

For photographers

  • A telephoto lens of at least 300mm focal length is a must as Gharials and turtles won’t allow you to get very close. If they find a boat approaching them, they will immediately go back in the water. 

  • Tripod is not at all useful on river safaris.

  • Always try to carry a wide angle or kit lens to capture the interesting landscapes and panorama shots of the Chambal river along with its ravines, during early morning or evening. 

Don't Miss

  • A camel safari can be arranged which will take you to Fort Ater. An ASI-protected establishment, this grandiose wreck is located deep inside the ravines on the periphery of the sanctuary. A valued stronghold in the past, this magnificent citadel has borne witness to the heavy bloodshed and violent history of Chambal valley.

  • There is a Sarus Crane Conservation Reserve at a distance of 30km from the Chambal Safari Lodge. Basically a widespread wetland, scattered in between farm fields, it is the breeding ground of the largest congregation of Sarus Cranes in India. A 4 to 5-hour jeep safari would provide you with excellent opportunities to spot Sarus Cranes and other wetland birds. 

  • Don’t forget to visit the nearby Bateshwar temples. This ancient settlement is situated on the crescent bend of the Yamuna river. There are around 40 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. These temples were restored by ASI with help from former dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar and his gang.

  • If you have a keen interest in history, you may opt for a heritage walk to the Holipura village, just 8km away from the lodge. Located at the edge of Yamuna ravines near Bateshwar, this village is a stronghold of the Chaturvedi clan, supposedly the direct descendants of the Greek army of Alexander the Great. Holding a position of great political and social importance, many of them were influencers during Mughal and colonial British Raj and resided in grand havelis. The walk is conducted by the members of the village community.

  • Inaugurated in the fall of 2016, the 207-km bicycle highway which runs from the Taj Mahal to the National Chambal Sanctuary, via the Bateshwar temples and the lion safari at Etawah, is an innovative tourism project which connects 92 remote villages whilst offering a way to witness and discover rural India in real terms. Visitors would be able to hire bicycles and ride to the sanctuary.

Budget per person

Expect to spend approximately ₹10,000 per person for a weekend trip, inclusive of a good stay, transport, and all fees and charges.

The safari charges will be as below:

River Safari: The river safari costs ₹1850 plus 5% of GST per person. The safari charge also includes forest entry fee. The boat can accommodate two to four photographers comfortably (depending on camera gears) or six non-photographers. 

Camel Safari: Camel Safari can be arranged for Fort Ater. The cost is ₹1850 plus 18% GST. This cost includes the entry fee of National Chambal Sanctuary, service of an escort, camel safari through the Chambal ravines up to Fort Ater and back to base at the edge of the Chambal river.

Jeep Safari: Jeep safari to the Sarus Crane wetland area will cost you around ₹1850 plus 5% GST. This includes the cost of travel, service charge of a trained naturalist and one escort.  

Guide/ Naturalist charges: There is no separate guide/naturalist charge for safaris.

Camera charges: There are no separate camera charges.

Transportation cost from Agra to the National Chambal Sanctuary is around ₹2000 in an AC Sedan.

Suvayu Paul - Wildlife Enthusiast

Suvayu Paul

Wildlife Enthusiast

An IT professional, Suvayu is a passionate photographer by choice. Whenever he gets time away from his busy office schedule, he makes sure to visit different national parks across India to observe and photograph the inhabitants of the jungles. He posts as @suvayu.paul on Instagram and blogs at suvayupaul.wordpress.com.