Madhya Pradesh: On the Ken

The Ken River in Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region boasts of an unique eco system. This pretty river rises in the uplands of the Vindhya plateau and flows through the Panna Tiger Reserve and upper Bundelkhand for 427km to join the Yamuna at Chilla in Uttar Pradesh. Often called the cleanest river in central India, the reason for its purity is that it passes through less-populated forested areas, at least in its upper reaches. As a result, the river plays host to many bird species. But, like all good things, the fragile beauty of the river is threatened by egregious development, in the form of a plan to link the river with its neighbouring sister stream, the Betwa.

I took a boat ride up the river in the cool dawn of a December day last year, for a spot of birdwatching. But more than that, sailing in the Ken was a reminder of how beautiful and easy a lazy boat ride can be on India’s beautiful, bountiful rivers.

Our little boat waits in the reeds by the river. The forested ridges of the Panna Tiger Reserve in the distance. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
A tiny crab stands alert against the intruders (us). Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
Our boatman, Raju, steers the boat into the main channel of the Ken. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
A cormorant sits pretty on a rock stained by bird droppings. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
A stork flies off into the reeds with its breakfast. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
A stork crouches before take-off. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
A cormorant suns itself on the river. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
A white-throated kingfisher peeks out over a river-side rock. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya
An egret on the river. Photo: Bibek Bhattacharya