Visit the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna at Prayag within the next few weeks, and you can witness hundreds of Siberian seagulls performing noisy acrobatics up in the air. They feed on whatever is made available by the rivers and the pilgrims, as also the boats cruising by.
The seagulls migrate to the subcontinent to escape Eurasia’s harsh winters. In Prayag, their presence from October to March is framed within the ecology of local beliefs. They are counted among the pilgrims who flock the confluence annually for the Magh Mela, which becomes an Ardh Kumbh every six years, as in 2019.
But if we zoom out, we see that the Siberian seagulls of Allahabad represent a marvel of planetary life. They are part of the hundreds of other winged species — including cranes, flamingos, cormorants, storks, starlings, herons, ducks and thrushes — that migrate thousands of kilometres along the Central Asian Flyway, which spans the territory between Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. Some migrations happen on the East-West or Asia-Africa axis as well. The birds soar high on thermal columns in formations that are often visible in clear November skies. The seagulls spread across the subcontinent’s waterbodies.
Their migration cycle, lasting about six months, holds valuable lessons for humans. Of endurance — a journey of thousands of kilometres in which lives are lost, the dead are grieved and the journey is continued. Of intergenerational learning — which ensures that each new generation of birds remembers the pathways, resting spots and signs of welcome and danger. Of community feeling — without which such journeys cannot be accomplished. Of coexistence — whereby the native and migrant species live side-by-side.
Of course, the cycle also offers a bird’s-eye view of life itself: Fly in, fly about, and fly out.
Text by Atul Mishra , images by Sree Deep
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