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Hello friends, After spending nearly fifty years of her life in sinful existence, my wife decided to go on a pilgrimage to wash away her sins. The intended place was Palitana hills in Gujarat, India, which is the holiest of the holies for the Jains. I'm not a Jain, not really a very religious Hindu either. I have eaten many creatures in my life and not too worried about my sins. But when I was planning the trip for her I realised there were plenty of attractions nearby which could keep me busy for a week. And when my wife promised to sponsor the trip, I decided to somehow cope with the repentance for couple of days followed by continuation of my hedonistic life style. The girls also wanted to tag along to see where their ancestors hailed from. So Gujarat : here we come. For people who are not familiar with Gujarat, it is the Westernmost state of India bordering Pakistan, famous for being the birthplace of father of the Nation, Gandhi-ji, the last few Asiatic lions of Gir forest and having the huge salt pan of Rann of Kutch. Currently the Gujaratis are more proud of the fact that the all-conquering Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi is a son of Gujarat. Most of Gujarat is not really popular with the average western tourist, who do not venture beyond the Golden Traingle. The more I did my research the more impressed I was with the hidden gems of Gujarat. I am planning to go and see the Altiplano salt desert of Bolivia, but the Great Rann of Kutch was no less impressive. The Little Rann of Kutch was a heaven for bird watching, with the last few remaining wild asses. The seven thousand year old neglected ruins of Indus valley civilisation at Dholavira would have been a star attraction in any other country. Throw in some amazing handicrafts, unique geological formations, mouth-watering vegetarian food, pronking Blackbucks, Ayurvedic Spa for the ladies, drinking camel milk straight from the udder and a great beach to relax : our itinerary looked great. Communication won't be a problem as Gujarati is my wife's mother tongue and I have also managed to learn a bit to make sure I understand what my in-laws are talking about me. I usually try to avoid the popular places wherever I travel. Checked Tripadvisor for popularity and Gir forest, Somnath and Dwarka temples were out. I do not see too many reports on Gujarat here. I know some of the regular contributors are planning a trip to Gujarat soon and there is one member from Gujarat who was very helpful to me. I feel it is my duty to raise the profile of this amazing place and show you the India beyond the Golden Triangle, Kerala and the nature reserves. A few years back Mr Modi cunningly employed the services of the biggest celebrity in India, Mr Amitabh Bachhan to promote tourism in Gujarat. Mr Bacchan's brilliant tagline was : " Kutch nehi dekha ? To kuch nehi dekha. " meaning " Haven't seen Kutch ? Then you haven't seen anything. " I entirely agree with that tagline and appoint myself as the worthy successor of Mr Big B. It is not really a wildlife trip but more of an immersion in the rich cultural heritage of India but as we did see quite a bit of wildlife, so I guess the moderators will forgive my digression. I knew February was not the best time to see the migratory birds, as they would have started their journey back to Europe again, but because of kids' school time we could not go earlier. The temperature was just right. Pretty cold in the desert in the morning needing a thick fleece at least and boiling hot by noon. Outside desert it was OK if we could avoid direct exposure to midday sun. The itinerary : 4th February : Birmingham-Dubai- Ahmadabad with Emirates. 5th: Reaching Ahmadabad at 8 am, lunch with friends and then 4 hours drive to Bhavnagar,: Lord's Resort Bhavnagar for 2 nights. Nice hotel, superb food. 6th : Whole day trip to Shatrunjay hills Palitana for pilgrimage, an hour's drive. 7th: One hour drive to Blackbuck Lodge, Velavadar, Blackbuck NP for one night. Treated like royalty, eye wateringly expensive. 8th : Five hours drive to the tiny village of Jogad at Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) to stay at Eco camp with Mr Devjibhai Dhamacha, for two nights. In touch with real India staying in Mud Huts. 9th : Day trips to the interior of LRK to the Wild Ass sanctuary. 10th,11th, 12th, 13th : Five hours of drive to the coastal town of Mandvi via a brief stop at Bhuj. Stay at Serena Beach Resort, Mandvi for four nights. Fantastic location, quite expensive for Indian standard but service needs improvemnt. Day trips to ruins of Lakhpat, rock formations of Nakhatrana and the raptor heaven of Banni grasslands. 14th : 2.5 hours drive to Dhordo via many stops to see the remarkable artisans of Gujarat, to check the last frontier post of India, Black Hills of Kutch overlooking the Rann, and overnight at Gateway to Rann resort, Dhordo to watch sunset over the white desert. Resort is a succesful community project mananged by local villagers. 15th : five hours drive circumnavigating the whole Rann to the little island in the middle of Kadir Bet, Dholavira to see the best preserved ruins of Indus Valley civilisation in India. Overnight at Dholviara Resort. Resort is an overstatement, practically in the middle of nowhere, but just what I always look for. 16th : Long seven hours drive back to Ahmedabad, but not before seeing the ancient handicraft of Patola Saree ( one single saree can cost up to five thousand pounds) and the majestic Sun temple of Modhera. Stay with friends. 17th February : spend time with friends at Ahmadabad, more shopping and start the return journey. The route map : Now time for some random pics from the proud ancient land of Garavi Gujarat. A resilient community and salute to the people of Kutch who had rebuilt their land after the devastating earthquake of 2001 killing thousands and thousands of people and flattening a whole city. Pronking Blackbuck Abandoned flamingo colony Wild asses of India Flamingos galore Swamphen
janzin posted a topic in IndiaSo we've been hashing out an itinerary for our 2nd trip to India and I'd appreciate any comments. (Our first trip last year was to Tadoba, Pench, Kanha, and Kaziranga.) We still have lots of time to make adjustments but in my eyes this is looking good. I can't really add any more days, we are pretty much at our limit of time once you add in the travel days from the US! The aim is 1) to return for more tigers; we really only had decent sightings of tiger in one park on our last trip (Tadoba) even though we visited three different tiger parks. So tigers and tiger photography is a priority. For that reason we have five nights in Ranthambhore utilizing their new permit system which allows for full day drives on three full days. 2) birding; we are pretty serious birders and bird photographers and so wanted to hit another, different area of India where we could pick up new species. 3) To see Asiatic Lion and hopefully some of the other species which would be life mammals such as Striped Hyena, Desert Fox, Indian Wolf, and Caracal (which has eluded us in Africa!) Its a lot of long drives, but we want to go to Bera for leopard as well as the magnificent looking landscape. The stop at Shapura is just to break up the long drive, but it looks like a lovely place to stay and may have time for some birding on the grounds. I hadn't realized everything in Gujarat was so far apart! Day 01 Arrive Delhi (Pride Plaza Aerocity) Day 02 Train Delhi to Bharaptur - (Afternoon Birding) (The Birders Inn- 2nights) Day 03 Bharaptur birding Day 04 Early morning birding, then train to Ranthambhore (Afternoon Game Drive) (The Ranthambhore Bagh-5 nights) Day 05 Ranthambhore (Full Day Game Drive) Day 06 Ranthambhore (Full Day Game Drive) Day 07 Ranthambhore (Full Day Game Drive) Day 08 Morning Game Drive, Later drive Ranthambhore to Shahpura (to break up drive to Bera) (200 kms/4 hrs drive); Evening birding around lodge (Shahpura Bagh 1 night) Day 09 Shahpura to Bera (260 kms/5 hrs drive) Afternoon Game Drive (Bera Safari Lodge 2 nights) Day 10 Bera (Morning & Afternoon Game Drives) Day 11 Bera (morning game drive) then drive to Little Rann of Kutch (275 kms/5-6 hrs drive) (Rann Riders 2 nights) Day 12 Little Rann of Kutch (Morning & Afternoon Game Drives) Day 13 Morning Game Drive at Little Rann of Kutch, Later drive to Gir (315 kms/6 hrs drive) (Lion Safari Camp 3 nights) Day 14 Gir (Dual morning & an Afternoon Game Drive) Day 15 Gir (dual morning & an Afternoon Game Drive) Day 16 Gir to Velavadar (220 kms/4-5 hrs drive) Afternoon Game Drive at Velavadar (Blackbuck Lodge 2 nights) Day 17 Velavadar (Morning & Afternoon Game Drives) Day 18 Morning Game Drive, Later drive Velavadar to Ahmedabad (150 kms/3 hrs drive) , Fly Delhi (Indigo 6E 162 at 1750/1935 hrs) & Departure Any thoughts appreciated, re: accommodations or otherwise!
It often happens that one tends to ignore what one has in one's backyard. In Hindi, there is a saying, "Ghar ki murgi, daal barabar" -meaning that the value of a chicken, bred in house ( as far as eating it is concerned) is akin to that of a humble pulse (grain legume). Having spent a majority of my life in Gujarat, i had yet to see some of the sights and parks- an issue which i decided to address. Accordingly, i asked one of my friends if he would be interested in visiting Velavader National Park and on his confirmation, we decided to drive down to VNP on 7th January morning. On the 6th evening, while having dinner with some students and faculty of IIT, Gandhinagar; i mentioned about the trip and that we could take two students with us, an offer immediately accepted by Prashant and Vijay-both final year students and amateur photographers. On the 7th morning, after a hearty breakfast, and after loading as much equipment and lenses as we desired -without any anxiety of carry on baggage limits- we left for VNP. The route was as follows: There are two stay options at Velavader. One is a forest guest house just inside the park called Kaliyar Bhavan Forest Guest House and second is a private resort called The Blackbuck Lodge. There is really no comparison between the two - one a government run, low price, functional and limited food choice and the other a high price private resort. We decided to try the forest guest house. The rooms here cost Rs 1000/- (US$16) per night for a non A/c room with food extra. Food is also very cheap with the cost of 4 dinners, 4 breakfasts and 8 cups of tea/coffee coming to just Rs 992/- (US$15). As i said the food is vegetarian, local cuisine, limited choices - passable. Here is a picture of it: We reached the place at around noon, having stopped on the way to sample the local agriculture produce such as Guavas, green roasted channa (chickpeas) and Ber (Ziziphus mauritiana). It was just inside the park a short distance from the gates and we could see the savannah: We checked in and enquired about lunch. Sorry, we were not told that you needed lunch and hence none prepared. Oh well! We drove a short distance to the main road and had an excellent Dhaba (roadside stall) lunch. Upon our return, we met Mr. Waghela, a conservator of forests, (officer) who explained about the park, its history and the animals resident there. he then took us to a dormitory where some 40 odd school children were housed. these children had come for a two day trip to understand the park, its residents and the need to conserve the environment. We were quite impressed by the yeomen work the Forest office was doing to protect the environment. We took a picture of the students who posed with their Master (MK Patel) and Mr Waghela. i took the email ID of the School Master, but the mail is bouncing back . I hope one of the students will see this and down load it for the group) There is an interaction centre where the environment is explained by a series of painted pictures and data. Children would not be interested in too much of written material and some innovative methods must be found to capture their attention and imagination. We went out and i saw a couple of rose ringed parakeet. they were quite well camouflaged in the trees: There were some larks in the grass. One cannot immediately see them- they are so well camouflaged- its only when then are up as a group that you notice them: We went back to our rooms and it was time for our evening safari. After paying the permit charges and camera charges ( i unknowingly paid for three cameras mine and the two students - whereas amateur camera is free) we were assigned a young man, possibly in his early 20's as our guide. The only downfall here is that you need to drive in your own vehicle. This is a double problem since my SUV was closed from all sides and i had to drive it myself! The park is about 35 sq. kms divided into two parts. There are some natural water bodies as well as artificial ones created by the forest department. At least the water bodies made here were slightly better than those at Gir or Bhandhavgarh which were brick and cement structures, designed like a horse trough, and painted white! These were mud structures, bigger, much bigger but shaped square or rectangle. The best viewing season for the birds is just when the park opens after the monsoon break ie: 15th Oct - the water is still there on the ground and breeding is in full force. This year, the monsoon was pretty poor and secondly the winter was not harsh- in fact during the day time it was warm, not uncomfortable warm, but warm- and hence the birds were fewer. Just our luck! Still, black buck were there in plenty and nilgai too. attachment=36150:MR2_5530.jpg] I had wanted to get better shots of the painted storks and some one told us that they probably would be in the village pond. After we finished our evening safari, there was still some light and we dashed to the village nearby. Alas! there was a solitary stork standing in the water, and no sign of that big group. Kite flying season was on and we saw this girl intent on her kite flying. She was a picture of concentration: We had parked the car in front of the house of one Popatbhai who asked us if we would like to have tea. Life has taught me never to look a gift horse in the mouth and even before he had finished his question , i answered "yes". So we had some kadak-meeti chai (strong and sugary). The process involves boiling equal parts of water and milk along with tea leaves and sugar. The concoction is repeatedly brought to a boil, with the results that the tannins, nicotine and other chemicals get released. Popatbhai's young daughter was aspiring to be a model and i shot a few frames. Who knows? Once she becomes famous, i could stake claim to having launched her career: The shadows were getting longer and it was time to go back. The setting sun made a wonderful picture: A truck loaded with cotton, along with the pickers came around and i was enthralled by the good nature these simple folks exhibit. They live a simple life, made do with little and offer what little they have to strangers without a second thought. They are cheerful and enjoy all that life and nature brings them. We city folks need to learn from them. We had a typical Kathiyawadi dinner- Rotla, Mashed roasted Aubergines, khichidi and khadi and retired. We got up at 5 am the next morning and went for a walk. It was still very dark and only a sliver of the moon was visible- we walked on the road outside the park- weather was invigorating and cool. A cup of tea upon our return and we were ready for our morning safari at 7 am sharp. Driving and photography can be combined if you have empty seats where you can park your gear and use the passenger window as a rest to take photographs with the long lens. However, we were five of us in the car-stuffed to the gills and it was quite frustrating to take photos with the long lens. I could take some BIF photos : In the morning, we could sight a lot of the blackbucks and nilgais. We saw one nilgai racing after another with its tail up. Tail up signals intent to fight- the intruder had encroached upon this alpha's territory. to be continued...
I may be mistaken, but i couldn't find any mention of Gir wildlife sanctuary and National Park in ST. Gir is home to Asiatic lions, which during the census carried out in 2010 numbered 411. The census takes place every 5 years and the 2015 counting has just been carried out and results are expected within the next few days. While i was there i was lucky to see a crested treeswift pair. I am informed that the crested swift is rarely sighted in this area. From where we were,(about 10-12 meters away or so) we did not realise that the small lump in the branch was in fact a nest! It looked like a knot in the branch. And when we zoomed in we could see that there was a baby too. The nest seemed to be made from leaves glued together? Could someone elaborate on this? We saw a beautiful crested serpent eagle which had just made a kill. It is a dry deciduous forest and the weather can be pretty hot in this season. The temperature went up to 43o C by noon and the dry heat is quite unbearable. No wonder all the animals retreat to relatively cooler (less hotter) surroundings from 11am till 5 pm. The asiatic lion is leaner than its african counterpart and weighs typically about 20-25 kgs less. I am informed that the asiatic lion weighs about 120 kgs. Gir sanctuary is around 370 kms from Ahmedabad and takes about 5.5 hours to get there. The roads are good. All in all, we had a wonderful time during the 4 days that we spent there.
At least I hope so, I've been waiting a long time to hear this news this decision should finally allow a second population of lions to be established a vital step towards saving the last Asiatic lions. I think creating a new population of lions (not to mention looking after tigers) is far more important than introducing cheetahs so this is good news as well. The whole idea of reintroducing cheetahs is premature and unless they can someday acquire some proper Asiatic cheetahs from Iran should not go ahead in my opinion. Gujarat's Asiatic lions must be shared - Indian court
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