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Earthian

Velavader - need for wildlife enthusiasts

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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:

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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:

 

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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:

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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 cry.gif. I hope one of the students will see this and down load it for the group)

 

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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.

 

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We went out and i saw a couple of rose ringed parakeet. they were quite well camouflaged in the trees:

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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:

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Kite flying season was on and we saw this girl intent on her kite flying. She was a picture of concentration:

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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.

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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:

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The shadows were getting longer and it was time to go back. The setting sun made a wonderful picture:

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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.

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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 :

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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.

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to be continued...

 

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Velavader is the only National park in India, exclusively established for the conservation of Blackbucks. The grassland ecosystem acts as nesting site for local migratory lesser floricans and roosting site for migratory harriers- said to the largest communal roosting site of harriers in the world.
There are a lot of birds here: harriers, kestrels, kites, eagles, buzzards, vultures, hoopoes, babblers, shrikes and drongoes.

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Don't look now...but i think that man is trying to photograph me.

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Just ignore him dear. look the other way. He would soon tire and go off....

We came upon this turtle, plodding away slowly in search of water. The only problem was that he was quite far from the water..at least a kilometer away.

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Since it was quite far from the nearest water body and i was concerned that it would die of thirst, I asked the guide whether we should pick it up and place it near the water body or alert the forest office? The boy, wise beyond his years, said that we should allow nature to chart its own course and that the turtle would find water by the end of the night.

 

Velavader National park is quite small and details regarding this park can be had here: http://gujenvfor.gswan.gov.in/wildlife/national-park/wildlife-blackbuck-park.htm

It is evident that it is not a preferred destination for the casual visitor or wildlife enthusiasts and hence the park's income would not be enough for it to be self sustaining and would have to depend upon Government funds for making ends meet. As @elefromoz suggested, Valevader could be combined with Gir National park. One could start early in the morning from Ahmedabad (which has an international airport), drive 2.5 hours to Velavader, complete a safari by 11 am; and then drive about 5 hours to Gir. It may be too much to expect visitors to spend more than a day at Velavader in the present circumstances. Some information:

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After the morning safari, we came back to the forest guest house and had a good breakfast of parathas, alu sabzi and mug dal. Settled the bill, loaded up and back to Ahmedabad with a stop at the cross roads half way for a coffee.

Thus ended our quick trip to Velavader National park.

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Thanks for the report. It's always nice to see pictures of and read about potential new wildlife destinations.

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@@Earthian, lovely photos of the local people going about their daily lives. Velavadar may be a tiny Park at 35 sq kms, but it has a heck of a lot packed into it, we saw Backbuck, Nilgai,Indian Fox, Hyena and Wolf to name a few, and birds too numerous to mention in just two drives. Blackbuck Lodge is one our favourite accomodations, just so pretty in the grasslands with the Backbuck wandering in and out to the waterhole. And contrary to what you say, we absolutely wished we'd had an extra night there. There was a group of English "birders" there at the same time and they had four nights and were thrilled at what they'd seen. I like the pano of the Blackbuck herd, such pretty animals. Glad you're getting to see a bit of your own backyard.

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@@Earthian beautiful pictures of the ungulates and the birds.

 

The male blackbuck and the male nilgai are standouts. the blackbuck is just stunning with those spiral horns. and the nilgai is really out of this world! love that pic with its tail straight up. the female nilgai is very pretty.

 

I also love that pano with all those blackbuck. it sounds like a good combo with gir and @@elefromoz seconds your suggestion. speaking of which, @@elefromoz, did i miss a TR from you on Gir and Velavader? I would love to read all the info and insights into that combo!

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We combined Velavader with Gir and Little Rann of Kutch after first going to Tadoba. We were unlucky with the hyena but saw a lot of other stuff:

http://safaritalk.net/topic/10645-a-herd-of-wild-asses-couldnt-keep-me-away-from-the-lions-tigers-and-wolves/

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@@Kitsafari, yes there is a report there titled Gujarat, rare and beautiful, as indeed it is. Also @@kittykat23uk and atravelynn have nice reports too, which helped with my planning so much.

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@@elefromoz thanks! will definitely read it tonight from home!

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~ @@Earthian

 

Thank you for this unexpected gem of a trip report.

Your thoroughness and attention to detail made it both helpful and a joy to read.

There's almost nothing about India's wildlife available where I live, so this was most helpful.

Tom K.

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Posted (edited)

I hope the turtle found water by the end of the night. My inclination, like yours, would have been to offer it a lift. It is best that did not happen. Blackbucks out in force. One of your flying flock shots looked like you were back at the kite competition. Were those larks that filled the sky with red and yellow splashes near the end of post #1. No mistaking the hoopoe (a fav).

Edited by Atravelynn
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Were those larks that filled the sky with red and yellow splashes near the end of post #1.

Yes, those were larks. Velavader has many types -Singing bush lark, Ashy crowned finch lark, Rufus tailed finch lark, Short toes lark, Black crowned finch lark, Crested lark, Sykee's crested lark, Oriental sky lark. In the morning, these larks are very active and "frolic" around in a group. They fly very fast, turn suddenly and reminded me of schools of fish. I think the ones in the photograph are the Skykee's crested lark, though i am not sure. Would like to go back, station myself on the ground, with a tripod and take some photographs.

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~ @@Earthian

 

Thank you for this unexpected gem of a trip report.

Your thoroughness and attention to detail made it both helpful and a joy to read.

There's almost nothing about India's wildlife available where I live, so this was most helpful.

Tom K.

Thank you ,Tom. Hope you had a good trip.

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@@Earthian

Thank you for a really enjoyable report. It is often the way that we do not visit great places near to our homes.

You go some excellent photos from your full vehicle! The blackbuck are beautiful animals,as are the nlgai. Great to see so many bids also.

I also enjoyed seeing people going about their daily business - and so positive that a school group was on such a visit.

Practical details also appreciated. Does "professional photographer" apply if a visitor has DSLR, long lens etc?

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Does "professional photographer" apply if a visitor has DSLR, long lens etc?

You are right. Though i am NOT a professional photographer, no way he was going to allow me without charges after seeing all the gear i was carrying, including the 600mm. I did not use it though, except for a few shots where i could step down from the vehicle.

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