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.
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...