Saturday, 17 May 2014

Kutch, "Kutch nahi dekha to kuuch nahi dekha"

As avid travelers we were aware of the unique landscape that Kutch has to offer, so we kept Kutch in our itinerary. Kutch was the last destination that we intended to visit in this Gujarat trip.


Sunrise shot of a flock of Flamingo
  From Gir we went back to Ahmedabad. We had already booked our stay with Bhavana Resorts and Farms(http://bhavnafarm.com/index.html) in Little Runn of Kutch which is about 90 km from Ahmedabad.

  There are two Ranns of Kutch, the Greater Rann of Kutch(GRK) and the lesser Rann of Kutch(LRK). The advertisement in which you see Mr Bachchan walking on the silvery white land under a full moon is shot in GRK(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PHfcd9AZ6s). GRK is famous for the stunning white ground that looks out of the world on full moon nights. A lot of birders also flock to GRK since a variety of birds and small land predators are found there. The Rann Utsav is held every year in GRK.


  The LRK on the other hand, is closer to Ahmedabad and is famous for its Indian wild asses and water birds. Since we were more eager for wild Indian asses we decided for LRK.

  Our package at Bhavana included two safaris, the evening safari(on the same day) and the morning safari (the next day). The resort is very beautiful. There are nice cottages each with its open front balcony and a swing. The outer walls of the cottages are plastered with mud and decorated with mirrors and painting to give them a bucolic look.

  Our dedicated driver for both the safaris was Ali Bhai. He is someone extremely patient and knowledgeable about the birds and their habitats. He can be reached at 9427456592.

  In the evening safari Ali bhai first took us to a salt factory. We saw heaps of unprocessed salt outside the factories. They look like big grey crystals. We were taken inside a factory where we saw salt processing and packaging.


Salt Factory

Salt Crystals

Huge heaps of salt
  From there we were taken to the Rann. We saw a few water bodies mostly dried up because of the dry months, but were full with birds and ducks. There were flocks of flamingos and cranes. We took some photos but did not wait much, anyway the next day safari was for bird sighting. Today we must not miss the wild asses.


Wild Ass


  On reaching the Rann we were taken to a barren place where you can see miles in the distance and there is not much vegetation nearby. The earth is parch and barren with beautiful crack patterns on them.There we saw about twenty wild asses. The beautiful creatures were simply standing and doing nothing. We moved a little closer to them but they still remained stationary.
We stayed and clicked them for almost an hour. Then Ali told us that he will take us to some place to see the sunset.


Taking eye level shot of the Wild Asses
  He took us to a place called sunset point. There was already over a hundred people who had come to see the sunset. Since Ali understood that we are very much interested in taking perfect sunset clicks so he stopped the car a little further from the crowd where there was no people. We fixed our cameras on tripods and waited for the sun to get down.

  The sunset was really beautiful. The sun looked like a huge red egg yolk and slowly it sank below the horizon. The texture of the earth, the colour of the sky and the huge red sun gave us some outstanding shots.


Sunset

Sunset

  After witnessing the sunset we got into our car and headed back to our resort. The temperature dropped drastically and it was so cold. Luckily for us, Ali told us to carry jackets and mufflers at the time we stepped out for the safari. In LRK the day is hot and the nights very cold.


During Sunset

Star Trail at LRK
  The next day we headed for the birds. At our resort gate we saw two colourful indian rollers. Then we saw some francolins running on the fields on either sides of the road. Ali bhai took us to a large water body and told us to wait. The sun still has not come out and we were waiting in our car. Within five minutes we saw a huge flock of flamingos descend before us. There were at-least two hundred of them.


Indian Roller
  Both me and Ankur were moving very systematically towards them, we were taking a few shots and them moving a few feet towards them so that even if the birds fly away we will still get some progressive close up shots. We came very near to the periphery of the water and at a very short distance from the birds. The birds also took us for granted and did not move away when all of a sudden three naughty dogs came from nowhere. They just came with the sole intention of scaring away the birds and deriving pleasure from there. They just did that and went away. I feel they do this quite regularly and it is one of their favorite plays. Sadly for us the birds were gone.


Flock of Rosy Pelicans

Greater Flamingo
  Ali bhai took us to another place. There were birds; but they were very far away. So again he took us to a different water body. Here we got some different birds. We saw a big imperial eagle at a distance, sarus cranes, northern pintails, stilts, ibis and ducks. We also saw a beatiful brown shoulder kite.

  But we were still not happy. We still need pelicans and flamingos. Though we have already photographed flamingos at Nal sarovar but what about the rosy and dalmatian pelicans? Sensing this, Ali bhai took it as challenge. He told us that he will take us to another spot a little far where people mostly don't go and try to see if anything is there.

  On reaching there we understood why people mostly do not go there. There are two connected water bodies guarded by thorny bushes! We cautiously made our way through the bushes and then what we saw was a pelican and flamingo paradise. There was a thin channel of water that was connecting both the water bodies and we decided that we will cross it over to get as much close to the pelicans.


Rosy Pelican

Flock of Rosy Pelican

Flock of Rosy Pelican

Crane

Saras Crane


 Both of us held our hands tight, each supporting the other. Soon I realized that the depth of the water is not very less, its at half foot lesser to my waist. Moreover the clay was sticky and slippery. I almost toppled but luckily managed to save myself and the camera.

  The effort payed off well. Since the birds do not find much disturbance here they were not intimated by us and we got some satisfactory shots. We again crossed the water channel and the bushes. Both of us were half covered in mud clay. Our sneakers were oozing mud water in every step that we took, but luckily Ali was carrying a big can of water. We did some initial cleaning and got on our open jeep.

  Every child in the village will wave at you if they understand you are a tourist. Such incredible warmth and such an incredible place. We are sure we will come back to Gujarat again and again.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Gir, The King and We

  Gir will always always always be special for us..........well when the King meets you, its always special!


The King

  We left Velavadar at 10 AM and started our journey for Gir. Gir, which is now the last home for the Asiatic Lion is around 210 km from Velavadar. We reached Gir at around 5 PM, a little late because of the numerous halts in between.

  There are numerous hotels all lined on the road, mostly opposite the main entrance of Gir National Park. We checked in one such hotel. I do not remember the name but the hotel was new and the staff  friendly. We had an early dinner and went to bed as we did not have much to do on that day. Our safari was on the next day.

  Three safaris are held everyday. The slots are like 6AM-9AM, 9AM-12PM and 3PM-6PM. The early morning and the evening safaris are the best as the chances of seeing the magnificent beast is good. However, I booked the 9AM-12PM safari slot.

  I had already brought the e-permit from http://girlion.in/. Without the e-permit, no safari ticket is issued. In case you do not buy the e-permit online, it is advisable that you check with your hotel or travel agent from before hand as the permits are limited and get exhausted very fast.

 In case you have brought the permits online, then at the time of purchasing safari tickets you must have your permit document, id proof and off course money.

  The cost of e-permit is Rs 200 per person, jeep cost is Rs 1200, guide charges is Rs 200 and any camera above 7 MP is charged Rs 100.

  We got on a jeep. There was a driver and a guide and luckily both were very good and outstandingly superb spotters. There are total 7 tracks in Gir and every jeep is randomly assigned a track. We were assigned to track 2.

  For the first 30 minutes we saw nothing, not even a single crow. I started whining to myself that why the hell I booked this 9AM-12PM slot. All the animals must have gone inside the jungle away from the dusty tracks. Just then our jeep screeched and halted. It drove half meter back.......our guide pointed to some pug marks.....yes there were fresh pug marks on the dust. Our guide told us that the pug marks are that of a lioness.


Pug Mark

  The heat was increasing and so was our anticipation, but still no lions anywhere. Next we saw some playful monkeys. Our guide got down from the jeep and picked up a plastic garbage. Some utterly insensible tourist must have thrown the plastic container during his or her safari after munching on potato chips so that some animals can later fall victim. I have a sincere request to all my readers here... I know you guys are responsible tourists, but in case, if you find anyone littering any place(specially national parks) please stop them immediately. I myself have done this many times and have reminded the litter makers to kindly use the great invention called "dust bins".

  Next were some peacocks and peahens. There was at least 15 to 20 in the group. Our jeep came close to a water hole. Though there was no lion but there were several deer and two brightly colored king-fishers. We also saw a huge flock of plum headed parakeets nibbling on some fruit on a branch above us.


Laughing Dove

Peocock

White throated Kingfisher

Plum headed parakeet
  Our guide pointed his finger to a bush. The bush was golden yellow as the leaves have dried because of the scorching sun. At first I could not see anything. Our guide told us that there are two golden jackals resting. Everything was so well camouflaged, I wonder how he could spot. Anyway finally with a lot of help from Ankur and our guide I also spotted the two jackals.


Record shot: Jackal
  We also saw a pair of painted francolin. They were moving very fast but somehow I managed a click just for records.


Francolin
  Almost an hour and half had passed but still no lion. I was praying hard, that even if we do not get to see a lion at least a lioness will do.But still nothing came our way. We were instantly cheered up when our guide directed our attention towards two very cute half sleep spotted owlets peeping from a hole from the trunk of a dead tree. We took some lovely photos of the super cute 
owlets.


Spotted Owlet

Spotted Owlet
Then something happened.....and that is history.
Another driver who was coming from the opposite direction to us told our driver that some 5 km ahead there can be a chance of seeing a lion. Our driver hurried. When we reached the spot there was another vehicle standing. They had already spotted a lion!! Our jeep stood there and then wonders unfurled before us. There were two male lions and they hunted a nilgai right before our eyes. For us TIME STOPPED.

  All while I was praying to see a lion or even a lioness and now there are TWO lions in front of us tearing down a whole live nilgai. Our guide told us that the two males are biological brothers otherwise two lions generally do not stay together. He instructed us not to move, make any noise or take any photos till the hunt was over. The reason is if the lions do not hunt down the nilgai, the lions will go hungry and the nilgai will also die from injuries. Safeguarding the welfare of these endangered species who have made Gir their last resort is the foremost concern of our dutiful guide.

  But I am sure that even if he had not told us, not to click photos we wouldn't have. We were so much jaw dropped with surprise that we forgot our cameras and were totally transfixed with what happening in front of us. After a few minutes when our guide told me "Madam now you may take photos" we came back to this mortal world and took some great snaps.


Lion tearing down the nilgai

Lion tearing down the nilgai

 We still had half an hour of safari left when our driver wanted to know whether we want to roam or come out of the national park. We told him that we are good to come out of Gir NP. We thanked our wonderful guide and driver, the magnificent Gir NP and Gujarat and also our luck that day. We really captured some great moments in our minds and in our cameras. Slot  9AM-12PM was not bad :)


The King. The Lion

The Lion

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