GUJRAT WILDLIFE DIARY

Text : Andrew Ramsey  . . . . . . . . . .

Indian Fox | Little Rann of Kutchh


Text By : Andrew Ramsey

Andrew Ramsay worked in the UK Civil Service – latterly the Department for Culture Media and Sport , before retiring in 2011. He lives in Norfolk, England and his interests include gardening, birds and moths. Andrew is an ardent traveler and a serious bird watcher from London, UK. He has got immense knowledge and a great interest in Oriental Art & Culture. Almost regularly he has been visiting India & neighboring countries since early 70’. He is great human being, passionate about India and its natural and cultural heritage, a fun loving person and very enthusiastic about every little issue associated with travel. All these qualities make him a great traveler and wonderful companion. He has traveled the wildlife and birding areas of Bhutan, Gujarat, Sundarbans & Manas with us.


 

Gujarat 24 February – 11 March 2017

For our third trip with Wandervogel Adventures – previously the Sunderbanns and Bhutan – four of us spent two weeks in Gujarat in February/March. I had been there briefly in the 1980s, but this time we wanted to concentrate on birds and animals whilst seeing a little of the culture and  history as well. We certainly succeeded – over 200 species of birds and 28 mammals/reptiles on the trip, though it was the quality of the experience not the numbers that really mattered. Throughout we were brilliantly looked after by Siddartha Goswami and the excellent driver of our. comfortable Tempo Traveller. Local experts joined us as we moved round.

This is what we did.

Little Rann of  Kutch  | Days 1 to 3

 Just 16 hours out of London, we arrived in the dark at Rann Riders Dasada – small cottages in a flowery garden full, as became clear in the morning, of birds and butterflies. The days began early. Before dawn we set off in an open-topped jeep, rather cold but we saw the sun rise and it soon warmed us up.We spent time in the extraordinary flat expanses of the Little Rann, in neighbouring cultivated land and on a lake. There were glimpses of life in the villages and the salt workings.

Wildlife Highlights – Wild Asses running by the jeep; families of Indian and Desert foxes; Montague’s Harrier; a group of Indian Thickknees; Indian Coursers; Flamingos; 2 Eagle Owls; Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles; Short-eared Owl and Sykes Nightjar seen by torchlight.

Indian fox | Little Rann of Kutchh

Great Rann of Kutch | Days 4 to 6

It’s a long drive to GRK but the roads are good and there is never a dull journey in India – a circus elephant travelling on the back of a truck; nomadic people with their camels on the dual carriageway; huge salt pans just some of the things that caught our eye. By-passing Bhuj we arrived at Sam-E-Sharhad in the afternoon – a mud-baked compound containing round huts beautifully furnished with local textiles. As it was the season’s end we were  alone. We visited nearby villages  and came away with some of the marvellous embroidery produced by the local craftswomen. Dinner by candlelight, thanks to a power cut, under a  very clear starry sky.

We were on our way at dawn after a breakfast enlivened by 2 Nilgai which jumped into the compound and ran past us.

For the next 36 hours Jugal Tiwari a passionate, knowledgeable and engaging ecologist who runs CEDO in Nakhatrana, looked after us.. As we toured the Banni Grassland, scrub and desert we learnt a lot about the issues wildlife faces here(most recently the shooting of cranes). His guesthouse is comfortable and has a luxuriant garden which boasts Marshall’s Iora in the trees. Particular memories include – , breakfast by a rocky outcrop whose guardian was a red-tailed wheatear; watching, from a few feet away, Mahratta Woodpeckers and Petronia fighting over a nest-hole; walking out from an isolated village in search of the Grey Hypocolius; seeing 15000 cranes fly in to roost on a lake – the residue of last year’s monsoon –  as the twilight faded and the moon rose.

Wildlife highlights – Sykes Lark; White-naped Tits; Painted Sandgrouse; Grey Hypocolius; Indian Eagle owl; Pallid Scops Owl; the Cranes; Golden Jackal; Indian Gazelle; Black-naped Hare; Desert Monitor Lizard.

Crab plover | Little Rann of Kutchh

Mandvi | Day 7

South to Mandvi on the coast. After viewing the enormous wooden ships under construction by the harbour and checking out several textile workshops(tie-dye, batki)we reached our “hotel” – luxurious tents set just behind the beach, all the comforts and mod cons.Again we were on our own. Lunch looking out to sea. In the afternoon visits to the Vijay Vilas Palace – a wonderful 19c confection – and the Swaminaryan Templle, right up to date. Later we had dinner watching the fishing boats return to port.

Jamnagar | Days 8 and 9

 A number of stops on the way to Jamnagar. First Bhuj, badly damaged in the 2001 earthquake but still retaining some of its magic, not least in the Aina Mahal. Just outside the city is the Living and Learning Design Centre, excellent textile  displays assiduously documented. It’s definitely worth a visit but check opening times.Shortly before Jamnagar we diverted to a beach, strewn with the detritus of a religious festival, in search of crab plovers. When they did not seem to be at home where expected, S persuaded a local fisherman to take us out in pursuit. Soon the striking black and white waders materialised close to the boat.

Jamnagar is a long way from the peace of the desert or beach but we enjoyed the bustling city-centre Hotel President, an excellent restaurant and the opportunity to catch up with the Test Match (in the home town of Ranjit Sinhji).With this as our base for two days we went south, past a gigantic oil refinery, to salt pans and then to various points on the coast in the Marine National Park.

Wildlife highlights – crab plovers,Osprey, Black-necked Grebe,Great Knot, Great Thickknees and a Long-toed Stint(which particularly pleased our guide).

Asiatic lion | Gir National Park

Gir | Days 10 to 12

A long and winding road to Gir, last home of the Asiatic Lion – past the temple covered Hill of Girnar, stopping at Junagadh with its exquisite Mahabarat Maqbara mausoleum, fort and strong feeling of the past. (The Ashoka Pillar, first entry 250 BC, was shut for repairs.). Near the reserve at Gir we were again in cottages in a flowery garden (Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher spotted) and the food, after a mistaken “western” effort, was excellent. We made four visits to the reserve, S making sure we had guides who knew the birds.Thanks to a recent kill near one of the tracks we were lucky enough to see lions at close quarters a couple of times. And some of us also glimpsed a leopard.

Wildlife highlights – male and female Lions, Leopard, Golden Jackal, Red Mongoose, a huge Marsh Crocodile,lots of Spotted Owlets, Black Stork, the amazing colours of the Coppersmith Barbet. 2 Indian Nightjars camouflaged on the branch of a tree.

Palitana | Day 13

We took a roundabout route to Palitana, first heading south to the mighty but much ravaged seaside temple at Somnath. Our visit coincided with one by Prime Minister Mhodi. This entailed a huge police presence (we got stuck on the wrong side of a cordon and expected to be there for hours but were given a lucky reprieve). The PM followed us, or vice versa, to Diu, his helicopter flying in above  as we arrived. Diu seems best known these days for the alcohol it sells next to “dry” Gujarat, but its mixture of India and the relics of a Portuguese past are charming (without the drawbacks of Goa). We had lunch by the sea before heading on.

Just outside Palitana, the Vijay Vilas Palace, now a small hotel, is truly delightful – comfortable, welcoming, in lovely gardens and sitting near the foot of the the Satrunjaya Hill. The temples on the Hill, over 800 of them, are one of the unmissable sights of India. The 3,500 steps up are best climbed at dawn before the heat gets going. We set off in the dark at 4.45am joining a stream of pilgrims with torches making their way via the wayside shrines.. Thanks to a foot injury I was carried up in the local equivalent of a sedan chair(not as embarassing as it sounds since plenty of others were doing the same and you are unlikely to provide the carrying team with their heaviest load. I walked up in 1982 so it was good to have a different experience!) The dawn rose as we went up (taking about 2 hours, and 30 minutes to descend, at a trot) and it was fully light when we entered the temples. For a magical outing this takes some beating.

Grey nightjar | Gir National Park

Velavadar | Day 14

After the temples and  a late breakfast we travelled on to Velavadar. The Black Buck Lodge here is luxurious, the food refined and delicious, the staff endlessly helpful. Animals roam near the cottages and the local birds are given every encouragement. On a late afternoon drive round the park we saw many of the Black Buck with their extremely smart markings, Nilgai, an Indian Grey Wolf, an Imperial Eagle and much more.

Ahmedabad | Day 15

En route to Ahmedabad, we stopped off at Sarkej Rosa  a stunning complex of Islamic buildings -mosque, mausoleum, and palace beside a huge empty tank. It appeared not to be much visited though only a mile or

so from a main road into the city – certainly worth a much longer detour. In Ahmedabad we headed for the House Of M and G, a spectacular historic building ,now a hotel,, with huge bedrooms furnished in the appropriate style. A tremendous place to end up. In the late afternoon we plunged into the bracing hurly-burly of the old city to visit the Jama Masjid, a pair of splendid tombs and a few of the wonderfully decorated wooden houses that have survived. Dinner on the roof of M and G looking out over the city.

Mumbai | Day 16

And that was it. An early start before the city was up to catch the plane for Mumbai and home. A fantastic trip.

 

Image © Siddhartha Goswami