Saturday, 19 July 2014

Gujarat, winding up our Gujarat trip

Since I have written so many blog posts on the different places we visited during our 9 day Gujarat tour, I thought why not consolidate all my Gujarat posts in one place.
Both of us at work
 We visited Gujarat during winter when the weather is pleasant and also the chances of spotting birds is very high.

 Our tour itinerary was something like this:

 We reached Bhopal from Bangalore and spent a day there. In Bhopal, we visited Sanchi and Bhimbetka. Sanchi is famous for its Buddhist stupa and Bhimbetka for its pre-historic rock paintings. Both the sites are UNESCO World Heritage sites.


Sanchi Stupa
Cave painting at Bhimbetka


 Sanchi Blog :  http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/02/sanchi-in-search-of-stupas.html
 Bhimbetka Blog :  http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/02/bhimbetka-prehistoric-rock-shelters.html

 We stayed at :
 Hotel Kamal Regency (opposite platform no 1,Main Railway Station,Bhopal)
 Ph : 0755-4042400/1/2/3              
 Phone booking is available              
 The hotel has location advantage but does not provide absolute value for money              
 The veg biriyani, that their restaurant provides, is fabulous.


 Our Driver: Yogesh Ph : 09893133429 Very good driver


 From Bhopal we took a bus to Ahmedabad. From here our Gujarat tour started.

 In Ahmedabad we did the local sight seeing and then headed for Velavadar visiting Nal Sarovar and Lothal on the way. Nal Sarovar is an ideal place for spotting flamingoes and Lothal is one of the few sites of the ancient Harappan civilization in India.

 We stayed at:
 Hotel Silver Plaza
 2nd Floor ,Devnandan Mall
 Opposite Sanyas Ashram
 Near M.J Library, Ellis Bridge
 Ahmedabad- 380006

 Ph - 26584030

 Good hotel and good location


Jama Masjid at Ahmedabad

Lothal

Flamingos at Nal Sarovar

 Ahmedabad Blog : http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/03/ahmedabad-city-full-of-warm-hearted.html
                    
 Nal Sarovar Blog :  http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/03/nal-sarovar-birding-paradise-close-to.html
 Lothal  Blog:  http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/03/lothal-site-of-indus-valley.html

 In Velavadar we had two safaris and were lucky to see numerous black bucks, nilgais, harrier, flamingoes, two hyenas and an alpha male wolf.

 We stayed at:
 Velavadar National Park (Blackbuck National Park)
 Accommodation: Forest Rest House
 Contact: 0278 2880342 / 0278 2920222 / 0278 2426425

 Nice location,located inside the National Park.
 Reasonably priced, basic facilities provided
 Must order your lunch by 11 PM over phone if you are reaching late.


Wolf, alpha male, at Velavadar

Hyena, Velavadar
 Velavadar Blog : http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/04/velavadar-blackbuck-hyena-wolf.html

 Our next stop from Velavadar was the world famous Gir National Park in Sasan Gir. It is the last home of the Asiatic lion. We were extremely lucky to witness two young lion brothers hunt and tear down a nilgai.

 We stayed at :
 I cant recall the name of the hotel.
 Sinh Sadan is the best place to stay in Gir


One of the two young brothers at Gir

 Gir Blog : http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/05/gir-king-and-we.html

 From Gir we headed for Little Rann of Kutch(LRK). LRK with its unique landscape was truely enchanting. After spending a full day at LRK to headed back to Ahmedabad and took our flight back to Bangalore.


Flamingos during Sun rise

Bhavna Resort

Bhavna Resort



LRK Blog: http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/2014/05/kutch-kutch-nahi-dekha-to-kuuch-nahi.html

 We stayed at :
 Bhavna Resort & Farm
 Dasada Road, Patdi, Surendranagar 382 765
 Gujarat, India

 Phone: +91 94272 16059, +91 94272 16069
 http://bhavnafarm.com/contact.html
 Email: bhavnafarm@gmail.com


 Gujarat is simply aweeesome....and as I have already said in my earlier blogs, people are absolutely great in Gujarat. So what are you waiting for??.....now that I have given you all the details, get set goooooo!!

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

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Velavadar, Blackbuck - Hyena - Wolf

Me: There's another one... In the distance...
Guide: Where? Where do you see it? 
Me: Up ahead, just behind that lone tree in the grass land. You can see the tips of its ears.
Guide: Ah... Oh my God! Yes, I see it.



Hyena

It was almost 30 minutes since we left Lothal and headed for Velavadar. We had to get to Velavadar before the evening safari time. Our contact/guide, Mr. Ramzaan, was waiting for us. Everything was okay except that we were not moving. Yes, flat tire. On top of this, our driver was a novice guy and new in this business and he had really no idea of how to change wheel.

  Thankfully, the numerous trips around Bangalore had taught us the art of quick fixing our Sparky. And a Tata Indica Vista was not much different. So, after 15 minutes of wrestling between me and rubber, metal and dirt, we were back on our way to Velavadar.

  It took us almost another one hour to reach Velavadar. From high-way to the lodge, is't about 10 kilometer and this part of the road is a wee bit rough. But you can easily do 40 here. But, being novice, our driver took his sweet time to get to the lodge; about 40 minutes. So here's one quick trip, if you're travelling to Gujarat for mostly the wildlife; like we did. Get yourself a good SUV or 4X4 drive. Otherwise, you'd miss some crucial moments. 

"And then what we saw, made the day for us."


  Still, we were well in time for the evening safari. Our guide, Mr. Ramzaan, was waiting for us at the govt. lodge, that we booked about 1 moth in advance from Bangalore. The good thing about the govt. lodge is that it's inside the actual sanctuary. The formal entry gate is about 200 meters from the lodge. BTW, you can find all the booking detail, price etc. at the end of this blog post.


Nilgai

Nilgai

  What we didn't know about the govt. lodge was that one is supposed to order the food (lunch/dinner) at least 3/4 hours in advance. There's no market nearby. So the caretaker buys stuffs from market only when an order is placed. Well, yes, you guessed it right :) , we didn't pre-order our lunch. So a 40 + 40 minutes of travel to highway(for restaurant) and back, was ahead of us; and all that to be completed before the evening safari.

  And YES!!! We did it.

  The evening safari starts at 3 PM; so you may call it afternoon safari if you like. There's a bit of paperwork that has to be completed just before the safari. Entry fee and other details are given at the end of this blog post.


The government guest houses

  Be a bit quick for safaris as there would generally be others(in jeeps) from nearby resorts forming a queue. Although the competition is not much intense, try to get in first. It gives you better chance of spotting the less available animals.


Just before sunrise. About to start the safari.
  As we went in, we were amazed to see the sheer density of Black Buck in this sanctuary. Those were in thousands, generally forming groups of 10s and 20s. You can distinguish the male from the females by the color and the spiral horns. The males are a bit more cautious as well; always watching out for any probable trouble.


Male Blackbuck

  Ramzaan Bhai is a fantastic, highly knowledgeable guide. He knows the ins and outs of the sanctuary. He can see what normal eyes can't. He helped us spot several birds and identified those. He spotted a wild cat that we could have never seen normally. So it's a good idea to make sure he's your guide when you get to Velavadar.


Wild Cat

Wild Cat
  The Black Bucks are wonderfully beautiful animals. And the afternoon light makes them even more graceful. We took several photographs of the Black Bucks... jumping, grazing, fighting, crossing the road. Wow, it was such a wonderful experience.


Blackbuck crossing the road

Young Blackbuck crossing the road
  We were about to get back as were approaching 6PM; closing time for evening safari. But then we saw a group of other jeep waiting at another parallel road. Ramzaan Bhai directed the driver to get to those jeeps. And then what we saw, made the day for us.

  It was an alpha male. It was a lone Wolf. Wolves generally hunt in packs. But this one was onto it's prey alone. It was alone because it was confident of it's strength and experience. We took several shots of the wolf. But it was quite far and none of the shots were super close up.


Wolf

Wolf
  We couldn't see it hunt as the closing bells for the evening safari was already rung. So, back to base. We also saw harrier roosting on the ground.


Harrier

Banner at the gate of the park
  We retired to the cottage after fixing the morning timing with Ramzaan bhai and thanking him for all the sighting of the day.

  The food that is served at the govt. lodge, is simple but good. It's pure vegetarian food and you have to get to the dining hall for your meals. We were literally tired by the heavy travel of the day and hit the bed quickly. Our next morning safari's target was to try to spot hyena and then head towards the wet lands of the sanctuary to spot birds.

  7 O' clock sharp, and we were ready for the morning safari. We completed the formalities quickly and went straight in. Ramzaan Bhai directed the driver to get straight to the place where the chances were highest to spot Hyena. And every single other jeep was following us. No wonder, we had the best guide with us. :)

  Then all of a sudden, he told the driver to stop. We couldn't see anything around us, but confirmed us that this was one of the most favorite morning leisure spot for the hyena. It just took a couple of minutes for the beautiful creature to reveal itself from within the grasses. And it was so very close! It was within 20 meters of our vehicle. 


Hyena

Hyena

  Although everyone in every jeep/car was respectful enough not to make loud noise, but the hyena understood pretty quickly that it's regular mundane morning fame-time had started. And quite obviously, it didn't like it. It slowly (and I mean real slowly) started to move far from us.

  After moving about 100 meters further from us, it took a rest in the grassland and was again invisible. Everyone was eagerly waiting for it stand up again. And this is exactly when, I spotted another one. I whispered to Soma about the location of the second hyena. There was a guide from another jeep close by, and he overheard us; and this was the low conversation that we had there:

Me: There's another one... In the distance...
Guide: Where? Where do you see it? 
Me: Up ahead, just behind that lone tree in the grass land. You can see the tips of its ears.
Guide: Ah.... Oh my God! Yes, I see it.
  
  He quickly informed his guests and everyone tried to have a glimpse of the second one, before it taking a nap too. At last, the first hyena stood up looked back to us, yawned and then walked away. Carefree.

  Filled with the thrill, containment, excitement (and many other positive emotions) of hyena sighting, we didn't venture further into the jungle. Rather, as planned beforehand, we move towards the wetlands. So we had to move back to the lodge and head towards the wetlands. The gate to the wetlands is also very close (about 500 meters) from the lodge.

  In the wetlands, we spotted enormous number of birds. Starting from the tiny Stonechat to the huge Rosy Pelicans. We also saw many nilgai; these animals are also in abundance on the other side of the sanctuary. We took several shots and came out with an even wider grin. 


Grey Francolin

Siberian stonechat

Shrike

Common Kestral

Bee eater

Greter Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo and Rosy Pelican

  Before leaving Velavadar, we had a lite conversation over tea with Mr. Ramzaan, whose immense knowledge and love for wildlife at Velavadar helped us see what we saw. We will provide his contact detail at the end of this blog post.

  Then it was time to bid adieu to Velavadar and head towards the lair of the big cat, the king, the might Lion. It was time to meet the last Asiatic Lion at it's last refuge. 

Important Info:-
How to book Govt. Lodge at Velavadar: 
Call up at the number given below and enquire about availability of rooms at the lodge. If rooms are available, get a draft done(details will be told to you by the officials) and fax it with other details of yours( like name, booking date, number of people etc.). Then post the draft to this address:

Deputy Conservator of Forests, Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar,
Bhavnagar. Gujarat.
Phone : (O) 0278 2428644.

Tariff:- Rs. 500/day/room + food extra(Rs. 358/- for two)

Guide: 
Mr. Ramzaan. Ph:- 08140810087
Mr Ayub. Ph:- +91 89808 27737

Both are excellent.

Car booking:
Mr. Hitesh Khetri. Ph:- 09909243038
He is a birdwatcher, and he drives his own Tavera. We didn't book his car and we do repent that.

Food:
Only veg food available at the lodge. Have to pre order. Food bill has to be paid while checking out.


keywords: velavadar, black buck, hyena, lion, nil gai, black buck lodge, travel blog, blog, gujarat, flamingo, pelican

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