Sunday, 29 April 2018

Little Rann of Kutch (Part 1) ~ Wild Ass Sanctuary

The 4953 sq km of nearly barren expanse of the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) has been protected as the Wild Ass Sanctuary. This unique terrain, a saline desert, is home to nearly 4000 Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur ). It also boasts of an equally unique ecosystem. The term 'Rann' comes from Hindi - suggesting"salt marsh". This area was a shallow part of the Arabian Sea until its connection with the sea was severed due to continuing geographical uplift, creating a vast lake that was still navigable during the time of Alexander the Great.

Most of the Rann gets flooded during monsoon. However it gets dried up by the end of November or mid-December throwing its length and breadth wide open to visitors. The area is dotted with 74 elevated plateaus or uplands, which turns into islands when flooded. They are known as 'beyts'. The LRK is the only place in the Indian subcontinent which hosts lesser and greater flamingoes in abundance.

The LRK is surrounded by five districts - Surendranagar, Patan, Rajkot, Mehsana and Kutch. Its topography gradually rises some 4m above High Water Line and was once upon a time a centre of shipping with peripheral villages being ports. Natural tectonic events and silt, brought by massive rivers including Sindhu, Banas, Saraswati and Rupen gave rise to the present day Rann.

To protect the endangered (Schedule 1) and endemic Wild Ass, popularly known as 'Ghudkur', the sanctuary was notified in 1973, under the Wildlife Protection Act. As per the 2004 census the population of Wild Ass in the Rann was 3863.

Wild Ass, a member of the horse family (Equidae) was once found in the areas belong Gujarat and as far as Rajasthan, Sindh, Balochistan and right upto Afghanistan and South Eastern Iran.

The Wild Ass grazes a flat grass called 'Suaeda nudiflora' known as 'moral' in local parlance which grows on the beyts and its local fringes, while coarse grasses spring up in the Rann after monsoon. With the advent of summer, the Wild Ass moves from one beyt to another in search of water and grass.

Known for its phenomenal speed and stamina, the swift animal is capable of galloping at a pace of over 30 km per hour for as long as two hours, at a top speed of 70 km per hour for short distances. This animal has the ability to survive in extreme climatic conditions including temperature variations ranging from 1 degree Celsius to 50 degree Celsius.

Wild Ass has a sandy coloured coat and its average length is 210 cm and can be upto 120 cm high at shoulders. It stays in a group in salty mudflats and has an extremely well developed sense of smell.

Wild Ass

Shooting is fun indeed!!

There is no road in make your own

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Folklores from Bhutan ~ Migoi the Yeti

As the last Shangri-La on earth Bhutan is absolutely mystic and so are some of Bhutan's folklore and practices. We came to know of a very interesting story of Migoi, a Tibetan term for the Yeti.

Although there is no proof to confirm that this mythical creature exists, people living in remote North Bhutan believe that the Migoi does exist! So Bhutan has a very unusual sanctuary dedicated to Migoi's and the sanctuary is known as 'Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary'. There are many folklores and urban legends around these mythical creatures among the local Bhutanese people.Locals say that there have been many sightings of Migoi in this region. Migoi is known for its phenomenal strength,superfast agility, magical powers such as the ability to become invisible and knowing how to walk backwards to fool any trackers. The luxuriant deciduous forests of Sakteng are believed to be the home of these creatures.

Photo courtesy- internet

Sighting of Migoi is also said to bring bad luck. Once two people went hunting and one of them could see the Migoi with his eyes while the other could not. The person who saw died soon after within a few days.

There is one more story regarding the sightings of Migoi that can bring bad luck. A group of hunters were surprised when all their traps failed to trap any meat one day.To understand what could have possibly gone wrong, they started looking around. Soon they found footprints of a Migoi.

One of the hunters in the group was very strong and courageous.He followed the tracks,encountered the animal and killed it. However no one in his village was ready to believe that he had actually killed a giant Migoi. However they soon found the remains of two Migoi covered in blood on the track that the hunter told them. However bad omen fell on the hunter since he had seen a Migoi. He proud hunter died soon after.

However Yeti or no Yeti, the 'Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary' is highly rich is bio diversity. The sanctuary becomes red with thick carpets of rhododendrons.Snow leopards, red pandas, Himalayan black bear, barking deer and Himalayan red fox can be found here. Variety of birds such as the hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel, Assamese macaw, blood pheasant, grey backed shrike, grey-headed woodpecker, common hoopoe, rufous-vented tit and dark breasted rosefinch are also commonly found. Besides the conifers, plant life and flora of Sakteng wildlife sanctuary includes rare blue poppies, Bhutan’s national flowers. Wild Primulas and gentiana change the sanctuary into a color riot in spring. A very rare mushroom called cordyceps which have medicinal values are also found in this region.

There is also a Bhutanese stamp depicting a Migoi which is definitely a collector's item.

Photo courtesy- internet

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Folklores from Bhutan ~ Punakha Dzong

Arguably the most beautiful dzong in entite Bhutan is the Punakha Dzong also known as Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong. This dzong is located strategically at the confluence of two rivers, the Pho Chhu (father) and the Mo Chhu (mother) rivers. Punakha Dzong was also the administrative capital of Bhutan till 1955 after which the capital was shifted to Thimpu.

There is a very beautiful and interesting story related to how the conception of this dzong came into place. Guru Rinpoche who is also considered as the 'Second Buddha' is the most revered figure in Bhutan. He was a brahmin royal and is said to have born in a lotus flower and hence also called Padmasambhava. He bought Buddhism in Bhutan and have also believed to have arrived at the Tiger's Nest monastery on the back of a flying tiger.

He blessed the land where the dzong stands today and predicted that one day a very beautiful fortress would come up on that land. One day as he was staying in Punakha for a camp he got a prophetic dream. In his dream he got the instruction to create a dzong at Punakha and secretly keep the sacred 'AvalokiteĊ›vara' statue that he bought with him from Tibet. The AvalokiteĊ›vara statue is a powerful bodhisattva which embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara/Guanyin occupies a unique place in the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. Buddhist sutras speak of several bodhisattvas but it is Avalokitesvara/Guanyin who is revered and adored by followers of both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism and by all art lovers. He/she has acquired a status equal to the Buddha and sometimes his importance surpasses even the Buddha's.

The Tibetans were long in search of this statue after Guru Rinpoche bought it with him from Tibet. Angered they attacked the Punakha Monastery but was defeated by the Bhutanese people. This victory celebration happens every year during the 'Sacred Victory Festival'. This is how the conception and creation of the beautiful Punakha Dzong is described in folklore.

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong from the bridge

Inside the Dzong

Staircase to the inside

Government offices inside dozing

Wall paintings

Folklores from Bhutan ~ Phallus paintings on walls

Who wants to have paintings of huge,  colourful phallus on the walls of their house? Not many people I suppose. However this little village that falls on the way from Thimpu to Punakha has every house with at least one elaborate phallus painting on its walls. There must be some very strong reasons which holds even up to this day. Intrigued we got to know the folklore from the locals.

The popular Bhutanese saint Drukpa Kunley, an unorthodox and eccentric saint who migrated from Tibet and settled in Bhutan was extremely fond of women and wine. He tried to preach Buddhism to the common people through worldly and unorthodox days. He believed that to be a good follower of Buddhism one does not need to be celibate to give up all pleasures.

According to folklores, there was once an extremely evil demoness who lived near Dochula Pass. She used to kill and torture people in the disguise of a dog. Angered by this saint Drukpa Kunley defeated the demoness with his ‘organ’ weapon who fled the region. From then onwards symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.

A monastery is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley or the ‘Divine Madman’ at Chimi Lhakhang is extremely popular with the locals and tourists. Visitors are blessed with a wooden phallus. It is also believed that childless couples who gets blessings from Chimi Lhakhang soon gets blessed with child.

Beautiful landscape on the way

There it is!

The monastery

Some facts about the monastery

Curio shop

Houses with phallus paintings

Houses with phallus paintings

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Folklores from Bhutan ~ Tiger's Nest Monastery

The climb to Tiger's Nest Monastery also known as  Paro Taktsang was a life time experience. It was definitely tough going but when we got to see the monastery from close distance it was fascinating. Equally fascinating is the story of its creation. The monastery sits on the edge of a hill at 3120 meters above sea level, the path to which is difficult and narrow and it makes everyone wonder how this monastery was created so many years ago and why its called Tiger's Nest when there are no tigers around.

Well as per the legends, it was Guru Rinpoche who meditated at this sacred site. Guru Rinpoche is also referred to as Guru Padmasambava since it is believed that he was born in a lotus flower. He was a brahmin royal who spread tantric Buddhism in Bhutan. He is also referred to as the 'Second Buddha' and is highly revered in Bhutan.

Guru Padmasambava arrived in Paro Taktsang on a tiger's back from Tibet in the eighth century and bought Buddhism to Bhutan. He meditated at Paro Taktsang and hence the monastery is also known as Tiger's Nest. He meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. He also conquered and banished the local demons of the area who were killing people.

Today devotees and tourists need to trek 4.5 km uphill to reach the sacred monastery where Guru Rinpoche had once meditated.

Tiger's Nest Monastery

Tiger's Nest Monastery

Tiger's Nest Monastery

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Folklores from Bhutan ~ The story of Takin

"This is Bhutan's National Animal", Yeshley told us as we spotted a few takins roaming and eating grass in Takin Reserve, on the outskirts of Bhutan. Our nod made him instantly understand that we have already done our research back home and know that Takin is the national animal of Bhutan.

Like any good travel guide, he also started telling us more about takins and their habitat. Takins are very rare and can be found in secluded forests in Bhutan, Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, India.

The best information he gave us was related to the folklore associated with Takin. According to the story, once a very rich man of Bhutan invited all monks and religious saints to a feast. There came some very famous monks and heads. Also came the divine madman Drukpa Kunley. Nobody knew Drukpa Kunley and his magical powers. Everyone thought him to be a commoner. To this he was a little angry and told people to treat him like a monk.

So people asked him to perform a miracle. He said that he would oblige only if he is given a goat and a cow to eat. He ate both in no time leaving only the head of the goat and the skeleton of the cow. He then took both the goat's head and the cow's skeleton, put them together and to everyone's surprise an animal got formed and came to life in front of their eyes. It ran and started feeding in the meadows nearby.

That was how the Takin came on earth. Its a rare animal and was a delight for us to see in Bhutan.

Takin strolling on the green grasses


Taking some rest

Monday, 11 December 2017

Heading to Jaldapara after entering india - Bhutan Diaries - 8

I woke up around 7 in the morning. Ankur had woke before me and had packed all our stuffs neatly. He had also ordered for tea. Today we were in no mood to get up fast to get ready. The morning was melancholy. Today we have to leave Bhutan, the country about which we loved everything and have got a hangover by now.

We were supposed to return back the day before had we not extended our stay permit for one more day. We had booked our coster bus tickets the day before from the Thimpu bus terminus. Costers are small buses and unlike Indian state buses they are way comfortable. Since standing is not allowed so they do not take more passengers than the number of seats available. So in order not to miss the bus in case it gets filled we had our tickets booked the day before.

By the time we reached the bus terminus at around 8, our bus was already there. The helper was cleaning the bus and making it ready for the day's journey. After he finished we handed over our luggage to him. We were given the best seats, the first row just behind the driver's seat. Ankur got down and bought some more snacks and tea. By this time all the seats got filled up. The bus helper tied all the passenger luggage and put them on the top of the bus and secured them with a rope.

bus terminus

Getting ready

 Bus started exactly at 8:15 am, the scheduled time. We started our journey back to Phuentshoing. The hilly roads was covered with fog and the air was crisp and cool. A very few roadside vegetable shops had opened. Women are mostly the ones who run the shops. Little children going to school in groups waved us and we waved them back. Some stretches of the road were fully white because of the wild roses blooming profusely during this time of the year. In many of our other road journeys in Bhutan we have witnessed this phenomenon before as well.

After almost 3 hours our bus stopped at a small restaurant. There are very few restaurants on the way and this one was one of those. It is actually a modified front of the owners house where the owner has converted one room into a sitting area and a small part of it into a kitchen.

Morning market

Misty mornings

We soon came across a check point where non Bhutanese were asked to show their permit at the check post. We showed our's and the official put a seal on the immigration paper. The seal denotes that the immigration paper is no more valid.

The remaining part of the journey was nothing eventful. The bus reached Phuentshoing bus terminus. Our luggage was untied from the top and given to us. We took a cab from there that took us till Bhutan gate. We submitted our immigration papers at a small office near the gate. Once we crossed the gate we were so excited and thankful. Excited because we are back to India and thankful to Bhutan for the amazing hospitality that we will never forget.

From Bhutan gate we took another jeep. Our trip is still not over. We will stay at Jaldapara Forest Reserve for a day before heading back to Bangalore. I will write about the amazing Jaldapara trip in a separate blog post.

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