Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Great Trip to the little Rann (January 2011)

Every trip that I take with Nature India surpasses the last. The previous one was to Kaas, the plateau of flowers in Satara. I never imagined that flowers as tiny as the nail on my little finger could engross me so much! The vistas of flower carpets in every imaginable colour so enthralled me that I think the accumulated stress of months of urban living just flowed out to be replaced by a calming quietude that remained with me for days afterwards. It made what followed bearable – my mother’s stroke and hospitalisation because of which I could not write about the wonder that was Kaas. In fact, I had even thought of the title: A Khaas Experience!

The Rann of Kutch was on my wishlist (and that one’s a pretty long list!), so I jumped on board the minute I got the email! The drive to Bandra Terminus through those awful roads didn’t dampen my enthusiasm a bit. I reached almost an hour and a half early. I read a little of Stieg Larson’s second book in the over-hyped Millennium Trilogy waiting for 5.30 to arrive. Finally, when I phoned Adesh to ask if he had come, he gave me a nasty little jolt by saying, “What are you doing at the station today? The trip starts tomorrow!!” When I reacted with shock, he said, “I was just joking!” Hmmmm….Adesh and his teasing!

The train arrived and left for Viramgam. We were a group of 14 including Adesh and of course, his Sancho Panza Mandar! There were at least four IT professionals - a couple from Pune, Abhaya and Ameet, young Vaishali and Alok and one engineer in the making, Sahila. Alok I knew from before and I was happy to meet Captain Haridasan and Ritesh again. The bubbly, effervescent flavour was provided by Rakhi and Kavita and of course, good sport Nikhil. We had a cartoonist in our midst, too – Keith Francis – who gifted Captain, who was his room mate, with a lovely caricature drawn on a paper napkin in two minutes flat!

From Viramgam station to the Royal Safari Resorts in Bajana. What a beautiful resort it was! Done up in traditional Kutchi style with an ornate doorway, and individual circular cottages made of red brick and with thatched roofs. The rustic feel was only for the outside. The inside was, surprise, surprise, airconditioned, with fancy taps in the bathroom and a double bed with the softest mattress and pillows imaginable! Even the rajai was so comfy…it was hard to get up in the morning. And the curtains were works of art – embellished with mirrors and embroidery! Great d├ęcor all round.

The entire place was magical – with a water lily pond, swimming pool, vast spaces of green grass (few trees though) and even a mini lake which we noticed on our way out of the resort three days later!

After a good breakfast we were off to the Bajana Wetlands. The jeeps were open, the breeze was cool, the company was awesome and the birding was terrific…what more could one ask for? I cannot remember exactly where we saw what, but here’s a general idea of the birdlife.

In one of the wetlands, a feast of flamingoes – more numbers of the lesser and fewer of the greater – but both in fair numbers. What a beautiful rhapsody in every shade of pink! One can just keep on looking at them forever and never tire…There were ducks (pintails, shovellers, godwits, brahminy), teals, coots, greylag geese, grey herons, common cranes, and best of all, the mightly Sarus crane. We saw an endearing family of three (mom, dad and kid) in a field quite by chance. Never-to-be-forgotten sight…

On the way, in a stream choked with rubbish, a veritable armada of painted storks, and when they started walking ponderously, they looked like a bunch of gentlemen in their flashy coat tails out for a stroll! There were egrets keeping them company, too…

On another day, it was a safari on the Rann where we saw the rare desert warbler – trust Adesh’s sharp eyes to spot it even though it was well-camouflaged! The wild asses were, well wild! Just a mere movement in their direction was enough to set them cantering off in the opposite direction. We managed to observe a small herd for quite a while. One of the more timid asses got kicked out and left behind by the others. He stood in solitary silence for a few minutes, till he was joined by a friend and trotted happily away! Mere man ki ass hai tu…and all that (pun supplied by Mohan V!)

On the last day, we were led to an area to see something special. In a tree, who do we spot but a pair of pallid scops owls! Absolutely marvellous camouflage, till they moved their heads and opened their great yellow eyes! In the Rann, another species of owl, the short-eared. We chased it around the Rann, but it kept flying off and sitting at a distance. Finally, we did get a good look through the trusty spotting scope…what would we have done without this fantastic invention?! And glory of glories, we did see Macqueen’s Bustard or the hoobara bustard! It was in Pandharpur (or Alandi, as Adesh wryly remarked), but spotting scope ki jai ho, we saw the pair of them fairly clearly.

I should also mention the educative session we had with Adesh on one safari. He put all the ‘non-photographers’ (and there were only five including me who had these primitive cameras and were not so click happy!) in one jeep and came with us on two occasions. He was wearing his ‘lucky hat’ by the way (see pictures). In one stream under a bridge by the roadside, we saw almost all the common waders and were able to compare them! The marsh sandpiper, the common sandpiper, the wood sandpiper, redshank, greenshank, Temnick’s stint, stilts, ruffs…you name it and it was there, rooting in the sludgy water. We took out the book and had a rocking time looking at the picture and then the bird. What better way to learn! And I must say that Adesh is patience on a monument. I have been on ‘n’ trips with him but I still fumble when it comes to identifying birds which I may have seen any number of times, especially waders and raptors!

And how can I end without mentioning the delicious food? Yummy paneer dishes, tamatar sev ki bhaji, noodles, fried rice, soups, gulab jamuns, icecream, gajar ka halwa…well, you can bet your life that yours truly, truly tucked in! And stole extra dessert helpings as well!! Rakhi will be witness to that!!! Then back to dusty, crowded, dirty, noisy Mumbai…sigh!

Would that I had a little round house on the Rann, with the cool breeze blowing over the vastness, silence my only companion, and the blazing stars to shine down on me at night….

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