As 2015 was winding down, we decided to pack our bags for our final nature camp of the year. We decided to visit Khambhat and Velavdar in Gujarat. Both the places have unique identity; Khambhat (Cambay) is known for Agates business while Velavadar has famous Blackbuck (chinkara) National Park.
We reached Vadodara, the nearest station to Khambhat early morning by train. After having a hot cup of tea, we boarded bus to Khambhat. On our 3 hours journey, we got to see some birds like Francolins, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Egrets, Herons etc along with an Antelope – the Neelgai. This patch is very rich agriculture. One can see tobacco farms everywhere while driving on this road. We were hungry when we reached Khambhat and craved for morning breakfast of Papdas, Gathiya and Bhajiyas which is peculiarity of this region. Almost every local food joint will serve you these food-items and it is very tasty.
Khambhat attracts marine scientists, historians, archeologists and geology experts along with local tourists. If you are interested in architectural designs then Khambhat can make you happy to certain extent. One can see a combination of Gothic and Islamic architectures in some of the old monuments and buildings of the town. Tourists come here for Agates. This city is the largest seller of agates. Scientists have ‘excavated’ remains of ancient Indian civilization deep down inside the sea in Gulf of Khambhat. This area is of historical and geographical interest. Tidal fauna (crab, molluscs etc.) here attracts the scientists. Tourists cannot go that deep to learn about ancient civilization but, if you are interested in archeology then, Lothal is the must place to visit which is about 2 hours drive from Khambhat.
What brought us here was tremendous variety of birds – migratory, local, water and land – all sorts of birds that one can see nearby Khambhat. One can visit Dhuwaran sea/creek shore near thermal power plant on the banks of Mahi River for bird-watching. The Pariej is another place reserved for bird. It is water logged area.There is a watch tower and we observed many wetland species of birds such as painted storks, cormorants, herons, dabchicks, lapwings, stilts etc. Just about few meters ahead there is a water body where we saw lots of Dalmatian pelicans, Painted storks, Northern shovelers, Pied avocets, Brahminy ducks etc.
Next day was for Lothal. We had seen pictures of this ancient Indus Valley Civilization (Harappan civilization) site in our school textbooks. It was time to actually see them on the site. Our guide Mrs. Swati Pancholi explained us details of each and every object present in the museum as well as on site. Lothal in local language means ‘City of Dead’. However, when we learnt about the those people and their lifestyle, the architecture, the trade sense and perfect use of natural resources available , I thought that they still live in time with their tremendous knowledge and we – modern people have a dead mind. It will take a really lot of time for us to actually understand their intelligence.
Since this drive too has lots of birding opportunities as there are wetland/ponds by Mahi River. Normal drive takes 3hrs but, people with birding in mind, we decided to start early before sunrise. And it was a treat to eyes. Openbill storks, Pelicans, Painted storks, woolynacked storks, shovellers and many more water birds made our morning a really memorable one.
The sighting of Saras cranes in the fields was something amazing. These huge birds have specific diets and they pair for lifetime. Due to construction on agricultural lands, wetlands there is a question mark on their survival. On our way back from Lothal we saw a family of Saras crane – two immatures guarded by their parents with adult male walking in front and adult female behind.
We headed to Velavadar the next day. On our way decided to visit the largest protected area for birds – The Nal Sarovar bird sanctuary. There was a huge crowd and we were part of it. Forest guides and boats (private boats but government approved) are available here to take you inside and give information. One irritating and absolute unscientific thing we saw there was – ‘feeding birds’. There were vendors selling ‘Gathiyas’-a local snack so that tourists offer them to birds. Hence a lots of Gulls get attracted towards the boats. We didn’t buy any such stuff and informed the guide about how bad this habit is to the birds. Sometimes I feel that a day should come when these birds feed us with their food – raw dead lizards, insects, fishes etc. The correct way to conserve them is to protect their habitat instead of giving them unhealthy readymade food.
Our next stop was Blackbuck National Park’ in Velavadar. Blackbucks are a variety of antelopes known as chinkara locally. Male has dark black fur and female has brown fur. This place is also a largest roosting site for Harriers. Even foxes and jackals can be seen here. We were lucky to see them.But that also created another question in mind about the survival of these ones as well. There were property boards displayed near-by the sanctuary. Blackbucks require open grasslands to survive and the area allotted for their protection is just about 38.08 sq kms!! There was no doubt that we had a lot of sightings in this regions of birds of prey -Shikra, falcons, harriers, eagles, mammals –blackbucks, Neelgais, Foxes, Wolfs, Wild boars etc. but, it is necessary to control the rapid urbanization that this place is going to face in near future. Unfortunately, wastelands and grasslands are treated as wastelands and are given to builders but these habitats are crucial for the survival of such open land flora and fauna and ultimately for our survival too.
Bhavnagar is the nearest station to the Velavadar so we headed towards it to catch our train. The drive is along amazing landscape. The sea is about 30kms away and on every full moon day and No moon day the high tide reaches till here and leaves wonderful landscape and biodiversity. We visited Bhavnagar palace. It came as a nice surprise that there are paintings of birds put-up on walls of this palace. The trip that started with birds ended with birds too leaving us with happy souls!
Gauri Gurav is a botanist and naturalist based out of Mumbai. Having worked at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF India), Gauri has expertise in bio-diversity (birds and plants species) and has extensive field experience in organizing nature camps. Currently, she runs her own venture Oikoessence – http://oikoessence.blogspot.in/