Velavadar …

After a last morning safari at Gir it’s on the road to Velavadar.

The journey takes us about 206 km north-east through countryside that is fairly flat and intensively farmed with the aid of extensive irrigation. From time to time we pass cotton processing plants with little mountains of cotton waiting for the gin (just to remind us that Gujerat is a dry state … it’s been four days now). There is still plenty of cotton awaiting harvest in the fields. Other crops include Castor, Millet and Mustard. Later in the year it will be time to plant Sorghum.

The roads are fair but busy. The trucks tend to be small by Australian standards and mobile works of art. As well as cars, they have to contend with tractor hauled carts, camel hauled carts, oxen hauled carts and a strange hybrid of motorcycle and cart called a chakra. Motorbikes and motor scooters are numerous and generally low powered. I will need to undertake a great deal more study before I can explain the system by which all these vehicles avoid collision but initial observations reveal that a good horn, good brakes and good luck are vital ingredients. An average speed of 50 km an hour would be a pretty good achievement and four or five hours of that should bring you to the verge of exhaustion.

Chakra
Chakra

In former times the region we are headed to was an extensive open grassland. Much of the area has given way to agriculture or been lost to the encroachment of  Mesquite, Prosopis juliflora, a native of the americas. It was introduced to provide fuel wood, which it has and it is also used to make fences. It has ferocious thorns and grows as dense thickets. Overall it has been much too successful. An area of 34.52 sq.km. has been preserved as Blackbuck National Park.

The grassland is home to the very elegant Blackbuck and also Asia’s largest antelope, the Nilgai. In winter it is visited by large numbers of Montague’s and Pallid Harriers, in the monsoon it provides a refuge for the small and endangered bustard, the Lesser Florican. There is a wetland in the park that can amuse the birdwatcher for hours with such creatures as pelicans, cranes, avocets and flamingoes, although they can be sure that the other occupants of the vehicle will drag them away in pursuit of wolves and hyena.

Blackbuck
Blackbuck
Blackbuck male
Blackbuck male
Nilgai male
Nilgai male
Wolf
Wolf

The wolf was in possession of a buffalo leg.

The obvious place to stay in Velavadar is the very comfortable Blackbuck Lodge situated only a couple of kilometres from the park gates …

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and as you watch the sun go down over the mesquite you can contemplate a couple of lines from the Blackbuck National Park website …

The Park provides one of the world’s best roosting sites to thousands of Harriers that arrive here from Central Europe for wintering …

… An entirely different experience of the wildlife begins to transcend as the darkness falls. The persistent howls of jackal add to the feeling of true wilderness. The long, deep and threatening howls of wolves, occasionally penetrate the darkness .

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… such a pity that the visitors had to be out of the park an hour or so earlier and won’t see the thousands of Harriers at their roost or be able to feel a shiver run down their spine as a wolf howls nearby.

Gir …

From Mumbai to Gir.

Security is tight at Indian airports. To get into the departure terminal you must show a printed itinerary showing your name, destination, flight number, date and time, accompanied by your ID, which for foreigners means your passport. Your friends say their goodbyes on the pavement.

My destination was Gir which is in the state of Gujarat immediately north of Maharashta of which Mumbai is the capital. The nearest airport is Diu, the flight takes about an hour.

India is composed of 28 states and seven union territories. Daman and Diu together make up one of the territories. Along with Goa, Daman and Diu were excised from India by the Portuguese. When India gained control the trio were governed as a single territory, Goa was given statehood in 1987 leaving the two small enclaves of Daman and Diu, 198 kilometers apart, each surrounded by Gujarat. This has enormous practical importance, Diu is a small but busy seaside resort, Gujarat is a dry state. Lunch was accompanied by a couple of refreshing beers.

Then the drive to Gir, as a passenger of course.

No palatial accommodation for me here, although that isn’t to say that good hotels aren’t available. For me one of these tents …

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This is the Lion Safari Camp near the small town of Sasan Gir. The lions are a respectable distance away and the tents come with en suite facilities, hot and cold water and plenty of headroom. The camp is situated on the banks of a river, you don’t have to go far to find plenty of birds, the laundry, swimming pool and the odd Mugger Crocodile.

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It’s reported that the Mugger is more famous for its tool use than it is for eating people. It is known to balance sticks on its head, birds, especially in the breeding season are tempted to take the sticks … swirl of water, snap, lunch.

I spent the next three nights at the camp making seven forays into Gir National Park and any spare daylight time birding around the river.

Coming soon … the lions of Gir National Park.