Rann of Kutch - A different world (Trip Report)

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#1 Apr 25th, 2011, 14:47
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  • kartikp is offline
#1
Note: I know there are 30 pictures and some members may have to wait for a long time on dial up to see those pictures. I have uploaded the same to my photo gallery here but are unable to link them in the post here. May be a mod can help me or guide me.
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It had been almost 3 months since I had been out to a forest. Between by October trip to Nagarhole NP (a trip report of the same is pending) and December I was too depressed to do anything right. Some may call it withdrawal symptoms, I just call it another excuse to visit wilderness. When a chance presented itself for me to visit Gujrat, I jumped on it before figuring out some minor details i.e. do I even have any leaves left? Thank god for giving me an awesome boss (who would kill me if I pull that stunt again btw).

Everything was settled, I was to meet the group in Ahamdabad and from there we were to embark on our trip. I had my train tickets things like that. One the day of departure from my village, where I was for the last one month for my annual vacation, the first thing went wrong. Due to the fog, my train had delayed for more than 4 hours. It meant that I would have to stay the night in Ahemdabad and miss the morning drive in Little Rann of Kutch. Now that is unacceptable at any point of time. I got into a private car and the driver pulled an amazing feat by making sure I reached there in record time. Rest of the group was right there at the airport and we departed for Dasada.

Getting out of the Ahemdabad was an adventure that needs a story on itself. Lets just say there are too many cars and too little traffic police around there. By the time we hit highway all of us were exhausted and hungry. As we took an exit from the highway all we could see was the headlights of the car. No streetlight was the main suspect of us dropping into darkness. However this darkness was what that gave us the feeling of what to expect in coming ten days. Yeah baby, 10 days of wild wild Gujrat

Reaching Rann Riders in Dasada, we were greeted by the ever-helpful staff as well as "to be our companions" Babu bhai, our guide and captain of the Gypsy. Owners of the resort were right there and gave us the most welcome news. "Dinner is ready". One must appreciate what happens when you take a journey that involves traveling for more than 8-10 hours on road, in India, without eating something. In our eagerness to reach our destination , we had not taken any Dhaba break (not as if there were many lined up on the way) and I was evening the poor chickens running around the resort very hungrily. Off to the room and back in the restaurant. We all had our fill and the staff kept the food coming without a complain. Doc. (one of the most enthu. anesthesiologist I ever saw outside of an OT) even got his chillies


Next morning saw us heading towards Bajana. It was a cold cold morning. Though we were covered under layers of clothing, open gypsy speeding through the country road was not helping. Last night Prakash had made a joke about attending the call of nature while being layered up. "By the time you discover yourself through the layers, its already too late" was the gist of what he said. Well, I was hoping that was not the case. We reached Bajana early and after acquiring the necessary permits we entered the "Wild Ass Sanctuary". I know the name of the sanctuary will earn a few sniggers here and there, but that's the name and we were hell bent on being there. (Man there are way too many jokes there).

Babu told us that a small population of sociable lapwings were around and we set off in their direction. Direction, if you can call it that because to me it was more of we were moving in a straight line and there were no markers for directions. No human settlement in view, not a landmark to know your relative position. But we moved on and stopped at a non-discript place. There, the socible lapwings were sitting and being not very socible. 5 of these critically endangered birds were right there. They were quite amused initially to see some very silly tourists pointing their lenses at them and rolling in on the ground to get the angle correct.

We had a great time with these birdies. Interesting part was, this was a plain bird. Not blessed with bright colors or gorgeous feathers, this was a beauty in simplicity.



As Bajana was quite a distance away from the resort, we had planned to spend the noon in the sanctuary only. One of our gypsies had sped off to the resort to pick up our lunch. By the time lunch arrived we were absolutely famished. No one uttered a word and the whole big box of lunch was destroyed in minutes.

When we moved on to the second phase of our journey, we were greeted with the welcome sights of raptors. We found a Merlin within minutes, though it did not let us get close to it. Same goes with a short eared owl. Luckily an Indian Corouser was more co-operative and made for a great afternoon. We also came across a huge herd of "Wild Asses". No, not the kind most guys dream of, but the kind that makes the day of wildlife photographers.






As the day started to come to a close, we were all worn out. It was a serene evening in Gujrat's rural side. Smoke raising from chimney's, smell of tadka filling the air when we passed the villages, cattle herds returning to their rightful owners. This really was a paradise, of a different kind.

Next two days were a haze. The schedule was a repeat of the first day with the exception of a short break in the noon to return to the resort for lunch. One of the target birds here for me was McQueen's Bustard. We spent one full day but despite multiple sightings I could not get a shot that I would like. Giri and Vinay on the other hand did get some absolutely stunning shots.







Our third and last day at Dasada was there and we ended up shooting till the last moment. Don't let the raptors and owls fool you, we found plenty of water birds as well as well as glimpses of Indian Wolves. We also visited one of the small settlements at salt pans in LRK and were humbled by those simple folks. They instantly offered us tea even though there were 10 of us and refused payment from us. I had to literally forcibly slip in some cash to the lady. And that tea was great by the way, to be had in true Indian style (pour in soccer and then sip away making loud noises).







{A little something about the resort. We stayed at Rann Riders. When I will visit LRK again, this is the place I will be staying in. The rooms were well appointed, comfortable and clean. Staff was attentive and very responsive. And food was just great, even if you are not a fan of Gujrati food, you could get something good to eat. There is nothing like eating fresh Papayas in breakfast as we used to get here. The guides were very knowledgeable, polite and not in a hurry to head back from safari, which in my books is a great quality.}
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Bidding our farewell to LRK, we started our journey to GRK in the early morning of the 4th day. It was a 6 hour journey and I was catching up on my sleep and my friends sharing the car with me I believe must have been busy trying to locate the weird and loud sound that was seemingly filling the car. Sometimes you wonder what will people accuse you of when you are sleeping (snoring... me ... no way...I never heard me snoring ). It was a long way and we reached safe and sound to Nakhatarana. We were to stay at CEDO, a really fine home-stay being run by Mr. Jugal Tiwari. Jugal is an ecologist running CEDO (center for desert and ocean). He has undertaken initiative of reintroducing the native flora in Banni and raise awareness.

As we reached CEDO, we were again greeted by the same smile that you can not see in any 5 star hotel. After settling in our rooms, we quickly got down for the food again. This time food was home made Gujrati affair. Pure Veg. just in case if someone was wondering. After we went ahead and demolished the food, we topped it up with some butter milk and almost missed the afternoon safari.

We went to Banni grassland, an arid and harsh land that hosts a variety of wildlife. Our drives quickly yielded a variety of wheatears, short eared owls, harriers and a steppe eagle. We also found cream coloured coursers. Though it was not as colorful bird as the Indian one, it was still a beautiful bird. Unfortunately this bird also eluded us and I could not get a shot of these guys which can be called decent. I think I can use it as an excuse to spend another week there.





As we were returning for the day, we came across a hyena carcass. Jugal mentioned that Hyenas do occur around there but they are just not very common. We were keeping our fingers crossed to see a live one. As the sun started to go down, huge flocks of common cranes started taking off for their roosting place. A sunset in kutch is something one has to experience by being there. We enjoyed the last of the sun rays at Chari, a waterbody in Banni.

While returning from Banni, we went nightjar spotting. After driving around a while we finally came across our Syke's nightjar. It was so well merged with the surroundings that without the experienced eyes of Jugal, we would not have been able to find it. We laid down next to it and started shooting. I felt a couple of pricks around my belly but we pressed on. Finally we had enough and we headed back to the car. On the way back Jugal mentioned "You know when you guys are shooting around on the ground, be careful, as there are saw scaled vipers abound". This had a weird effect on the group . Everyone stopped chimping on their camera's LCD and looked around. nothing like being told of the potential danger after the deed is done (I was not bitten by the way, it was some thorn I laid on).



The next morning saw us following a different route. As we crossed bird rock we quickly got some sleepy raptors and an Indian Fox. Being a shy lady, she dashed into the bushes the moment we saw her. Moving further on, we reached Nandi Rock, where we decided to grab a quick breakfast. Bread butter jam, flasks of tea and fruits. Top it up with some savory snacks and you have a typical GRK field breakfast. While having breakfast we came across chestnut shouldered petronia. Once we moved again, we decided to capture some chestnut bellied sand-grouse on camera. These birds are quite common in arid places but are very well camouflaged. We came across one flock and were trying all the tricks in the book to capture them on camera from a better angle. All of a sudden we saw a mammal moving about, it looked like an overgrown dog. A close inspection reveled it to be striped hyena. :-) It was a lottery for us.






Evening drive gave us the usual suspects of short eared owls, cream coloured coursers, harriers, huge flocks of common cranes. We enjoyed the sunset there and then reverted back to CEDO to the comforts of hot tea very graciously provided by Jugal's family. In the night it was decided that we will split the group in two. One group was to visit Naliya grassland and other group was to visit Mandvi costal area. We decided that after all the hardwork we were entitled for some fun on the beach so we took Mandvi while other group was inclined towards Naliya.

Next morning we traveled to Mandvi in search of crab plowers and oyster catchers. The beach was a really great habitat but unfortunately we reached at the time when tide was against us. We did the best one could do in such situation. Splashing into the water. I did not cherish the prospect,it being a cold day and water not exactly from a hot tub but I was persuaded to join in. As usual, I blame others.





While on the way back our guide and driver Joshi bhai, suggested that we can have Dabeli at one of his relatives shop. Now my dear friend, if you have not heard of this little slice of heaven, let me introduce you to it. This is a Kutch specialty. A Typical road side delicacy. Sweet and savory masala slapped inside a bun with hot/sweet sauce applied to suit individual taste buds and garnished with spiced peanuts. When you sink your fangs in it, the explosion of flavors that takes place in your mouth is... well, excuse me while I wipe the drool off my table.

Having spent many years in Mumbai I was no stranger to Dabeli but my dear friends in the car were. Also Giri was not so sure if he could eat from a road side vendor. Guess what, none of us had lunch. We ended up having Dabeli's for lunch. With thumbs-up to boost ... it can not get better than that. I would highly recommend Joshi Dabeli center in Mandvi. Come to think of it, one must take a trip through Gujrat only for the variety of food that is available there. Oh and in case you were wondering, none of us had food poisoning or other unpleasant stomach issues (as far as I know). Oh and one advice, in India, forget diet.


We decided to head back to Banni after this lunch and have a leisurely evening. So another long drive later we were at banni and looking for another rarity, the yellow eyed babbler. This is a little bugger who moves a lot. We found a couple and tried sneaking up on them.





Next morning our group decided to join Jugal in search of white naped tit. Jugal was aware of a known habitat for these birds. We reached the place and started hiking. However I was not too fit for the hike and decided to opt out. Instead I decided to catch a nap in the car while all others were gone. While other came back it seems that the bird did show up briefly.

While on our way back we received a news that our other team came across a desert cat. That was an exciting news. We hurried back to CEDO and got refreshed and ready for some cat shooting. We had a hurried lunch and rushed to the spot. Now there were two teams together, silently waiting for the cat to make an appearance, and it did. Along with two kittens. What a moment it was. The silence was only broken by the bursts of shutters. As no one made a sound or misbehaved, the cat family relaxed in our presence. Upto a point that the momma cat allowed the naughty kittens to feed while in plain sight.




That was one of those i-will-remember-it-for-a-long-time moments. The mood was upbeat in the whole group till we called it a night.

Day 8 was our last day in GRK. I was already sad about the prospect of leaving all of this and going on with my journey to Jamnagar (more on it later). While taking our last drive in Banni, we decided to stick to a short drive. We got to capture some cranes and a log legged buzzard on this drive. On return it was time for us to pack up and move. Some of us went on to Bhuj for catching their connection back to their homes and a small group of us moved up to see the Amazing Jamnagar.

It would suffice to say that Rann of Kutch is a land of plenty in its own ways. Some of the species found here are not found anywhere else. The vast expanse of the land makes you realize how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things and eating a few dabelis and hot chutney does not kill you.

The group I was with was a diverse and really fun group to be with. Doc, Partho, Elaine, Prakash, Vinay, Dheeraj, Giri & Jayanth. I believe a group when it gels together, makes a whole trip worth the time. I really enjoyed the company and we had some of the epic jokes that involved many lines on wild asses and many more things, which are not suitable for a PG rated forum .

This trip was organized by toehold (toehold.in), a niche travel and photography company belonging to some brilliant people who are great wildlife photographers as well. I can not recommend them enough to anyone who want to walk on the wildside. If you needto take a vacation in any Indian national park, just get in touch with them and be assured that everything that can be done to make your trip a success will be done. After using them for 3 of my trips they get my vote.

The reason this trip report was written about 3 months after we finished the trip was simple, I was away from work for almost 2 months so had to slog my behind from the day I landed back in office. After slogging for 3 months I got all projects under control but started getting depressed, so decided to take a trip to Corbett NP. As my trip is about 2 weeks away and I do not know how to keep myself occupied meanwhile, I started re-living my LRK-GRK trip. I hope to have you taken through the journey that I enjoyed the most.

Hope to see you again during the Corbett trip report .
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For a complete set of photos, please visit and comment at http://photo.arrozinc.com .
Last edited by kartikp; Apr 26th, 2011 at 02:46.. Reason: Added desert cat and kitten photo. Reduced picutre sizes.
#2 Apr 25th, 2011, 20:28
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#2
Nice write up and definitely you enjoyed your trip.

But i am not able to see the pics here.
#3 Apr 25th, 2011, 20:32
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#3
Superb pictures what were you shooting with?? I'm so looking farward to getting back to Gujarat with my D300 and 500mm

To link to photos in your gallery you just copy the link and paste it here..

http://www.indiamike.com/photopost/s.../ppuser/106623
#4 Apr 25th, 2011, 20:41
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#4
you really have taken some nice pic in your album http://photo.arrozinc.com

Rohan
#5 Apr 26th, 2011, 02:43
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#5
Thanks guys. I am glad you liked the photos. I have resized the pics to make the page loads less painful now. Let me know if you are still facing issues.

@Klompen: I was shooting with Canon 7D + 400mm f/2.8 L IS + 1.4x throughout the trip. With your 500, you will love it there, but make sure you pack your 1.4x and 1.7x along.
#6 Apr 27th, 2011, 03:30
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#6
Really enjoyed your photos, will get to the Rann of Kutch on one trip in the not too distant future! Thought of visiting on our last trip (March) but was advised that it would be really hot (around 40 degrees).
#7 Apr 27th, 2011, 17:19
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#7
March can be a little hot I believe but I think you will also run into some birds which may not be very common because of returning migrants.

I think I will be there again very very soon.

Cheers,
Kartik
#8 May 12th, 2011, 16:05
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#8
Amazing pics & superbly written trip report. Thanks.

I sincerely feel that there is so much to see in India that it would take more than a life time to cover India.

Ronak.
#9 May 12th, 2011, 19:09
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Thank you for sharing your pictures and your adventure with us! Amazing!
#10 May 12th, 2011, 19:32
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Thank you! The photos are superb
#11 May 12th, 2011, 22:20
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Oh Man! You saw so much of wildlife!!! Fantastic... really impressed!
thanks and best regards,

Maneesh Goal
Photo & travel blog: http://mybioscope.blogspot.com/
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#12 May 19th, 2011, 15:40
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#12
Thanks Daisy, Nick and Maneesh. Glad you had the time to go through the writeup and survived to post a comment.

Ronak, I completely agree with you. India has so much to offer. Just got back from Corbett and already missing the smells of the forest and the canopy of the Sal trees. :-) I think I leave a part of me behind everytime I leave a forest. However I sober up as soon as I hit Delhi's traffic .
#13 May 19th, 2011, 16:00
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#13

Thumbs up

Great report and even better pictures. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your experiences. This is the kind of post that I would like to find more often here in indiamike.

Jorge
#14 May 19th, 2011, 16:48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kartikp View Post Ronak, I completely agree with you. India has so much to offer. Just got back from Corbett and already missing the smells of the forest and the canopy of the Sal trees. :-) I think I leave a part of me behind everytime I leave a forest. However I sober up as soon as I hit Delhi's traffic .
Even we (me & wife) went to Corbett for six days in April second week. Following the Pench thread by Dr. Abheek it seems need to take one more jungle break. But work rules right now.

Ronak.
#15 May 19th, 2011, 17:07
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#15
Thanks Jorge and I am glad you liked the report. I think I will be writing a couple more for Corbett and Nagarhole soon.

Ronak, Central India is calling for quite sometime... I think I will have to trick someone in letting me off for 20 days so I can pay my homage to the central India... sigh... I can always wish though.. and hope someone takes me there with their trip report

Cheers,
Kartik
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