Bidding our farewell to LRK, we started our journey to GRK in the early morning of the 4th day. It was a 6 hour long journey and I was catching up on my sleep and 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 greeted by the same smile that you can not see in any 5 star hotel. After settling in our rooms, we quickly assembled 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.
Soon we went to Banni grassland, an arid and harsh piece of 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 courser, it was still a beautiful bird. Unfortunately this bird also eluded us and I could not get a picture 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. When we started moving again, we decided to attempt photographing 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 colored 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 hard-work 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).
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. When 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, also eating a few dabelis and hot chutney does not kill you.