November 11th, 2005

Climb the Summit

My Diwali week Holiday

Mom came, and went. That was late last week. a week long visit which left me surprised. Surprised at the ease with which it passed off, not to mention the absence of the usual sticky points - me not taking care of my hair, face, not eating breakfast, blah blah. There was only one casual passing menion of deterioration of my hair quality!
It started off with me in office for the initial two days, and then my holidays started. Well, the days were interesting. Not much shopping (I bought a watch! Yay!) - she thwarted my plans of a new mobile succesfully. We went to the old city, where we managed to track down a shop which sells the hand embroidered Rabari ghagras (they call it Chaniya) -shocking pink on black base- worn by the traditional or ingenois population of south Gujarat. Ive been looking for one since I came here. All the old maids wear it...coupling it with backless (and I mean backless - only 2 stings) cholis, which I can do without!
Monday we left for Jamnagar. Whats in Jamnagar you say! (and so does everyone). Well, it was a no-rush wildlife holiday, fixed thanks to Anil.

It was a long 5.30hrs drive, which we intersperced with snacks at a Heritage hotel in Sayla. First day in Jnagar was spent raoming the old city streets. No shopping! Being Anils freinds, we were treated to a sumptious dinner, a specialty of the restaurant - Fresh Pomfret cooked goan-style and big prawns, in a curry. [incidentally Gujaratis are predominantly veggies, and Gujarat has the highest coastline amongst all stated of India. Almost all the catch from here is exported to different citied of India]

Next day we left at 5am [after meeting the owner of the place - Mustak] for the continental shelf. The island called Narara is connect to mainland by ankle deep water only in low tide. And this strech of land/sea is a bed of hard corals, and a wide variety of marine life. our guide was Jummabhai ... our literal 'brother Friday'...a white haired over 60 veteran who knew every rock of the place...or so it seemed.
We walked deep into the sea, 3 km, to a waterfall - in the middle of the sea! and back. We rolled up our trousers and put on rubber soled laced-up shoes and proceeded over the hard rocky sea bed made of dead corals. ON the way Jummabhai would run after and catch bare-handed an octopus, a puffer fish, a sea cucumber, prawns, sole, ...mention it! Everywhere we looked was calm sea water, and on one side we could sea a think strip of land on the horizon - the shore. Not a human in sight. and on that view we saw the sun rise, interspersed with a Heron here and there. Later in the day we would look at the water, reflecting off the sun rays, and making shadows on the sea bed...relflecting off the corals...sparkling, making fantastic colours! I held up a beautiful purlpe-yellow-green coral out of water, and it looked so plain and brown! It was beautiful. THe sea was so calm, it did not seem like the sea. There were mangroves on the shore, we had to walk on a trail beside them...a veritable jungle of breathing roots by our side! Not yet a forest, these were young plants. at high tide, which was advancing as we made our way out at 11.30 pm, the water seeps through the sea bed, and rises up on the bed over which we waled. Sometimes there are waves, and by the time we came back, the waterfall-at-sea was not to be seen any more.
We saw a vast variety of sea life. Including the hard corals - in forming stage, and algae. The corals were not very colourful, but they were the type that dont get damaged by physical disturbance. The government does not allow mass advertising of this place, and usually it attracts students and researchists, but well, they are allowing an oil ig to be set up in the vicinity! Sigh!
It was exhausting, to wade in water on uncertain footing, on sharp rocks, avoiding marine life... btu it was fun! will upload some reel got over! We ate sandwitches packed by the hotel. Jummabhai was keeping Roza.

Now Gujarat is known for its birds...rather the migratory birds. Most of the Siberian birds migrate to Gujarat (and some to Pakistan & Rajasthan) in winters, and thats what we planned to do next. We went to a nearby salt farm by the Tata's. Why? Because so much calm salt water has resulted in it being one of the primary ground for Flamingoes, Grebes, Herons, Pelicans, Stalks...of every variety! We drove through the 24km long strech in the middle, just wide enough to accomodate a car, and were close enough to touch the birds! The fartherst that you could see, there was water, intersperced by birds. Solitary birds, flocks of birds, birds taking off, birds settling down.
I never thought Ill enjoy ornithology, but I have changed my mind. The grace and beauty of a flamingo! A long, almost indiscriminate bird, you think so what if its legs and beak is light pink...till it suddenly unfurls its wings, walks on water, and takes off...showing off the Bright, dark pinkish-red colour of its wing span...with long neck on one end, and equaly long legs on the other.
Then we have the Pelican. not beautiful enough? Take a look at the Painted Pelican! Woo! It really looks painted...rememebr the birds on Japanese paintings? In pastel pinks, whites and black? This bird is what they painted! The edge of its wings are pink, laced with black, the neck is mauve, the beak pink, legs, light pink, and the body - white!
I could go on and on...but it was a sight of a lifetime. The glossy herons, storks, .... *Sigh!*

Next we made our way to Dwarka...the place which housed Krishna (some remains of the original city have been found recently under the sea). But the temple was closed then (how can a temple be closed?!!) so to the dissapointment of the driver, we set off, Jummabhai in the front seat, with his Bird-Book and strong Binoculars, keeping his strict ramzan fast.

We were too tired to venture out after that, it was Diwali, there were crackers bursting everywhere (unfortunately I could not burst any this yr, but that was compensated), and all shops were closed. Why the mention of shops? Because I could not get another reel for the camera! Stupid me! Did I mention that at Narara we also had with us a group of 3 families from Bombay. Got quite freindly with some of them...they were at the same hotel as us, but dint join for the bird watching.

On 3rd we left hotel at 6am, for Khijadiya Bird Resort. Beautiful is too small a word for it. There is a part I and a Part II. We first went to Part I to see the cranes take off. Hordes of them. These awesome birds are housed by the saline water lakes in Khijadiya, but feast on the farmer's groundnut crops 2/3 Kms around the area...No gain without some one else's pain! I didnt know whether to admire the birds or pity the poor peasants. Jummabhai told us how his father 7 hectares plot of land was destroyed completely in one day, because they didnt post anyone to shoo off the birds. His father ended up in a hospital with heart attack.
Apart from cranes saw more types of birds - Cormorants, fork tailed ducks, black winged stalkers, etc etc... saw the sun rise, over the sillouhette of a bare tree with knotted branches, and a bird on it, over vast land with no vegetation, over unending water where not a ripple moved till the ducks took off in a flutter breaking the silence.
We walked for kilometers beside the waterbodies, where reeds grow in patches hiding the shy grebes and other ducks (I dont remember names). A scene out of Wind in the Willows...only that this is a saline lake, not a river.

Khijadiya part II. I have read of lily ponds. I have read of quiet places, where you can hear a birds wings. I have read of paths between two water bodies, covered over head by the meeting breanched of trees. I have read of Neelgais being mistaken for a tree. I have seen old Indian oli paintings of Krishna standing in a lily pond where you cant see the water... but I never thought it real. Never thought it was this beautiful. Early mornign is when the lilys are in full bloom. We approached the Nilgai when we could understand it was a Nilgai, till it was a few meters away, when it went off at high speed, through the trees, through the water. and a moment later when we arrived, the water was undisturbed, not a lily out of place.

Occassionally there was a heron to be spotted amongst the lilys, a cormorant atop a small tree in the middle of one of the lakes. A tree shooshing down on the horizon as an eagle/ some other bird of prey took off. We saw beautiful, peaceful nature, undisturbed, unpolluted...and birds from all of Asia - Afganisthan to Siberia to...
It was beautiful and it was with difficulty that Jummabhai and us made our way back to the car, and to the hotel.

Come summer the water dires up, the birds leave in the heat, but in winter (and we had chosent the best climate - not yet cold enough to loathe the early mornings) it is Heaven on Earth. No disputes on that.

We made our way back to Ahmedabad that afternoon after lunching with Anil and family. reached back late evening. Next day we did the small purchases - food stuff typical of Gujarat, and Mom left in the evening. I had taken a holiday. Office again on saturday.

An amiable and nice visit. Unique in sorts, an experience neither of us will forget. I dont really bemoan my not taking snaps. For the memory is etched in my mind. And a photograph wont do justice to it. I have realised nature looks best in reality. It is rarely that its vastness and essence can be captured in a 6X6.
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