India Nature: Kutch Backroads, An Essay, part IV

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Continuing my search in the Little Rann of Kutch, I called Devji Bhai Dhanechs and booked a kooba in Jogad Camp, on the edge of the Wild Ass Sanctuary, the final worldly of the Khur. Only around 3,000 Khur remained after once ranging broadly around India. Along with the tiger, lion, rhinoceros, and dozens of other species, the story was the same: several thousand individuals was the most that we could expect to protect. Anything more and they were getting in the way of progres, of the hundreds of millions of people. The numbers were skewed. I knew this was my utiltarian ecology mind thinking, but was our deeper, spiritual connection with nature also at stake?

At Jogad Camp, I met a Frenchman Rene who was biking around India reminiscing about his younger more intrepid tours. We spoke French for three days as we toured around the Little Rann with Devji.

Devji was an elderly man, once a salt worker, who had vowed to protect the Little Rann ecosystem and to educate people about its biodiversity. He told us that by taking tours around the Rann, he was able to keep watch on what people were doing, illegal or otherwise. That assuaged my consciousness about traveling by diesel jeep through the flat silt plains. At Little Rann, we visited small islands of vegetation and wetland pockets--oases amidst the salty dry flats--looking for animals. I licked my dry lips and wiped blackened snot from my nose as we explored.

After almost three weeks in Kutch, my senses were heightened and my mind focused on many different life forms, including a tiny wasp with a powerful sting that entered my shirt. I watched another insect as it mimicked a small tawny grass to perfection, moving its legs as if blades blown by the gentle yet hot afternoon breeze. Along with many birds, including the Greater Hoopoe Lark, we also watched an Indian Wolf carry a freshly-killed duck back to his lair. After being the closest he had been to a huge flock of birds, including flamingoes, avocets, and spoonbills, Rene said, "when I return home I will buy a bird book. I see so many things now that I didn't see before."

As we drove through the vast barren lands, mirages appeared on the brown horizon, increasing as the sun rose into the sky, heating the grey salty earth, sending dust devils into the air above toiling Agarias salt workers in the salt pans. Once this was a river delta. A few months ago, this was a large estuary, connected to the Great Rann of Kutch, full of Paatiaris boats harvesting endemic Metapenaeus kutchensis prawns for the export market. In a couple more months, the monsoon rains would reverse the evaporation process. Life continued to ebb and flow, characterized by change.

On my last morning at Little Rann, I slowly walked towards a group of Khur. They accepted me curiously as I cleared my mind and sat down. They watched me. Soon, they resumed their normal behavior--babies drank milk from their mother and snuggled with them, males itched their backs in the dust, sending their hooves into the air with glee, and families grazed in sparse grasses peacefully. For a while, I walked with a Khur family, enjoying their company.

For me, this trip to Kutch was an experiment, something I will continue to hone as I continue to travel, birdwatch, and explore nature through the Indian Subcontinent over the next year. In the end, I had seen 165 species of birds in Kutch in a wide variety of habitats. A few of the rare ones, Stoliczka's Bushchat, White-naped Tit, and Imperial Eagle escaped my sights. But others--the Alpine Swifts, the Cinereous Vulture--were surprises. Still, I found the most precious moments for me were those when my mind was most clear, when I had no expectations, when I was in complete solitude, when I was in an alpha state of mind, like a child exploring nature in his backyard.

Trip Schedule February 25 to March 16, 2007
February 25-Bet Dwarka
February 26-Dwarka
February 27-Jamnagar
February 28-Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary
March 1-Jamnagar
March 2-Marine National Park
March 3 to March 7-Bhuj, Mandvi, and surroundings. Holi on 4th; Mandvi on 5th; N. villages on 6th (with ); Zura wedding on 7th)
March 8-Tera Village
March 9-Tera Dhond and Soneri Hills
March 10-Nalia Dhond, Jachau Port, and Tera Dhond. Night at Khatau Wadi.
March 11-Charri-Fulay Dhond. Night at Than.
March 12-Morning in Than. Afternoon towards Great Rann and Drobaba village. Return to Bhuj.
March 13 to March 16-Little Rann of Kutch

Special Thanks to:
Gaguba Virani, Baba Boudnathji, and Choutu Shivaji, Than Monastery
Devji Bhai Dhamechs 98255 48090
Parbat Rabari 94272 66535
Dr. Bhavesh Thakkar
Khatau Makanji Bungalow, PO Tera Taluka Abdasa, Kutch 370 660 Tel 02831-289305/289352
Khatri Abdulgafoor Daud, Traditional Rogan Art, Nirona Village, Tel 98257 53955
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