Flamingoes, the pink awkward birds hold a strange fascination for the better half who has always wanted to see them from a close distance. There is no better place to do this in India than Gujarat and more specifically, The Little Rann of Kutch. The Rann of Kutch, is basically a huge salt pan which during the migratory season from November to February is home to a large number of migratory birds and flamingoes which are resident here. The Greater Rann ( Main Town – Bhuj) is farther off and more difficult to reach. The little Rann is closer to civilisation and has the Wild Ass ( Khur ) as a added bonus. I have the same fascination for these graceful creature as the better half does for flamingoes. ( maybe I relate more to them!!)
The Wild Ass is a endangered species and there are two separate subspecies in India, the Khur in Gujarat and the Kiang in Ladakh. I have had the privilege of seeing both of these in the wild and consider them to be extremely graceful and beautiful creatures.
We had just completed a great 2 days in Gir National Park ( See previous post ) and set off for a full day’s drive to Dasada from Sasan Gir. The roads in Gujarat are the best I have seen in India and a 300 km journey with frequent breaks for lunch and tea / coffee along the way took us 6 hours, which is amazing if you know about road travel in India. The hotel booked was ” The Rann Riders” which is a famous property in Dasada few kilometres from the Bajana Creek and the salt pans where you find the Khur.
The hotel is a sprawling property with its own horse farms , small ponds, many cottages and is beautiful to walk around. There are peacocks walking about in the property and 2 friendly labradors who are very playful. The cottages themselves are highly varied from small ones with swings on the porch to huge ones without the swing (which we didn’t intend to use anyway). Their website shows decorated cottages which we were not allotted ( They should specify this on the website) and we changed two cottages before we were happy with it. The food is not unto the mark and caters to people who like it bland ( read not Indian!). There is 24 hour tea and coffee service available in the dining area. The electric kettle in our room didn’t work and wasn’t changed despite many requests to the same. The Rann Riders is just resting on its laurels earned many years ago and I would look for better options next time!!
After that rant lets get to better things and all thats good about the region. The Bajana Creek is easily accessible by a Jeep (4 x 4) and provides easy viewing of scores upon scores of flamingoes. Zeeshan our driver was an enthusiastic young man and knew the good spots in the area. Our first drive was early morning and the best time to see birds close to the shore. They move into the water as the sun gets overhead. The commonly seen waterbirds ( Other than our prime target – Greater Flamingoes) in the region are spoonbills, pelicans, adjutant storks, demoiselle cranes, common cranes, spot bill ducks, shovellers, bar headed geese, stilts, lapwings and many others. The area also has a lot of raptors and we saw golden eagles, Marsh Harriers, Shikras and Common Kestrels. Bird photography in the area is a lot of fun as get the birds in open areas with good sunlight and great backgrounds. Me and my 300mm had a whale of a time!!
Our next drive in the evening after a bland lunch was to the salt pans and to find the Asiatic Wild Ass. We had the company on this drive of a Dentist couple from Chembur who had more photography equipment than me!! The animals are highly shy and can take off at a fast pace if you get too close and chasing them is prohibited by law. Zeeshan coordinated with the other drivers in the region to find out where the animals were last seen and circled the pans ( how Zeeshan managed to keep his bearings on our location I have no idea, to me all directions looked the same) till we found a huge herd and photographed them to our hearts content. We also found a huge flock of common cranes and got as close to them as they would allow for photos before they took off in a hurry!! We also tried to find a Desert Fox who according to Zeeshan lived in the area, but didn’t get lucky. You can’t win them all!!
We waited for the sunset over the absolutely featureless horizon and it is an experience I will never forget. The deep colours of the sky and the changing colour and shape of the sun are the experience of a lifetime. We took a lot of photos but the actual scene itself is a million times more beautiful.
Next day morning was another trip to the creek, the other shore this time for another look at the flamingoes. The road to the other side passes through a village littered by huge piles of garbage lining the road and it’s a pity that the locals don’t realise they are ruining a paradise. On the way I got some amazing photos of a black shouldered kite, a bird you will see sitting on the overhead wires every few kilometres. Hours passed by and soon it was time for us to return. We checked out of the hotel and started on our journey to the amazing Modhera sun temple and onwards to Ahmedabad.
Overall the birds compensated for our frustrations at the Rann Riders and the region should be a must see on the list of all birdwatchers.
Till my next post on another region.