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Gujarat, India 2015, Rare and beautiful


elefromoz
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This is the second part of our India trip, following on from my first report on Satpura and Kanha. We actually visited Gujarat first, I wasn’t going to write a report on this area as there was already a couple of excellent reports from @atravalynn and @kittykat from a few years back, but then I decided Id share our experiences anyway, for those who are interested. This trip was a result of seeing a documentary on the Asiatic Lions of Gir, the only population on the planet. Any species that has survived imminent extinction and now flourishes, albeit with some threats, deserved our attention. I was also very interested in comparisons with their African cousins.

 

Our itinerary was Velavadar NP (1N), Gir NP (3N) and Little Rann of Kutch (3N)

 

Our trip started in Delhi where we stayed at the very comfortable Claridges Hotel

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This Indian Five Striped Squirrell was enjoying his tea,

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As were we!

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The hotel is in a very nice part of Delhi with beautiful tree lined streets

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And as we were to discover, the land of the Black Kite. These impressive Raptors can be seen everywhere.

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We had an early night to recover from the jet-lag and in preparation for a pre-dawn trip back to the airport for a flight out to Ahmedabad tomorrow, and the drive on to Velavadar NP.

We arrived at the Blackbuck Lodge about midday and it was hot already. This Lodge is gorgeous.

 

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Sitting on our verandah overlooking the waterhole

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Our room in the Grasslands

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The individual rooms are set in “grasslands”, mimicking the Park. Velavadar is the last stronghold of the beautiful Blackbuck antelope, the Grasslands they require are all but gone. We enjoyed watching the Blackbuck wandering to and from the waterhole

 

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We relaxed around the Lodge after a delicious lunch of curries and Roti (aahhh yum) until the evening and our first Game Drive in the Park. Whilst I was excited about seeing everything, in all honesty I was hoping for a glimpse of the Indian Wolf and the Striped Hyena, no point in not setting the bar high eh?

 

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Very glad you decided to do this after all! Can´t wait to find out if you were lucky with Wolves and Hyena! :)

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such a lovely black buck and with really beautiful horns.

 

well, the lodges look mighty appealing and tranquil to recover from the flights. so I'm sure you had a great rest there. :)

 

looking forward to more.

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Welcome to our neck of the woods!

The start was great. Cant wait to read the rest to the TP

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I am very pleased you have decided to post a report on this section of your trip - I am looking forward to it (All practical details welcome!)

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Velavadar is a tiny Park, less than 35 sq Km, nevertheless its home to an impressive number and variety of birds and animals. History tells us that this land was once owned by the Maharajas who used their hunting Cheetahs to hunt the Blackbuck. Fancy that! Today the Indian Wolf is the apex predator of the Park. We drove in on a hot afternoon, hot is to say about 32C, or thereabouts. We went into the Park in our own vehicle rather than the Park Gypsy, Im not sure why, but I didn’t mind with the heat (yes feeble I know). We stopped at the Park entrance and paid the appropriate fees, I think camera fees were about $10 per camera if I recall. The Park guide squished into the back of the car which was a station wagon/small SUV type vehicle. I felt a bit sorry for him actually. I stopped feeling sorry and guilty a couple of days on though, but more of that later. We spent some time “lurking” in the area of the Hyena den, but no luck. Two other Gypsys pulled up too, big lenses, scopes, full camo, all the gear…birders for sure. That was the total of other vehicles we saw that afternoon drive.The terrain looks so barren, other than the grasses, one wonders how it sustains anything much.

 

Small herds and individual Blackbuck were scattered throughout

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I have great respect for these tough little guys, my reading tells me that they often see off a pack of wolves from a kill. The day before we arrived in Satpura there was quite a showdown between Wild Boar and the two Leopard brothers who had made a kill. Tenacity is a gift in the wild.

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As is camouflage

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It turned out that Nilgai were common throughout our trip, but first sightings of any species is always exciting.It seems that they also pose a threat to crops and are even considered a "pest" by farmers.

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As evening approached we went back to the Striped Hyena den area and waited quietly, just as we'd nearly given up…..this

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two little faces looking back at usgallery_49445_1327_2528635.jpg

 

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Apologies for over-loading on the baby Hyena photos, but every now and again you have a sighting extra special and rare, you know you'll likely never experience it again, for me this was one of those times. We never did get to see their mother, maybe she'd already headed out earlier. These little guys are going to have to work really hard and use all their wits to survive in this small park. Good luck to them.

By now it was time to leave the Park and head back to the Lodge. Theres a Heron on the branch in the middle of the lake, prime position.

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Wonderful sighting of the Hyenas! I´m always wondering if I should do the Gujarat after all, this Report is certainly presenting strong arguments. :)

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Great sighting of the hyena - what beautiful animals. The lodge looks really nice.

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Never apologize for too many baby animal photos, I say. :)

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@@elefromoz thanks for posting the Gujarat section of your India trip, your photos from Velavadar NP have reinforced my decision to visit there next year. Cute baby striped hyenas and the blackbuck are such strikingly marked animals.

 

I think we will enjoy Blackbuck Lodge....

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Jealous!!! We dipped hyena despite having three nights there :( looking forward to more!

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Way to go on those striped hyena, plus the blackbuck. The owner of Blackbuck Lodge also owned businesses in the small Wisconsin town where I grew up. What a coincidence that was. Hope those baby hyena increase the #s in the region.

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Way to go on those striped hyena, plus the blackbuck. The owner of Blackbuck Lodge also owned businesses in the small Wisconsin town where I grew up. What a coincidence that was. Hope those baby hyena increase the #s in the region.

 

~ Atravelynn

 

No matter where that might have been in Wisconsin, it's truly improbable that there's be a commercial link between local businesses and a wildlife tourism lodge in India!

One never knows.

Tom K.

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~ @@elefromoz

 

Your trip reports are such a valuable addition to Safaritalk.

I appreciate both the high level of relevant detail and the helpful photographs.

The hyena photos are quite a lovely touch.

Many, many thanks for your careful effort to share this trip report for those of us who've never visited India.

Tom K.

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@@Tom Kellie

what are you waiting for, Tom? Go for it.

 

for those of us who've never visited India.

Tom K.

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@@Tom Kellie

what are you waiting for, Tom? Go for it.

 

for those of us who've never visited India.

Tom K.

 

 

~ @@Earthian

 

Thank you for your encouragement.

Tom K.

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@@michael-ibk, as a regular visitor I think you should consider Gujarat, very different again. Early flight out of Delhi, one and a half hours, then a 3 hr drive, arriving just in time for lunch! I would stay 3 nights, rather than the 1 we did. It seems pretty well everyone sees Wolf, more time would have seen us aiming for closer encounters, its such a small Park, and I think the Wolf sighting is on "one side" as well, even better. Asia Sanctuary magazine had a photo of a Wolf, peeping through the leafy growth, on its cover, it is a stunningly beautiful animal, quite different from the Canadian Wolf seen in Yellowstone, which too is a gorgeous creature. I may even consider going back to do just that on an India return visit.

 

@@TonyQ @@Treepol, Blackbuck Lodge is indeed lovely, everything about it is just so nice. There was a group of "birders", maybe 6 there at the same time, they luckily had 3 nights and were full of praise for both the accommodation and the birding opportunities.

 

@@fictionauthor, indeed, who can resist baby animals.

 

@@kittykat23uk, ahh but you did get a bit closer to the Wolf than I…your photos looked like a Wolf! Mine could have been a German Shepard trotting through the grass.

 

@@Atravelynn, fancy that, business interests across the globe, and you are the common denominator

 

@@Tom Kellie, you are too kind

 

 

We were up and going at sunrise, the only vehicle going through the gate.

 

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Whilst it looks so barren, as often, first impressions are wrong. Over a mound, and there was a lake. Wheres theres water, theres birds.gallery_49445_1327_826666.jpg

 

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I missed this little fellow in Africa, so this was a nice surprise, tricky to photograph though, blends in so well with the grasses.

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Common Cranes

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A while later 2 Wolf were spotted trotting through the grass in the distance. I prayed they’d come closer, but they were on a mission and disappeared quickly. Oh dear. We visited Yellowstone a couple of years back with “Wolf” on top of the wish list, as is with everyone. Unfortunately we only got to see them far, far away, really only visible with a scope. Here they were probably half the distance, Im getting closer I guess. More time here may have been the answer. Anyway, hence, one crummy photo, a proof shot. gallery_49445_1327_1009320.jpg

 

The male Blackbuck engaged in a bit of argy-bargy, the clack-clack of antlers echoing around as they pushed each other forwards then backwards until one was victorious.

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Back to the Lodge to packupgallery_49445_1327_3689450.jpg

 

A Kingfisher had taken prime spot on the pond.

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One last look from our room at the Blackbuck, then on the road for the 5 hour drive to Gir, and hopefully, the Asiatic Lion!

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@@Tom Kellie

what are you waiting for, Tom? Go for it.

 

for those of us who've never visited India...yet

Tom K.

 

I

"This is the second part of our India trip, following on from my first report on Satpura and Kanha. We actually visited Gujarat first"

That is the correct order to maximize sightings.

 

Glad you finally got your good wolf sighting! Along with my fav bird, the Hoopoe.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Well if this morning is anything to go by,@@elefromoz, you might also like to consider Finland as a potential wolf-watching destination. I also "did" Yellowstone and agree that most of our wolf sightings were of the "wolf-shaped dots through telescope" type.

 

There are also wolf-watching trips to Arctic Canada where you can get to watch denning tundra wolves. I haven't done that myself though.

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On the road, the usual hold-ups

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Peahens met us at the entry to Gir and our first Flame of the Forrest tree.

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It was the Asiatic Lion that really set this trip in motion for me. In the early 1900s there was 13 individuals left, a huge conservation push saw 180 by the mid 70s. The May 2015 census counted 523 Lions in the Park. What a turnaround and I have nothing but admiration for those that made this happen. There is ongoing debate about translocation, with the “fors” saying the Lions should be spread in case of some sort of disaster in the Park threatening the only population, and the “againsts” saying that Gujarat has done such a great job and will the Lions get the same level of protection elsewhere. Of course there is the politics, The Lions are a big money spinner for Gujarat, if the Lions can be seen elsewhere, will Gujarat attract the same level of tourism? Im sure others out there know far more about all this than me and can comment.

 

We arrived at the Gateway Hotel late afternoon, after a five hour drive. We had 3 nights here , 6 Game drives, to maximize our chances with the Lions. The hotel was simply a “plain, generic” hotel. That’s not a criticism, the water was hot, the sheets clean and the bed comfortable, just a bit of a let-down after Blackbuck Lodge. It was a “dry” hotel ,we had invited Vikram to join us for a drink but had to settle for Cokes. It had a nice open lobby on the second floor and the food was excellent.

 

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Indian Ringnecks in the hotel grounds

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My biggest gripe here was the camera fees, they had doubled just prior to our arrival, to a staggering AU$25 per drive! So yep, 6 drives cost $150 in camera fees. We carried just one camera. The drive times were 6am – 9am, then 9.30am, which too is crazy, as that meant you rushed back to your hotel for breakfast at 9am, scoffed it down, then back out again to line up at the gate for the 9.30 start. The afternoon drive was, I think, at 3pm, too early as it was still hot, and not much moving out there til it cooled a bit. 4.30 – 7.30 would have meant cooler weather and some sunset action. Check in at each drive was performed with military precision, passports being collected and checked not once but twice prior to getting in the gate. I’ll stop whinging now, as said previously, they have done a spectacular job in boosting Lion numbers. We travelled in the little Gypsys again, our two private guides in the back seat, us two in the middle seat and the Park Driver and Guide. We never had the same drivers or guides twice, again this can be a bit of an issue as each new guide has no knowledge of what you’ve seen previously and therefore tended to start with pointing out the same “common” animals. To cut to the chase, on our first day, we didn’t see a Lion, we did however enjoy other really nice sightings, had it not been for the $75 in camera fees, I may not have cared! Nah, not really, safari is a lucky dip after all.

 

Female Nilgai looking nervously through the bushes

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Mongoose warming in the sun

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The "see, hear and speak no evil" Langurs

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Plum headed Parakeet

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Mottled Wood Owl

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A pair of Thick-knee, goodness knows how our guides spotted these as we whizzed past

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White Eyed Buzzard feeding on the ground

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And nearby, a juvenile

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Track through Gir Forrest

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So, yes, today was a bit slow, but, tomorrow would make up for it big time. Life is good!

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Wow, those camera fees are hefty indeed. Per camera or per drive?

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@@elefromoz

great TR and since Gir happens to be in the state i live, i find it doubly interesting. Very good photographs too. You have the eye. I have commented on some of your observations:

 

The May 2015 census counted 523 Lions in the Park.

 

I was fortunate to be an observer during the counting. It was great and we could go around the entire area, including the national park.

 

It was a “dry” hotel ,we had invited Vikram to join us for a drink but had to settle for Cokes.

 

Gujarat is the only "dry" state in the country. However, visitors from outside the state, and that includes visitors from outside India, can get a permit for buying and consuming alcoholic beverages. Locals can also get a permit, but on health grounds and generally given only to people above 40 years of age.

 

i shall try and pass the message to the concerned authorities about the camera fees. A comparative chart would help and would appreciate if ST members could share their info on park fees, rides, guides, etc.

 

Sorry to note that you had a slow day. Waiting to hear what happened the next day!

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I don't think "getting permits" is easy or worth the effort - for anyone en route to Gujrat via say, the Mumbai domestic airport - there is a small duty free shop (very well stocked) ........ Just buy there and carry with you. They also have those little "minatures" that you can stash away in your carry-on.

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I don't think "getting permits" is easy or worth the effort - for anyone en route to Gujrat via say, the Mumbai domestic airport - there is a small duty free shop (very well stocked) ........ Just buy there and carry with you. They also have those little "minatures" that you can stash away in your carry-on.

@@madaboutcheetah

Permits have become relatively easy nowadays...for outsiders that is. I also heard that now one can do it online too and in some hotels (in Ahmedabad) there is an official who is authorised to give it.

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