Saturday, 16 February 2013

Thursday 14th - What's the time Mr Wolf?

We make our way to the dining hall as it is just starting to get light. There we meet a Canadian lady and very serious wildlife photographer who is also safari-ing this morning. After a quick cup of tea it is time to go. Our jeep turns up a few minutes late but when we get to the entrance to the Velavadar Reserve we see that we have not missed much. Everybody is waiting for the registration official to arrive. While we we wait we spot a wild boar, a couple of very distant blackbuck and some nilgai. The latter is a sort of large, clumsy deer which is treated as a cow by the Hindu population.

 The babu arrives and we have to go through a form filling exercise. There is an American of Indian origin in the queue and he is very cross about the wait and is scathing about Indian bureaucracy. We are reminded mostly of U.S. Immigration procedures. Paperwork done we are joined by a guide and we head off into the reserve. We soon see plenty of Blackbuck at close quarters. We also see a long line of migrating cranes pass over us - a very impressive sight.

R spots a hawk in a tree which the guide identifies as a common kestrel. The sun breaks through the cloud cover dramatically improving the light and before long we spot a jungle cat which refuses to smile for the camera and slinks off in a sulk. There were hundreds of blackbuck in various groups. The guide is very good at identifying birds and we see several species new to us as well as having some of our uncertain IDs confirmed. We get another jungle cat sighting, this time more fleeting and our guide points out a hyena den where we stop the jeep and he tries to persuade the hyenas to show themselves. No luck.
 We move on to a different section of the park where we meet the Canadian lady who has seen the hyenas and who takes our photo for us. We do, however, spot three grey wolves and D is able to get some decent photos. They seem to be stalking a herd of blackbuck and we watch for a while until something alerts the blackbuck and they head away like the wind. This is a great conclusion to our safari and sets us up nicely for breakfast, after which it is time to hit the road again. Sadly we do not get the opportunity to try out the open air shower attached to our bathroom.

Today's detination is Diu, a small island off the coast of Gujarat that was a Portuguese colony until 1961 when the Indian Army moved in. It does not form part of Gujarat state but is separately managed as part of the Union Territories. Our guidebook mentions that there is a still a Portuguese flavour to the culture and the cooking here so we decided to give it a visit. First we have to get there.

Once we regain the main road it is plain sailing as far south as Bhavnagar, a port city. On the way we pass through an area of tidal mudflats where we see painted storks, a spoonbill and pelicans. Beyond Bhavnagar the road is narrow and winding with a lot of heavy traffic. The two great beliefs of Indian drivers are much in evidence. Firstly - if I flash my lights at you it makes me invincible and you will be vanquished in any head on collision. Secondly - if I blow my horn long and hard enough all obstacles will magically disappear. We make reasonable progress and avoid some traffic incidents.

About 100km short of our destination the road conditions deteriorate dramatically. For about 50 kilometres the road looks as if it has been subjected to prolonged and effective air strikes. There are huge craters, invisible changes in level and the surface is a mixture of rubble and dust. The heavy traffic stirs this up to create a fog. Our driver tells us that he will be repeating this trip in a few days time. He doesn't appear to be looking forward to it.

We have to pay a road tax when we get to the Diu border post and then are free to drive across the bridge linking the island with the mainland. We find our hotel very easily and get checked in. We picked it out of Lonely Planet which described it as still smelling new in 2009. Time has not treated the rooms well but it will do for one night. We dump our bags and head out to explore. A lot of places are closed as Diu is primarily a weekend resort for people who wish to leave dry Gujurat behind and enjoy freely available and very cheap alcohol. We are different - we want a beer in mid-week and this takes a little tracking down but we eventually find a small bar open - empty apart from a few flies - and we set about a bottle of beer each.

Refreshed we seek out somewhere to dine and following the book's recommendation we take a look at O'Coqueiro Music Garden and Restaurant. This looks charming and has an interesting menu - mainly fish dishes. On the way back to the hotel we stop off for one of the famous local ice creams each. R has ginger and D has custard apple.


After a quick wash and brush up we return and get one of only two vacant tables. We have calamari with garlic, prawn pakoras followed by kingfish in tomato and ginger gravy and prawns in coconut sauce. All excellent with nice cold beer to help it down. All for less than £10.

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