Saturday, 16 February 2013

Wednesday 13th - Another sunny day in Gujarat.

Early start today as we are taking a road trip to visit some of the wildlife sites in Saurashtra - part of western Gujarat. This has been arranged for us by Vikram Dhoot, a travel agent in this part of the world who turns up promptly just as we finish breakfast and we hand over the monies due. He introduces us to our driver, Davendra and we get under way. The roads around the city are pretty good although the same cannot be said for the general standard of driving. Our man seems to be the right mixture of skilled and cautious and actually uses his mirrors for driving rather than looking at young ladies. He tells us that he was once driver for a few days for Mick Jagger. 

We head south west on a busy dual carriageway and soon leave the city behind us. There is  near desert scrubland with camels as well as cotton fields and a sprinkling of shiny new bio-chemical factories. In Gujarat it appears to be acceptable to go anti-clockwise around roundabouts as well as clockwise but otherwise it is just the usual series of near death experiences that come with any trip on Indian roads. The road crosses and recrosses the Gandhigram - Botad junction metre gauge railway line. At one point we see a passenger train - possibly even the same one that we saw yesterday on its way back to Gandhigram.
We turn off the main highway towards Bhavanagar and things get distinctly more rural. For a while we are stuck behind Postman Patel but he stops to chat with Mrs Goggins and we can progress. After about three hours drive we spot the sign that says we are entering the Velavadar National Park and soon we turn off onto a very minor road. R describes its surface as corrugated. Another 10km or so brings us to the Blackbuck Lodge which is our destination.

We are both stunned when we are shown to our bungalow which is fitted out in marble with most mod cons. We were expecting a rather spartan room based on our previous experience of wildlife resorts. We sort out a few basics including a jeep safari for tomorrow morning and then R settles down on our shady verandah for a spot of serious bird watching. D calls the highly recommended guest house in Diu who have been telling us to call nearer the time since November. Last week we were told to call the day before. Today they tell us that they are full. A quick look at Lonely Planet, another call and we are fixed up.

Once the sun abates a little we go for a short walk around the site. There is a pond in the middle with a couple of tents around for shade so we sit and watch. There are bee-eaters with bright green top sides and spectacular bronze bellies and underwings which seem to glint as they wheel in the sunshine. The pond is occuppied by a cormorant, a coot and a pair of spot billed ducks, as well as something ominous that just occasionally breaks the surface.

There are plenty of birds to watch but we struggle to identify them all. D decides that his camera is not up to serious bird shots although this one of a wire-tailed swallow came out quite well. We also think that we get a good ID on a pair of rufous-tailed larks.

The watching area gets a bit crowded so we return to our room for a nice cuppa Darjeeling and more observation from the verandah. Francolins appear in the scrub close to us - a pair with a youngster. As the sun sinks we get a fantastic display of colour in the sky followed by a slowly sinking orb of fire. No photoshopping needed here.

 As the place is a bit more upmarket than we expected we decided to dress for dinner. Having showers in a sunken marble bath is a new experience for both of us and feels luxurious somehow. The meal itself is a buffet. We have decided on the vegetarian option. Judging by the news we are seeing on the BBC here we suspect that most people in the UK have probably become vegetarians by now. The meal is rounded off with two desserts - ice cream and gulab jamun - one of D's faves.

Early night as we are on safari in the morning.

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