We were assured by our guide at Dholavira that large number of flmingos used to come to this location in times gone by. However, they have not been coming in recent years. So, having seen the first motivation for the trip (Dholavira site), I was anxious whether I would see the second, the flamigos.
The Forest guest house at Dholavira was quite an experience. It is run by the local village Panchayat with Government providing the infrastructure and a 50-50 share of profits, the Sarpanch is the resort manager. Talking to him we learn that the village has about 200 families, with 50-60 BPL card holders and the land around is arid and non-cultivable. It is a 100% Hindu village, votes BJP and dependent on livestock (cattle, goat, sheep, camel but no pigs) for their livelihood. The local cattle had the most impressive horns I’ve ever seen. But this remote village has never seen the MNREGA, the nearest primary health center (seldom has a doctor he tells me) is 60 Km away and people have to go for private health care at Khavda, 80 Km away. The bus from Bhuj, via Khavda, comes and goes once a day.
The room itself was clean and there were decent toilets, with running water which was salty. One remarkable feature was the absence of a generator (here and elsewhere) and were told that 24 hour supply was the norm. Of course, Airtel signals were missing. But the Sarpanch was on his phone – so there was some network available. This is tru for so many remote parts I have been to – TV and phones reach, but not healthcare!! The dinner was just about edible and the next morning, there was no sign of any breakfast even by 8AM. So we set out with a cup of sweet tea to boost us.
The drive to Bajana was another long one – but we got to our destination ‘The Royal Safari Resort’ by lunchtime, thanks once again to the excellent roads. Part of this route (which we had done earlier while going towards Bhuj) which goes through the narrow strip between the Rann and the Gulf of Kutch is full of salt pans and mountains of glistening white salt can be seen. From the Royal safari, which is an excellent facility, we set out at around 4 pm for the safari through the Wild Ass Sanctuary. It is spread over 5000 Sq Km ans is listed as the largest wild life sanctuary of the country. It has a wealth of animal and bird life, and plays host to a large variety of migratory birds, besides the wild ass for which it is named.
The jeep covers large areas as is races over these flat lands and we were fortunate to spot many bird species. And then we reached the marshlands where we finally spotted the flamingos – with mixed feeling of relief and disappointment. Relief, since there we had not been getting very happy vibes on this issue and disappointment because although there, the numbers were far fewer than the image in my head. But then, no where is the world the same as it was in the ‘Bhuvan Shome’ year of 1969 – and what ever I had read while preparing for the trip should have partially prepared me for this!!
In 1945, Salim Ali the great ornithologist noted over 5 lakh birds. But since then a variety of factors such as decreasing rainfalls, increasing alkalinity and hence loss of the plankton life which they fees on, increase in illegal salt panning (more of this in a later post), industrial pollution have led to a continuous decline in their numbers. I also remember reading somewhere that the Afghan wars, since this region falls on their flight path, had affected their choice of destination. Birds have been found dead in large numbers and this year many birds left early I was told, abandoning their eggs. But I could not trace any reports. What I did learn was that there is very little work on these birds and no effort to keep a annual count – certainly an area for the attention of conservationists.
All in all, a classic case of man against nature …….. and at least for the moment, we are arrogant enough to think that we are winners.