Discovering The Joy Of Indian Summers

Much is said about the Indian summer, about its scorching heat and humidity. About avoiding them for certain travel destinations. However, summers in India have their own charm. The skies are a rich blue against a golden yellow landscape. In much of India, these two colours dominate, highlighted only with a flaming-red flourish of the … Read more

Mumbai – Velavadar – Sasan Gir : Road Tripping

We had been planning for a long time to visit the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar, Gujarat. And when we finally found some time, the summers were beginning to set in, and we decided to make a quick trip. We drove from Mumbai to Velavadar via NH8, and stayed a night at the Khaliar Bhavan, Blackbuck National Park. There is a beautiful but tiny grasslands National Park at Velavadar which houses a few blackbucks, wolves, hyenas and many birds. April was a good time to spot the large mammals, but post monsoons, this place is a must visit for the Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus), a highly endangered bird. The next day after a brief safari at the Blackbuck National Park, we moved ahead towards Sasan Gir. The roads were generally nice and not too crowded, and passed through beautiful farms on either side. We passed through Sihor, an ancient city which has a hill fort as well, but we didn’t have the time to stop for a visit. We like to keep stopping for photos or for a decent looking place for food/chai or snacks. And we found plenty of such opportunities. We stayed for about two nights at Sasan Gir, at a place we will not recommend. From Sasan Gir, we went back to Blackbuck National Park, spent a night there, and then went via Wadwana Wetlands to JambuGhoda, a delightful little palace in a sanctuary, and a world heritage site at Champaner – Pavagad. So our journey was: Mumbai – Velavadar – Sasan Gir – Velavadar – Wadwana – Jambughoda – Mumbai. The roads are generally good throughtout.    

Dry mud flats on either side of the road right outside of the Blackbuck National Park.
Approaching Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar.
Approaching Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar.
In Sihor, we went to take an inquisitive look at an old colonial building, now housing for government department.
In Sihor, we went to take an inquisitive look at an old colonial building, now housing for government department.

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Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary

The drive to Todgarh Raoli Wildlife Sanctuary was like a Safari in itself, passing through amazing Aravalli Hills, dry scrub land, degraded hill slopes and many a hairpin bend. At the village Todgarh, we called Gopal Ji, the caretaker at the forest rest house, to check what was cooked for dinner. He didn’t have much, … Read more

Velavadar Blackbuck National Park

I could see the horizon as a cool evening breeze hurriedly chilled my chai. Sitting on a chair outside the forest rest house, the expanse of the Blackbuck National Park with hundreds of its natural residents filled me with imaginations of what the world must have been like before modern humans took over. The Blackbuck … Read more

Nandur Madhyameshwar : A Little Known Birding Haven

We had heard of Nandur Madhyameshwar, and had been wanting to visit this Important Birding Area (IBA) for a very long time. And we ended up visiting twice in one year.

Our first trip was in the monsoons. As expected, the lake was full of water, the surroundings lush. However, monsoons are not a great time for birding. We did spot a lot of resident birds like Terns, various Bush Chats etc, but no migratory birds. Winters, however, are a different story altogether. Tens of thousands of migratory birds make these wetlands their winter home. The area is pretty much a flat land and hence approaching birds for photography is difficult.

From the Maharashtra Forest Department website: “Nearly 24 species of fishes have been recorded in the reservior including Ompok Maculatus, Puntius Gawa Mullya. So far more than 230 species of birds are recorded from this area out of which 80 species are migratory.

Migratory: White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbills, Flamigo, Goose Brahminy Duck, Pintails, Mallard, Wigeon, Gargenery Shoveller, Pochards, Cranes Shanks, Curlews, Small Pratincoles, Wagtails, Godwits, Weavers etc.

Resident: Black Ibis, Spotbills, Teals, Little Grebe, Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Stork, Kites, Vultures, Buzzards, Harriers, Osprey, Quails, Patridges, Eagles, Waterhens, Sandpipers, Swifts, Grey Hornbills, Peafowls etc.

Animals: Ottar, Palm Civet, Fishing Cat, Jackal, Mangoose, Wolves and many species of snakes etc are available.”

We drove from here to discover the fabulous Karanjgaon, Pink Village Of Maharashtra.

Nandur Madhyameshwar in the monsoons. The metal structure is the dam.
Nandur Madhyameshwar in the monsoons. The metal structure is the dam.

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Kannur to Kotagiri : A Beautiful Drive

On our way to Kochi from Goa, part of the Mumbai – Coonoor road trip, we decided to stay overnight at Kannur, which had fairly warm weather for December. We were attracted towards the hills and cooler weather of Coonoor, so early next morning, we drove towards Kotugiri.

This is the route we took, about 7 hours with constant breaks, and we loved it! We recommend it to anyone looking for a great drive, awesome food, and wonderful roads with almost no traffic. We also spotted a Nilgiri Langur (Trachypithecus johnii) and an Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica) on the way.

From Kannur  – Putukaramba – Kannavam – Needumpoyil – Mananthawadi – Panamaram – Sulthan Batheri – Gudalur – Ooty – Dodabetta – Kotagiri.

The road is smooth and well paved, full of beautiful curves.
On either side, almost throughout the journey, you have rolling tea gardens.

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Majestic Aravallis: Road tripping in Rajasthan!

It is a great joy to take a driving holiday. You get to see and experience more of the land. And it is especially exciting when you are driving through Rajasthan. So we soaked the sun through our winter drive in Rajasthan around the majestic Aravalli Mountains, moving from Uaipur – Deogarh – Todgarh – … Read more

A trek through Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary

Many people tell stories of their glorious wonderful treks through stunning landscape. Well, this is the story of a completely different type. While staying at the Blue Mormon Resort at Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, the hotel staff told us we could go for a moderate trek though the forest. They said we could find guides near … Read more

Lopping : Slowly Destroying the Ecology

Lopping is the cutting away of the branches of a tree. It’s heavily practiced by the pastoral communities of India, to the point where it has become extremely detrimental to the ecology and is killing many a tree species.

The pastoralist, with climbs a tree and starst chopping off the branches indiscriminately.

“Brutal lopping, year after year, has actually ended up preventing trees from flowering and fruiting, which leads to their premature death”, says Dr Bivash Pandav, in Sanctuary Asia magazine. Without branches, flowers and fruits, many species of insects, birds and mammals will also lose their habitat.

I was first exposed to the concept of lopping by Dr Pandav around the Rajaji National Park area. I thought it was prevalent only amongst the Gujjars of that area. But the more I travel, the more widespread I find this unsustainable practice, which is destroying crucial habitats.

“…an area roughly the size of South America is used for crop production, while even more land—7.9 to 8.9 billion acres (3.2 to 3.6 billion hectares)—is being used to raise livestock.” (Source: National Geographic). In an over populated country like India, with billions to feed, how does crop production compete with livestock, while being environementally safe as well?

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Purushwadi : Firefly Sanctuary?

This blog post is from our trip last year.

In June last year, we headed towards Purushwadi, a small village near Sangamner in rural Maharashtra. We had heard the valley at night turns into a heaven of fireflies at the onset of monsoons. Having been deprived of firefly sightings thanks to rampant use of pesticides and habitat destruction, we were really keen to see ‘the million fireflies’ that were promised. The promises were delivered! And how!

Finding the village was easy, we were asked to meet someone at a particular Petrol Pump on the Sangamner road. This person from the village sat in our car and guided us to the spot. The journey was beautiful and at one point we had to cross a river via a rusted bridge, which was so narrow I was scared it would scratch the car. But it was just wide enough and we soon reached Purushwadi, 1000m above mean sea level.
Grassroutes, an organisation of nice people, “committed to helping the urban world meet and discover rural India” (though I am not sure urban tourists in untouched rural India is a load of good), runs small tent accommodations in Purushwadi. They are clean, with clean toilets. The highlight is eating with a village family in their hut, and tasting the pure village food. Dal, farm fresh sabzi, (vegetable) , and rotis made of pearl millet (bajra) flour. The simplicity of the meal and way of village life is absolutely wonderful. The best part is that village folk apparently benefit from this as rural tourism.

The economy of the village runs on agriculture, (which made me very happy) and lies between rivers Murkundi and Mula. The landscape is hilly, lush green, breezy and, well, just awesome! After lunch, we walked through the village lanes and reached a mango tree. We then plucked fresh ripe mangoes and trekked downhill to a beautiful quiet stream. This was the most mesmerising moment for us, with out feet soaked in cool stream water , and hundreds of small fish nibbling our feet giving us a natural foot spa, and we relishing our juicy mangoes. A perfect idyllic village moment that I have always dreamt of.

As the sun’s heat mellowed down, we trekked our way up into the valley and took a walk around the damn. Village goats and stray dogs kept our company through these trails. The open fresh air was totally rejuvenating. Then we started heading back reaching the village hut well in time for our dinner. Soon the sky began to turn dark. And there it was, our first sight of one firefly. Just that one firefly that hovered around us, leaving a disappearing trail of light in its path was so beautiful to watch and that we were not even thinking of what was coming next.

Soon one firefly became many and we saw hundreds of them around a tree right outside our tent, in the same trailing action. It was time to go into the valley with our guide. It was absolutely dark, no contamination of artificial light. Only a half moon shone above us. With every blink of our eye the number of fireflies kept on increasing. In no time we found ourselves amidst a carnival of fire flies all around us, and unbelievably standing as though decorating our entire path. Was this real or were we imagining these surroundings, it was truly a shot straight out of James Cameron’s Avatar, and better. Their soft blinks and fast but magical flights left us speechless. We kept walking and finally reached the narrow bridge. As we stood at the centre of the valley, we saw something that will remain etched in our minds for as long as we live. There were hundreds of trees, each tree was dotted with a million fireflies. They were blinking together but in a choreographed rhythm. Like disco lights that would go up on one tree and then the next one and then the next. This was nature at its best performance and we were mere spectators. This was music. This was magic! The swarms of firefly families had painted an unforgettable image before us that no photograph can ever capture. We were there with our eyes wide open, dazed and amazed while the time stood still. An now as we write about it, we feel an urgent need to go back and relive it all over again. Don’t think we will ever check Purushwadi off our travel list. This is definitely a place where you want to keep returning to.

[box type=”note” width=”100%” ]We strongly feel such a beautiful phenomenon must be preserved, and would love to nominate Purishwadi as a Firefly Sanctuary! The best way to preserve a habitat is to leave it alone. Even if you do visit, please minimise your eco-footprint. Ask your organisers to help preserve the habitat.[/box]

Best time to visit Purushwadi for fireflies in the first week of June, just before the monsoons!

From Wikipedia: Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, and commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a ‘cold light’, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red, with wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometers.

There is a website I found urging saving India’s Fireflies.

Sunshine through fresh leaves.

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The Beautiful Landscape and Wildlife of Oman that I hope to photograph soon

When one thinks of Oman, images of beautiful architecture, modern and traditional, great cities etc come to mind. However, I have been interested in the natural landscape and wildlife of Oman, which is equally mesmerising, but often not well known. I don’t know when I will be able to travel through the beautiful Sultanate of … Read more