Pic above: A local filling pots with water during sunset in Nal Sarovar Sanctuary.This picture won a photography contest and was featured in DNA newspaper.
I took the smooth highway from Ahmedabad to reach Sanand. It is the nearest town which facilitates access to the offbeat Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. Sanand is a dusty little town; its only claim to fame is that it is the manufacturing hub for Nano cars. I could not spot any Nano car. However, I found myself in the middle of a sea of Chakkdis in all possible colors; reveling in their kitschy glory. A Chakkdi is a quirky vehicle unique to rural Gujarat. It looks like a motorbike is attached to a wooden cart.
Pics above: Left- I was sitting in this doodh wali gaadi. View from my seat. Right-The gaadi stops, passengers disembarking near the sanctuary.
Giving a miss to the chakadi ride, I hopped on the ‘doodh wali gaadi’ instead. The vehicle originally meant for carrying goods was cleverly converted into a passenger carrying taxi. The driver waited for close to 45 minutes until he ensured that at least 3 men are hanging precariously from the rear of the jeep. As if this was the unsaid rule in rural Gujarat.
It is not really the proper way to reach the sanctuary but I never skip a chance to travel with locals, in their style. In no time, I was accompanied by dozens of rural men and women occupying every inch space of the massive vehicle. Those who could not find a seat, hung from the rear of the vehicle, rest sitting atop it. 20 minutes into the ride, the driver stopped the vehicle for more passengers. I wondered where will he make them sit. Without a second wasted in discussion, 3 adults climbed atop the front of the vehicle and made themselves comfortable. Their soiled legs, dangling in front of the driver’s seat, were the highlight of my hour long ride to the sanctuary.
The ‘as-smooth-as-glass’ road from Sanand to Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary passed though idyllic villages of Gujarat. The lush green landscape offered a glimpse into the lifestyle of rural Gujaratis who lived on the fringes of either sides of the road. One moment has stuck to me from that journey. I spotted a woman doing her chores as her kids and peacocks roamed nonchalantly around her house peacefully. My experience has taught me that such utopian scenes of man animal harmony is common in rural Gujarat and Rajasthan.
54 kms (from Sanand) and more than an hour later, I was dropped unceremoniously at the crossroads near the sanctuary. Eerily, the only tourist who was walking towards the sanctuary was me. I entered the main gate gingerly; my attention caught by the wetlands on either sides of the road. I was excited to see huge numbers of migratory birds perched on every inch of the vast expanse. A tout approached me with a Rs. 500 boat ride offer and I gave in. Containing my excitement and faking my poise, I hopped on to the boat. By the time I started my boat ride, it was already 5 p.m. and the sun had started to melt. I could finally spot more tourists in a distance, quietly enjoying the bounty of nature.
A flock of unruly gulls gheraoed my boat from all sides, harassing me for food. Their cheap antics didn’t match their elegant beauty. White in colour, they were gorgeous; the touch of bright orange beaks and feet made their appearance dramatic. Their abundance did not take away from their beauty. Their ‘pirate’ act was an interesting spectacle.
Nal sarovar sanctuary is actually a large lake which spans approximately 120 kms. Announced a bird sanctuary in April 1969, it is one of the largest bird sanctuary wetlands in India.
The shallowness of the lake and the characteristic reed beds and marshes makes it unique. This helps a variety of aquatic plants and avian life to thrive. The oar of my boatman fell when we were in the middle of the lake. My jaw dropped when the boatman jumped in the lake and heroically picked up the ore as I waited for him, swinging on the boat, in the middle of nowhere. The water barely touched his knee.
Observing my baffled face, the boatman educated me that the maximum depth of the lake was 4 feet. No wonder, the shallowness makes it the an ideal feeding haven for migratory birds like greater and smaller flamingos. Their main diet is blue green algae which are in abundance here. Come November to February and it’s a paradise for migratory birds and bird-watching enthusiasts alike. Migratory birds travel from as far as central Europe (upto 3500 kms.) every winter. Apart from the local birds, these migratory birds traverse to Nal Sarovar in order to escape the harsh winter in their homeland. An impressive 200 species of birds call this place home.
For few months it is a safe home for birds like stints, plovers, grebes, black tailed godwit, brahminy ducks, bitterns rosy pelicans, white stork, sandpipers, crakes, waterfowl, different species of wader and herons. Different species of fish, insects and aquatic plants and insects are also food for these birds.
I passed through many large numbers of different species of birds, as the boatman navigated the boat poetically. Incongruous ‘Cross’ installed in the middle of the lake intrigued me. Cormorants used the crosses to display their “I am drying my wings” pose.
By now, the gulls had deserted my boat leaving me alone with the boatman and nature. Absorbed in the beauty of the moment, I suddenly realized that we had left not only the gulls but any sign of humanity and civilization far behind. We had ventured deep in the lake. It was one those moments I cherish in my travels- communing with nature in utter silence. For a moment, the thought of being looted did cross my mind. But over the years, I have learnt to trust the people of this country and rightly so.
The boat swam languorously in the lake, crushing the aquatic weeds gently under its rough exterior.There were birds in every direction I set my eyes on. Thanks to a setting sun, they had congregated for their ‘End Of Day’ seminars! The flamingos or pelicans eluded me. Never mind, the boatman pointed out a large flock of flamingos heading towards a resting ground for the night. They moved poetically, in a perfect V shape. Their faint noise felt like a lullaby.
Nothing can parallel the extraordinary feeling of gazing at scores of birds returning to their home. The erstwhile silence of the place was punctuated with their collective sounds! The interesting aquatic plant life attracted my attention equally. I strained my eyes and spotted beautiful aquatic plants, some jutting out of the water, some with gorgeous patterns; some flourished beneath the water but easily visible.
I chickened out when the boatman offered to take me deeper into the lake. Though I was dying to discover more of this place, I politely declined as it was getting dark and I had no clue how to go back to Ahmedabad. I didn’t even know where I was staying overnight and what I was eating next. Practical logistic worries quashed my romantic indulgences and I asked him to return.
As we were about to return, a magical moment unfolded before my eyes. I asked him to stop the boat as I saw the Sun change hues from a bright yellow and orange to a mellower deep red. The Sun shyly hid itself behind the trees and shrubs, the water in the foreground reflecting its colors. The bewitching reflection made it look like someone had scattered gold in the lake. The birds lent an ethereal quality to the moment. They frantically passed the Sun many times. It seemed like they were taking turns to enter and exit the Sun.
Before I realised, the setting had hypnotised me. Casting a magical spell on me, Nal Sarovar had exceeded all my expectations. Till date, it remains one of my most beautiful winter evenings.
It’s not every day that I am surrounded by thousands of migratory birds with a breath taking background of an orange sun committing suicide. For hours, the only sound I heard were the flapping of wings and the sound of ripples every time the boatman gently caressed the water with his oar. Bliss!
The surreal sun down is still one of the best I have ever seen. And I have seen many! The overwhelming beauty pushed me into a contemplative mood, encouraging me even to shed a tear. My travels have taught me that one absorbs more and feels the place more when one travels solo and is left alone to commune with nature.
WHEN TO GO- November to February is the best time. Sighting is easy at this time.
HOW TO REACH- Ahmedabad is nearest railway station/airport. Nal Sarovar is 61 kms away from Ahmedabad. I suggest book a cab from Ahmedabad. Traveling like locals might land you up in travel. Post the boat ride, I was stranded in dark for hours. I will soon write a blog on that horror.
- For bird sightings the best time is morning and evening.
- Don’t forget to carry water bottles and light snacks in the boat.
- A binoculars and a good zoom camera is an advantage.
- Mosquitto repellent and hand sanitizer comes handy here.
- Arrive Ahmedabad via train/flight. Hire a taxi from Ahmedabad to Nal Sanctuary and back. There is no public transport post sunset and you will be stuck.
- Timings are – 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Day Trip from Ahmedabad is ideal.
- Visit Lothal and Little Rann of Kutch nearby.
The view from my #SoulWindow is nothing less than a poem!
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