The Savanna of India: Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar

The best things in life are often chanced upon. They make their way into your life serendipitously when you expect them the least. The same thing happened to me a few weeks back when we had planned to spend a day in Velavadar. It was supposed to be a halt on our return journey from SasanGir to Ahemdabad in Gujarat. After having sighted Asiatic lions in Gir, I was done for the year. What more could I have asked for after sighting a lioness with her cubs? That sighting was amazing & nothing could top that experience. I wasn’t up for another national park. And I certainly didn’t need another safari.

But as it turned out, I was partially wrong.

Seemingly trivial things sometimes transform into experiences of a lifetime.

All my doubts vanished into thin air when I took the jeep Safari to Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar which is also called the Savanna of India. Flatlands, sprawling fields of golden grass & many flocks of birds welcomed us when we entered the national park. I have seen a few forests/ national parks in India, but this was something else. This isn’t your usual forest where visibility remains highly compromised and you have to rely on other senses for a rendezvous with an animal.

In the grasslands, nothing blocks your views. You get upgraded to a 360 vision. And with that, the possibilities of spotting & sighting rare animals and migratory birds become quite high.

To observe the animal activity of early mornings & that of later afternoons, we planned two safaris. Other than being able to enjoy gorgeous Sunset and Sunrise, we managed to expand our circle to other species & came back home with memories of…a lifetime (if I may).

Day 1: Chilly winter evenings & the Sunset

Our first safari began in the afternoon and ended right after the sunset. In these 3 hours, we visited the wetlands, grasslands, the spots popular for the rare wolf sightings, sighted pods of pelicans, a colony of painted storks, many ducks, a few eagles, some Nilgai & my favourite antelope – the beautiful Blackbuck.

Often when safaris begin, I offer a silent prayer to the gods and wish for just one sighting of the famous animal/ bird of that place. Just one sighting – in any form and shape. A glimpse would do too. But as the sighting happens, another emotion takes over. And then I offer another prayer – how about a shot of this animal dancing? Just let me have one more sighting where I can watch the male & female together. You know how greed works! Sometimes the gods oblige & sometimes they do what they do the best – they dispose. Here in the Blackbuck National Park, I needed no such prayers. Why? Because I got binoculars this time. So, if the animal was around, I would have spotted it (thanks to Physics). And animals were around. Not just animals but also birds – of all feathers, plumage & beaks!

After a few kilometres, we spotted the antelope of this national park – the Indian antelope with long, ringed horns. The animal not only has gorgeous horns but also beautiful eyes. When I saw them running around in the grasslands, I kept looking. I hadn’t seen anything as innocent as this in a long time. Unlike sambhar & spotted deer, the Blackbucks maintain their distance & won’t come near you. They would look at you from a distance & prefer to stay in large groups.

By the way, fun fact – did you know that Blackbuck was the favourite meal/ the hunt of the now-extinct (Indian) Asiatic Cheetah? Native to India & Nepal, even Blackbuck numbers are seriously declining. Blackbuck is already extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh. In India, you can see them only in protected areas now.

Once we saw the blackbucks, we got greedy. I got greedy. So, all of us started looking around more intently hoping to sight a wolf or a striped hyena. The guide knew that the probability of sighting was low. Our logical selves knew that. But the heart didn’t. We kept looking around hoping to find a clue that could take us to another wild animal. But nothing happened for a while. And then, we observed some movement. There was something moving in the grass. It wasn’t a hyena or a wolf. But it was an equally rare Jungle Cat. Oh, what a day!

The Sunset that evening was a bonus. The sky, air & landscape looked so gorgeous around that time that everyone in our jeep preferred silence, even my talkative mother. 🙂

Day 2: Biting cold mornings & a warm Sunrise

After an amazing evening safari, I had high hopes for the next day’s early morning safari.

“The two experiences – a lion safari in Gir & a safari in the Blackbuck National Park were completely different from each other. Comparing these two was like comparing apples and oranges”, my corporate trained persona told to my adventurous self.

I got excited & woke up earlier than usual the next morning. Why? I was excited to greet & meet the Blackbucks.

The weather didn’t share my feeling though. It was a freezing cold morning. I had to layer up a little more, cover my ears, hands & head. Only my eyes were visible. Good enough for the safari, I thought. And off we went!

As the jeep started, we started getting colder. The kind of cold when you become a ball instead of a person because you are trying to keep it together. In such inhospitable weather, it’s difficult to look around to spot animals or birds. I started losing hope. But the grasslands were friendly. After an hour of roaming around in the cold, we found something. A few jeeps were gathered there, and there was pin-drop silence. Oh yes, pin drop! The wolf can sense the sound waves from a great distance. Hence, everybody was keeping it hushed. And there! A wolf was jumping around at a far corner. Let me just say that there might be only 5 or 7 events in 2021 that made me as happy as spotting a wolf did. This visit had surpassed all my expectations. I was happy, really happy. By then, the Sun was shining & it was time to say goodbye to the grasslands.

On our way out, we met a group of blackbucks who were crossing the road with a vigour that you generally see in kids. May be that’s the secret to happiness – jump like a child.

If I had to take one thing away from this trip, I won’t be able to choose. Because there are at least three things that this trip taught me:

Good things can happen at places where you least expect them to happen.

A bad start is just a bad start. It has no bearing on the end.

True happiness lies in leaps and jumps.

Maa! ❤️
The younger sister who behaves like the elder one
Yours truly!

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