Gujarat: salt plains, wild ass, and I hope we’re not lost!

 

Although it’s a few years since I visited the huge Little Rann of Kutch (staying at The Royal Safari Camp when it was 18 months old) my memories of staying there are still vivid and I often tell people to put Gujarat on their bucket-list.

We enter the ‘camp’ through a traditional red arch and into the facilities by huge one hundred-year old doors. Among some of the fabulous pieces of furniture is a carved wooden chest which, when I ask, I’m told “this is a family heirloom. It was carved from one piece of wood: my father-in-law gave it to us.” Still having my hand-written notes and notebooks is a great resource!

It's a harsh life for these people
It’s a harsh life for these people

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Covering nearly 5000 sq. km, the Little Rann of Kutch is a unique landscape and includes an official Sanctuary to the beautiful wild ass. Related to the zebra, this is the world’s last population of these ass.

Believed to once been a shallow sea, we take a tour of the bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which evidently transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains and is considered to be a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In the monsoon, it gets flooded for about a month. With no, or little, vegetation, except on the fringes, the ground-cover which requires little water, is dominated by short-living plants.

The land is so arid, I hope we’re not lost!

Jon records a piece to camera
Jon records a piece to camera

 

Note: it was while we were here that fellow travel writer Jon Haggins got the tittle for his book, Chasing Wild Ass

 

Near Camp Zainabad, Gujarat
Near Camp Zainabad, Gujarat

Until I went to Gujarat, India, I did not realise how big birding was in the world – as well as birding blogs, see a blog I wrote about Desert Coursers  the resort at Zainabad, Gujarat, India where I stayed a few days.

What a great little resort in Zainabad, Gujarat, India – I recommend it!

Handmade, traditional covers on the plant and mirror decorated seats

What a great little resort Desert Coursers  is and I can recommend it. This resort at Zainabad, Gujarat, was started in 1984 by Shri Mohammed Shabbir Malik, and today is run and managed by his son, Shri Dhanraj Malik and got its name from Dhanraj’s Great Grandfather whose favourite bird was the Desert Courser.

It’s a great destination for birding, culture and generally experiencing the Little Rann of Kutch – especially as Dhanraj loves nature too and is a great source of information: there are some 70 species of birds in the area.

The morning sun just touches 'my' cottage

I stayed in one of the cottages, known as Koobas, which are a traditional design and very comfortable –  with  air-conditioning  if needed and have attached bathrooms with hot and cold showers.

I went on early morning, afternoon and evening jeep safaris into the Little Rann of Kutch and other areas around Camp Zainabad.

The highlights for me were  the Wild Ass;  the people of the salt plains,  and the local people ( I visited the high school and orphanage that Desert Courses supports  – check out their website to see the many social projects they support.

As well as the Wild Ass, the Macqueen’s Bustard and Sykes Nightjar, see more about the wildlife here.

Dhanraj and his wife Zyda are perfect hosts and its like being part of the family – spending time was them was great.

I will be wrritng more about this area, especially about the Salt Plains, and would love to return there … always a recomendation!

See here for a list of great birding sites in Gujarat including here in Zainabad.

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