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Old 11th April 2013, 14:48   #1
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Default Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

Place: Velas. It is a small village in coastal Maharashtra. ~225 kms from Mumbai.

Date: I was there with family on 6th and 7th April'2013.

Event: Velas Turtle Festival

I had never heard of a place called as VeLas (pronounced with a hard L in Marathi) till about a year back. Except for a passing reference in Nana Fadnavis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nana_Fadnavis) from the Maratha empire, Velas has managed to lay hidden deep inside Maharashtra's coastline for ages..untill recently.

The Olive Ridely turtle (a marine turtle) - an endangered species- lays eggs at multiple places along the Maharashtra coastline. Incidently Velas in Ratnagiri district is the place where most of the action is concentrated. For years, the eggs were being stolen, sold and eaten. That along with rampant degradation of natural habitat, pollution and fishing/hunting has driven the Olive Ridelys to near extinction.
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The Sahyadri Nisaraga Mitra organization (http://snmcpn.in/) with support from the coastal villages and a helping hand from CSR initiatives of some organizations are trying to save the Ridelys. They conduct the Velas Turtle Festival in Mar-April timeframe every year. The festival gives opportunity to people to learn about the cause and directly/indirectly spread the awareness. It also offers an unique experience of witnessing the hatching of the turtle eggs and the march of the turtle babies to the sea.
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These baby turtle attracted me to Velas. But there is much more than turtles to this small village. This travelogue is an attempt to share that experience.

Disclaimer: Above 2 images sourced from the internet. Copyright with original owners/publishers.

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Old 11th April 2013, 15:53   #2
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

How to get there:
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How we went there:
We were part of my organization's Ecology Club Velas event. Travelled by bus :(. Since the entire travel was during the night of 6th April, I did not even explore taking my XUV along. The journey started from Thane at 10:30pm on Friday 5th April. Multiple scheduled and unscheduled halts (traffic jams, puncture etc) derailed the plan of reaching Velas by 5:30am on 6th April morning and we actually reached there around 8am.

I believe the bus took the Mumbai -> Birwadi (Bhor Phata) (NH17) -> MandanGad -> Kelshi Phata -> Vesvi -> Baankot -> Velas route.

Where to stay:
This is the best part. Homestay in a real village.

Quote:
The Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra has set up a successful conservation model in the village. To ensure a source of alternate livelihoods through conservation, Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra established the Kasav Mitra Mandal, a local body involved in turtle conservation in the village. This initiative for marine turtles is unique throughout India.

Home stay programme
Home-stays are provided by the members of the Kasav Mitra Mandal (Friends of the Turtle), a committee dedicated to conserving marine turtles. Here, the members host tourists at a nominal cost, and 10% of the proceeds go towards the 'Velas Marine Turtle Conservation' fund.
For details (including the photos of the toilets ), do check out:
http://villageofturtles.blogspot.in/...programme.html

Here's a broad layout of the homestay options:
Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)-velas-kmm-map.jpg
Myself, my son and 9 other men were hosted in the Sakpal house. My wife, my daughter along with a few ladies stayed at a house nearby. The above map is slightly out of date and there are few more houses that offer homestay now.

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Old 11th April 2013, 16:32   #3
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With the broad context set, let me get started with the photolog.

The journey started on the night of Friday 5th April. I have learnt a lesson from the Morachi Chincholi event and carried shawls as it gets pretty cold over the night as you move away from the furnace that we call Mumbai. The bus was OKish and despite my attempt to take rest throughout the night, I invariably woke up multiple times during the night because of the awkward body position in those seats with limited push-back facility. I don't remember if my regular 6am alarm went off and I silenced it, but I got up around the same time. Wife, kids and most of the bus - except a couple of energetic volunteers - were still fast asleep. We were no longer on NH17. At the same time, looking at the roadside signage, I figured that we were nowhere near Velas as well. Witnessing the release of hatchlings in Velas at sunrise seemed impossible. A bit disappointed, but there was no point worrying about things outside my control. The air was comfortably cold and the scenes outside were "typical Kokan". I have never been to this sub-section of Kokan, but the landscape was all too familiar. I have captured it many times. Plus it was too early to start clicking. I was certain that all I would get would be shaky grainy grey images. I decided to just enjoy the early morning chirping of birds and the fresh air. After some time while going through a small ghat, I came across a breathtaking view on my left. A small valley engulfed in fog and a small hill piercing through the fog, appearing like a magical island. A few minutes later another interesting scene on the left: a layer of fog - almost 5-6 feet tall - floating around 5 feet from the ground over a long stretch of the fields. Now I started regretting not taking the camera out yet. So the D90 came out. Ended up deleting a lot of shaky photos. Here are a few that are not that bad.

This is a shot of the Savitri river taken in the morning at 7:30am.
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Familiar kokan scene.
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After a tricky narrow road through a dense village and brushing against a school-bus, we descended down to the sea-level. The road is just next to the shore.
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Black sand. Not my favourite. At least it was clean.
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Around 8am we reached. People got off, houses were assigned and everybody walked over a dirt road for around 5 minutes to reach their respective houses.

That's the house where me and my son were put up.
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After freshening up, a breakfast and a bit of straightening of backs, finally around 10am, we headed for the beach where the turtle hatchery is located.

No photos clicked from 8-10am as I had forgotten to recharge the battery the day before and used this time to charge the camera battery.
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Went through somebody's supari-baug. (Supari = betel-nut)
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A old lady washing clothes.
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Things being dried.
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The school
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A temple and a ST depot(?) in front of it
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Old 11th April 2013, 16:59   #4
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

Caught a couple of monkeys smooching. They did not like being photographed and quickly disappeared.
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Spotted an interesting butterfly
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Nana Fadnavis.
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"Kutumbe" ! Interesting surname. "Kutumb" means "family" in Marathi!
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A XUV parked in front of a house in this small village?
Its Thane registered, so should be a visitor.
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Kokan gets heavy rains during monsoon. Some people use interior paint for external walls as well. When the lower part of the walls get lashed with rain, the paint gets washed away partially and creates some interesting gradients like this one:
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Walking towards the beach. Its a long walk.
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The kids getting warmed up.
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Interesting yellow leaves on a tree.
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Old 11th April 2013, 17:09   #5
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

Finally a board asking us to get off the road. For the Devnagari-challenged, it says "Turtle Festival".
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A flight of stairs takes you below the bridge.
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The entire group gathered there for a quick briefing.
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Whenever I see this, I can't stop myself from clicking.
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Dr. Naik explaining the marine turtle conservation cause.
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These were in the field. Not sure what are these.
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My wife getting some first-hand "field"-experience with the D5100.
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Dr. Naik explained a lot about mangroves as well and their importance. Mangroves are like a sponge and help in preventing flooding. The ecosystem in the mangroves have evolved to suit the marshy salty conditions. The leaves are thick and the trees have multiple roots as can be seen in the snap below:
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Its about half a km walk from the bridge to the hatchery at the beach. Please do refer to the Velas map in post #2 to get the orientation.
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Old 11th April 2013, 17:27   #6
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

The route is flagged with a lot of posters which feed important bits and pieces about the marine turtles. I would let you read them on your own rather than boring you with my own words.
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The following one says "The Last Dinosaurs: Marine turtles have been in existence since the age of the dinosaurs, that's 100 million years ago!"
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"Will I be the lucky one? - Only one out of thousand hatchlings ever reaches to adulthood."
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Old 11th April 2013, 17:40   #7
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

11am-> We reach the beach.
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On the left, one small area is cordoned off. That's the hatchery.
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Turtle eggs collected from all over the beach are brought here and again burried in sand - with a wooden stick next to it indicating the date on which they were put there.
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When the eggs are about the hatch, the movement increases. So those are brought to the surface and a basket is kept on top of them.
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It was getting pretty hot. After getting some more information about the hatchery, the group started back towards the small bridge.
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11:15am-> It was getting increasingly hot.
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That's our bus parked on the bridge. Suddenly it seemed like a long walk!
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Old 11th April 2013, 18:20   #8
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

After the Velas beach visit, we headed for the nearby Baankot fort .
The road is narrow. The bus needs to go a few hundred feet ahead on the road and then take a U turn to come back to a point from where the road forks towards the Baankot fort. While our bus was on that narrow road, a ST bus came from the other direction and we had to reverse quite a bit to a point where the ST bus could pass. Wasted some good 20 minutes in all this circus.

12:30pm -> We reached the Baankot fort.
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The current name of the fort is a deformed version of its original name "Bawan Kot"..which means "52nd Fort". This was 52nd fort built/won by Shivaji Maharaj. Not sure about this, the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra site talks about "52 crores".
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There were lots of folks with DSLRs (and I felt assured to hand over my DSLR to someone to click our photo ). I requested one girl with Canon to click this one..and she has framed as well as exposed it quite well.
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Kokan coastline. This photo - let me correct that - this thread is dedicated to our beloved Team-BHPian Kamen_Rider whose Mumbai to Goa Kayak journey (Going solo at 5 kmph - Mumbai to Goa in an inflatable kayak!) is extremely inspiring.
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That's the girl with Canon DSLR who clicked us with the magnificient backdrop.
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Old 11th April 2013, 18:33   #9
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

More views from the fort:
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The fort provides a brilliant vantage point to a vast surrounding landscape/seascape.
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The following one is going on my Facebook Cover soon.
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A lovely house in the midst of thick greenary.
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The red leaf would slowly become green over time. You get to see a variety of intermediate shades in this shot.
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Somebody played holi here! But, on an uninhabited fort, who would play holi? Ghosts!
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The kido giving a pose.
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Old 11th April 2013, 18:44   #10
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

1:10pm -> The day was getting really hot. We bid goodbye to the fort and started back towards the village.
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The road has 2 BIG slopes. The buses somehow managed it while going up.
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After coming back from Baankot fort, there is a very sharp left turn to go to Velas. A large vehicle like a bus can not turn there. So the standard trick is to get the bus down in reverse and then head for Velas. Since the slope is sharp, the bus driver got most of the people to get off the bus.
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That's Daniel - a Brazilian who was part of our group. A jolly good fellow who wanted to see rural India.
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Although it was pretty hot, most of the folks enjoyed the short walk.
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1:30pm -> We reached the spot near the village where we need to leave the bus and walk to our respective houses.
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This was one of the interesting houses in the village.
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Old 11th April 2013, 19:03   #11
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

We reached our respective accommodations and freshened up. After roaming around in scorching heat, a splash of cold water on the face feels heavenly. Most changed into something comfortable.

1:45 pm -> The light breakfast had evaporated long time back. Everybody was VERY hungry by this time.

Our lunch served on banana leaves.
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The food was great. Everybody, especially the kido, loved it.
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The next 30 minutes was not lunch - it was gluttony! Loved the hospitality and attention from the host family. In one corner of the house, a bunch of cotton mattresses were stacked. After the full tummies, that sight was just too tempting to resist. We have missed the release of 9 hatchlings in the early morning. The next program was to visit the hatchery at 6:30pm to see if any new eggs have hatched. So 3 full hours and nothing to do! Everybody picked one mattress and dozed off within minutes. After the 8 hour journey that was not too forgiving for the back, this was a welcome break. I slept like a log, without any dreams, for next hour or so.

4:00pm -> Not sure why, but I woke up. I think, the silence got me. Everybody in my house was fast asleep. Absolute silence everywhere. Except for an occassional bird and rustling of leaves, nothing else. The day was still a bit hot, but definitely not uncomfortable. I came out of the room and settled in the varandah ... taking it all in.

And then it struck me. My own village which is in the same district another 150 odd kms further south was exactly like this 25-30 years back. Untouched by modernization. Peaceful. Innocent!!

While I sat there in the varandah of that small house in Velas, the old memories came flooding back. Dirt roads, cattle, greenary all around, wells and small rivers with cold clean water. Coconut and betel-nut plantation so thick that only a small portion of the bright sunlight reaching the ground. Real houses, not bunglows. No electricity, no fridge, no TV. Battery operated radios with VividhBharti and AakashVani. Forget cellphones, very few landlines. Hens roaming around, kittens playing with each other, a few dogs carefully looking out for strangers or sleeping under some shade. People in no particular haste. Everyone knows everyone else. Respect for knowledge and age. Except an occassional ST bus, no other vehicle. No cars, no bikes, only bullock-carts, bicycles. Walking was the primary way of getting from one place to another. Thin people, chisled bodies, not too tall. Dark but still youthful skins. Sober coloured clothing. No hotels, very few shops. "Grow and eat" or "Catch and eat". Jaggery used in tea instead of sugar. Fish, everybody's favourite. Multiple fruits, but they were grown mostly for consumption and very few for trade/sell. Oil-lamps at night, may be a 'kandil'. Early lights-out. Bright stars visible from the windows. No fans. No need for fans. Cool breeze. Peace. Harmony.

Unfortunately over the last 2-3 decades a lot of that innocence is lost - at least in my own village. The road is tarred. Besides the numerous rounds of the ST bus, there are private noisy autos everywhere. Everybody has a bike, a few even cars/UVs. Forest cover has been destroyed and mango plantations are everywhere. Quite a few have moved away from tilling their own land. Wells have gone deeper or have become saline. Satellite TV and cellphones have invaded and taken over. Lifestyle gaps between urban and rural have vanished to a large extent. With migration, a few houses are locked. Joint families are history. Everybody wants a house with a concrete "slab" on top. Innocence of kids is gone. Rather than playing cannonball at the river, many are seen joining some classes and preparing for the rat-race - just like their urban counterparts. Money is god. People, relationships, culture, traditions, knowledge, spirituality - none of that matters anymore. Many have lost the meaning of "needs" and are chasing bigger and even bigger "wants".

Somehow villages like Velas still have managed to conserve some of that age-old innocence and simplicity. I sincerely hope that it remains that way for years to come.

Some random shots taken during the lazy afternoon.
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Somebody heading out to collect 'maadi' - a local drink made from coconut trees.
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While everyone was still asleep and I was enjoying the silence, a mini-hurricane hit our house.
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Old 11th April 2013, 21:48   #12
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

6:30pm -> We started for the beach again for the evening session of releasing baby turtles.

Came across this interesting speed-breaker.
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This time we took a different route through the village.
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Love the colors used by these folks.
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The now familiar road to the hatchery on the beach.
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The same scene from the bridge looked different because of the sun's direction.
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That's the same tree under which the morning briefing was done.
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The small foot-bridge had a collapsed section and was reinforced by a few betel-nut trunks.
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Natural "knives".
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The volunteers checked and confirmed that one egg has hatched and one baby turtle would be released to the sea. There were a few "Wow"s and "Woo Hoo"s from the crowd.
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The team in an animated conversation with Mr Joshi from the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra organization.
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This is what is called as commitment to the hobby - not being worried about your clothes getting dirty.
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One volunteer of the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra with the baby turtle in the basket.
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The excitement on the kids' faces.
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Everybody focussed. Cameras ready. This is the main attraction. This is why we are here. Lots of excitement in the air!

Last edited by SDP : 12th April 2013 at 00:42.
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Old 11th April 2013, 22:06   #13
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

The baby turtle was placed on the sand.
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With effort, he (assumption!) raised his head and decided to hit the waves.
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With no proper legs, its more like 'crawling' rather than 'walking'.
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One step at a time...
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Ah... the waves are in sight now.
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...and then the baby was sea-bourne.
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The water subsided. The baby was all wet now.
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Marching ahead.
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It was picked up by a bigger wave and was tossed around quite a bit.
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Properly drenched.
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The march towards the bright light on the horizon continues...
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Final wave in sight. This one picked up the baby turtle and welcomed it home!
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Claps and shouts from the audience! Everybody happy for the hatchling.

Last edited by SDP : 12th April 2013 at 00:44.
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Old 11th April 2013, 22:17   #14
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Default Re: Reliving the innocence at a rustic Konkan village (Velas turtle festival)

Everybody was asked NOT to get into the sea for 10 minutes.
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After 10 minutes, the T-shirts came off real fast.
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This old chap has been searching and protecting turtle eggs since ages.
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The old man demonstrating how the turtle digs and lays eggs.
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My kids in two minds. The enthu folks doing "Gangnam style" in the background!
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Sun was about to set and water picked up a golden hue.
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Those are legs in the air!
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This one is my personal favourite. Loved the sharpness and the sillhoutes.
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With sunset photos, I don't understand when to stop.
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The sun ...just before vanishing
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It was getting dark, we wrapped up the beach-session and headed back towards our houses in the village.
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Day-2 pics coming up soon.

Last edited by SDP : 11th April 2013 at 23:50.
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Old 12th April 2013, 06:33   #15
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Note From Support: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!
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