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Old 10th January 2010, 00:10   #1
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Default Close encounters at Rann of Kutch--Big Fat Rat

When my friend Bhavesh informed around December first week, he's heading out to the Little Rann again, it was just information to be stored. He again sms-ed me around 14th, are you game? The long weekend was nearing, nothing on the plate on 20th, so I said yes.

3 years back, I had done the Dasada trip, due to one of the heaviest rains in that season, we could not drive into the Rann for fear of getting bogged, the guide at Rann Raiders was also not knowledgeable about the terrain. Bhavesh is a seasoned bird-watcher from what I gathered from our meetings at Ahmedabad and an avid Rann fan, he said his mother would join in, I was intrigued. A son and mother combination for a rough ride into the Rann would be something to see and learn.

My wife said, she could not join in, on 19th, after office, around 0630 PM, drove up to Paldi to pick up Bhavesh and his Mother, Brindaben; things worked as per plan and we were off towards, Sanand, Viramgam and Zainabad, about 100 kms away. The road from Sarkhej to Sanand is being done up as 6 lane and dug up on both sides but the surface smooth. It was dark, the truck traffic from Sanand to Viramgam was thick this being an industrialized belt. The surface was smooth, the markings Ok, but road widening is going on again till Viramgam, truck traffic unruly and dangerous dividers coming off the blue. I've marked them on the trip log enclosed herewith; reportedly, there are many fatal accidents due to these dividers, real killers. After dark, they would just appear in the middle of the road after a bend, 2 of them are nasty, need to watch out for them even in day time.

The turn off the main road, cross Mandal and Dasada, should be about 10 kms from here, Zainabad is a small board and missed it. We kept on driving, something did not ring right, the Scorp was eating up curving miles, no Zainabad, its about 840pm, we wanted to reach Desert Coursers and turn in, tomorrow would be
an early start. Saw some lights on the horizon, turn into a petrol bunk and ask them about Zainabad, they said turn back, exactly 7 km down you'd come to a junction, turn left and follow the boards. After 7 KM we turn left, entered the gravel secondary road and reached the resort Desert Courses, got our keys for the HUTS.

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The main building is an open hall kind of place for food / meeting / fellow-ship etc., was alive, foreigners and Indian groups alike. A family group from A'bad was having a ball around the camp fire, foreigners chatting away animatedly, all painted a lively panorama. We quickly washed up and did justice the typical Gujarati dinner with plenty of chaas, it was soooooooo good. I had a glass too many (guess 10 glass is a record for me, the guy who was serving it was looking at me as if to say, "what a freak", and was scrapping the bottom of the pan) felt like I was I was 'Titanic' rolling on Chaas. My stomach was making sounds like a "Jaltharang", was sure everyone could hear it, fortunately that was my tired body imagining things. Well, turned in around 0930 PM, cold night, soft bed, lovely rug, dead quiet, except for occasional bird-calls or sounds of the night, an eerie anesthetic calm claimed me and I lit out.

I live on the cross roads of 2 busy roads on a high raise, opposite a lake, the sounds are ever increasing, on week-ends it's like Kumbh Mela out here, noise till 2 AM, tried sound-proofing the flat, try as we may, sound pollution is corroding our lives, we have decided to move anyway to our new house in 6 months. Compared to that, the night at Zainabad was like food for a famished Ethiopian.

Woke up around.... mmmm, let's see, was it 3 AM? Rat-a-tat-rat a tat, somebody was knocking on my door. Lord-love-a-duck, at this time???? I listened again, this was coming from the roof, a thief through there????? Instincts told me to open the front door and bolt..... but the sound was different, wheels running in the head trying to fit it with patters of the past, some cogs fell into place, something familiar about this sound, wood knocking against the roof, the wheels meshed, Eureka..... its tree branches brushing against the roof, there's a wicked wind out there at 2 AM, what a day for the wind !!!!! Well I resigned to fate and tried to imagine the beat on the roof, tried to synchronize it with that of Locomotive Breath, the wwwwwhhhhhat (one corner of my own mind asked me???), must be the excess chaas, I managed to doze after 10 minutes of counting sheep grazing in the Rann desert (excuse me.... that was the best my chaas soaked brain could serve at short notice) weird as it might seem, that did work. Anyway I was relieved that thieves were not hard at work to wack me off my Led Eveready torch, bottle of mineral water, wind-cheater and faded jeans.

Driving down the Gatta Loops of Ladakh, a sound less reel was rolling in my REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, I must have been down-shifting soundlessly..... bliss at around 4 AM....... something went boom.... wroooooom and a couple of banshees went off all around the room. I jack-in-the-boxed on the bed, this Chaas thingy was pretty wild akin to "White Mischief", so I thought, sounds of an obese rat squealing... at first I was very ecstatic, sounds were more like a snake jumped a fat rat scratching its...mmmm.. (you know what, whatever did you think, I was thinking of arm-pits)...I mumbled, RAT: serves you damn right, good riddance. No such
luck, the elements were out on parade, conspiring against me, this was Mama Rat out on a party with her clan of 35 others, they were running around the circular passage where the walls meet the roof (the room is circular) more like Mama lapping in front gasping from all the free-loading from the kitchen and the 35 giving chase egging her on... WOW, what a night. I snapped on the light, the noise stopped, clever me, I switched off and went to sleep, in 5 minutes Mama started again, now in anti-clockwise direction, this looked more like Mamba on Parade Grounds, I switch on the light, everything stops, switch off, I go to sleep, the noise picks up again now on a new variation. 15 running clock-wise and 15 anti-clockwise, could not make out where Mama was, by this time I was hoping she would have a stroke from all this exercise. Decision time, I put the light on, cover my eyes with a towel and dozed off. The Rat clan must have cursed me and moved off to my neighbor’s hut, a couple from Mumbai.
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Last edited by ramkya1 : 10th January 2010 at 00:13.
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Old 10th January 2010, 00:32   #2
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Well, at 6 AM wake up call and coffee, pretty cold outside, we're ready to roll. Bhavesh and his Mother are already out at the Office, I hurry to join them. 0615: Unis is the driver for the day; Bhavesh detailed the plan, we drive 20-30 KM into the Rann and look for a couple of birds which he was chasing for some time, the Macqueen Bustard and Indian Courser, I'm the student here. I said OK, I'm here for the ride on the jeep into the seamless land. Unis is a trooper, an old Rat of the Rann, been with the Desert Coursers for the last 15 years, his knowledge ( it seemed to me) was awesome about birds, it turned out he knew them so well. We see the first sighting of the day in a distance, Unis points to a shimmering silhouette in the bushes, where, where (I must have asked 15 times), told him to stop, my 12X catches a wild boar out on a morning walk, click
pictures and we drive on. There were Neel Gais everywhere, hordes of them, lots of Wild Asses and different birds. Bhavesh was clicking away at anything that moved, his mother had a powerful 25x binoculars and she was comparing birds with pictrues from a book she had, explained a lot of them to me. Honestly, they all looked same to me with minor variations!!!! I was happy and could see that they were enjoying themselves, I was the loving the jeep ride more than anything else.

It was daylight, at 7, Unis was driving thro, narrow tracks, on a wide open barren land, nothing in sight endless barren Rann on all sides. In between you see bushes, shrubs and in the distance shimmering something. For miles and miles nothing obstructs your vision, no tall structures, no trees only dusty nothingness. That was some experience. Bhavesh asks Unis where's the Bustard? Unis says all in good time, around 9 he said it will appear!!!!! I can imagine, Unis making the roll- call, Bustard Dada, Bustard Nani, Bustard Kaki and so on and they will Statue for Bhavesh to snap pictures...... well, the Rann is capable of unscrewing your thoughts out of kilter.

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We leave the dirt track, Unis gunned the jeep and took a turn to right, I thought, Oh...... no not there, no way any vehicle can ride through bushes that thick, there were bush everywhere and thick rocky terrain, no place to squeeze through. Unis threaded the jeep through them, sometimes coming to a dead-end, reversing, taking a zigzag, we must have done about 3 kms of this and emerged into another patch of dry barren land in front, Unis pointed north.... what??? Nothing, he said look, all of us said, look where? On the horizon to your right, behind the tall bush on the ground, we goggled the land, nothing. Unis sighed, shook his head sadly and threaded the jeep forward, about 250 meters on 3 big birds startled and flew up, Bhavesh was happy, Macqueen Bustard on the bow!! We killed the engine, the birds kept flying away. Unis was unperturbed, started the jeep, followed the birds, this continued for some time, we would reach about 500 meters near, they would fly away and again we will chase them and so on.. this went on for about what seemed an eternity (actually 10 kms +), I was worried we would enter Pakistan and become front-page news the next day. My tortured inter- vertebral discs were tingling now, I have never prayed before, I prayed that the 3 Bustards would stop for some sort of conference and give Bhavesh his snap so we could chase other saner birds for the rest of the day. Looks like the prayers worked, Unis stopped, killed the engine and put his finger on his lips, no sound, we were on high ground with a dip in front, he actioned for Bhavesh to get out and keep the camera ready and walk to front, Bhavesh walked on tip toe, his mother behind, and me behind, all that was missing was the Pink Panther music!!!! Well, Blistering-barnacles, as if on cue, 3 majestic birds rose into air, hovered for a couple of minutes, looked at Bhavesh as if to say, man take your pictures and leave us alone, we have important things to do today like variety of well-fed worms to pick.!!!!! I saw saw Bhavesh firing away with a satisfied glow on his face....... first phase over.

We started back, Unis took a short cut, now all rough country, no roads, only parched land, must have been doing 10-20-30 Kmph on 1st 2nd mostly, the jeep was swaying, I was in the back, found holding on to the bars above my head with my hands was better, the seat of my pants were being pounded by the hard jeep seats, reminded of my maths teacher when I was in 2nd standard, hitting me with a scale on my behinds at the drop of a hat and gave up finally saying, "you'd never pass 5th standard", my maths grades improved after my parents stopped special tuition for maths!!!! Man how I hate maths... and veered into Human Sciences instead.... somewhat successfully, if I may add.

Unis stopped the jeep around 10 AM and said, puncture, I thought wonderful, I needed to take a nature's call desperately, have been drinking lots of water, cold day and lots of excitement for my kidneys coupled with White Mischief the previous night was all that I could take. I encouraged him to change the tyre immediately and looked around for a convenient bush, not much, I walked on and found a natural dip in the land and did the job. By this time Unis has changed tyre and we were off again. 1045, we near the Desert Coursers and again Unis says, Puncture. We ask him, can we manage till the resort ( no emergency for me now to stop) he says, yes we will try. We limp into camp and I get off the jeep gingerly, soon as I put my leg on the ground and walk, 25 MV of electricity go off all over my spine, something like the Burj Khalifa's opening fireworks and desperately look for a glass of White Michief to quell the pyrotechnics. The owner Dhanraj Malik asks how was
your trip and I say super!!!!!

Dhanraj Mallick deserves special mention,

Close encounters at Rann of Kutch--Big Fat Rat-dsc09848.jpg

I found him passionate in what he is doing. The Desert Coursers started way back in 1984 by his father Mohammad Shabbir Mallick, a veteran naturalist and wild life enthusiast. In summer they close up, the heat is unbearable and they open up after June. Dhanraj studied for a short time in San Diago, joined his father 10 years back and loves the wild life, Zainabad is home to him and the community around him very dear. He runs a charitable organization "Akash Ganga" where teenage girls abused by society and family are housed / protected and there are lots of other orphan children too under its care. This is run entirely by him, family and friends, no compulsion or coercion to donate money
covertly or overtly. You'd warm to this man naturally.

The address:
Desert Coursers, Camp Zainabad,
Dhanraj Malik, 09263 72113 / 94270 66070
zainabad@hotmail.com
www.desertcoursers.net

I was narrating last nights story of a Mama Mutant rat to him and his family, his wife and children who are staying in Ahmedabad come down for the weekends to help him out, a lovely family. They were soon rolling on the floor enjoying the funny side of it and Dhanraj joins in with his own anecdotes. I told him about how Unis did not miss any nail or thorn on the way and made us experience the punctures, had him busting his guts........... I did not see the funny side though.. just narrating a fact. Well, to cut this short, Dhanraj is a man you should meet, his knowledge about the Rann is deep, his concern about the community and wild life around him genuine, he has helped many teams from abroad to make wild life films for National Geographic and BBC, has bird watching friends all over the world come down every year. Many Bollywood stars /starlets quietly come, stay and enjoy the Rann, he keeps mum on them for security reasons....... well, get
the picture????
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We take lunch, have a siesta and are ready for the evening ride on the Rann. Unis is all ready at 4 PM, we scoot off, past Mita Ghoda Village, through the sparse fields and into the barren Rann.. this time the target is the Indian Courser, Night Jar, short eared owl and Pallid Scops Owl, I write down all these carefully in my journal for reproduction later, I'm learning bird names fast. Unis says no problem, we try. We go through fields for about 30 kms, light is failing, we had many sightings, but all turn out to be different birds, no Indian Courser, for me not even an Ahmedabad Courser!!!! We drive through a dry patch, 3 sq kms of flat land, Unis kills the engine and points again, all of us say, where , where times look
hard, see something running fast about 1 km off, we zoom and see a lovely colored bird, with bursts of orange. You can see them only when they move, so well camouflaged. Spend some time shooting and move in search of the owl, Unis again takes us through bush country, now its twilight and suddenly a big bird flys out and settles down. That's the Short eared owl for you, Bhavesh gets out hides behind a bush shoots the big bird, statued on the fading light, he takes one step more and behind the very bush he was sitting zooms out another owl.. I wonder how this Unis character know them so accurately, must be a natural. For the life of me, I could not understand how one can master where birds, wild-life can be in about 100 sq. KM area!!!!!

One last item of the day, the bird night jar. We wait in the darkness around 7 PM, this is a specialist's job, Dhanraj is on his way. Its deathly quiet in the middle of the Rann, only wind noise. Unis said the dreaded word P-word, looks like the rear right is flat out...... not again I say, 3 punctures in a day are one too many. Anyway his favorite pass time seem to be changing tyres and we help him do that quickly and wait. In 10 minutes we hear the diesels, lights and Dhanraj gets out and takes over our jeep. He's driving, he has a spot light plugged into the dash, with his right hand he pans it ahead in an arc of 180 degrees constantly looking out, the jeep is moving all the time. The beam travels about 500 mtrs, we see many glowing eyes in the dark, birds, animals and some more eyes on the ground, we try to avoid them. Dhanraj spots a pair of glowing eyes on the sand and stops with the spot on a bird, no one could have differentiated this bird from others in the night, this is
the Night Jar. The bird is stunned with light, Bhavesh takes about 250 photos of the bird from angles and I shoot about 5 of them, just enough to tell the world this is a night jar!!!!

On the way back, in the distance the spot picks up a scrurrying figure, a fox on the run, was difficult to see, was at the edge of the spot, but Dhanraj illuminated enough for us all to see it clearly. This guy is the Guru of he Rann for sure.

We reach back around 7 at the resort, settle the bill. Its 1500/- per person per day, all meals, stay and safari included. To me it looked like a fair deal, I expected it to be much more for the kind of friendly service, stay and food.

We start back around 0730 PM, I drop off Mrs.Dhanraj and family at Ahmedabad and then drop off Bhavesh and Mother at their home and reach back with great memories of a short lovely trip. I want to spend more time out there, just stay, read some good book and listen to good music and potter around. I would request Dharnraj for a room without Mama rats and choose a
relatively quiet time of the year.

Tally for the day:
Animals: Wild Asses (more than 50-60) Neel Gai (20+), 1 Wild Boar, 1 .Fox

Birds: Macqueen’s Bustards (5-6), they are rare, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Painted Sand Grouse, Crested Larks, Common, Cranes, Pelicans, Eagles, Bee-eaters, Drango, Red Turtle Dove, Ducks, Pied Avocet, Stint, Short eared Owl, Indian Courser (rare and difficult), night Jar (difficult without an expert guide), pallid Scops Owl (very very rare)

Looks like I'm getting addicted to the Rann.

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Last edited by Rudra Sen : 11th January 2010 at 07:42.
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Old 10th January 2010, 05:39   #3
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Nice pictures there ramkya. This is one place which i got to visit. Always love it when business are run keeping a community and culture with it rather than diluting it. Hats off to this guy.
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Old 10th January 2010, 10:09   #4
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Nice pictures there ramkya. This is one place which i got to visit. Always love it when business are run keeping a community and culture with it rather than diluting it. Hats off to this guy.
+1 on that, you'd like it best when it's cool.

Dhanraj is different from all those Land-rapists, he loves preservation. He is also fighting a difficult battle with the govennment against use of a pesticide which has wiped out the jungle cat practically. Well.... nature preservation is a painful story.
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Old 11th January 2010, 07:36   #5
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+1 on that, you'd like it best when it's cool.

Dhanraj is different from all those Land-rapists, he loves preservation. He is also fighting a difficult battle with the govennment against use of a pesticide which has wiped out the jungle cat practically. Well.... nature preservation is a painful story.
Having experienced the hospitality at desert coursers and conversations with Dhanraj, the guy is amazing. Sophisticated yet rooted to the earth. Independently wealthy yet humble.
Well travelled but now back to his home taking care of his people.

He takes the slim profits (for the service which is offered, the rates are a pittance) and plows it back into the schools.

May his tribe increase.

For those BHP'ers who have not yet gone to the Rann...t'is the season for Ranning!
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Old 11th January 2010, 09:50   #6
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I have a small question. Is the place usually so dry everytime?but nice close up pics.
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Old 11th January 2010, 09:55   #7
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I have a small question. Is the place usually so dry everytime?but nice close up pics.
This place is dry most of the time, except when it rains in June / July, small quantity. 3 years back they broke 50 year records, the whole place was flooded; the place where we stayed was under 8 feet of water.

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Old 11th January 2010, 10:49   #8
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then it might be difficult for all those villagers to get the water.What/how are they surviving in that heat.what about animals. IMO lot of hardship has to be done by them for even simple things
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Old 11th January 2010, 13:34   #9
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then it might be difficult for all those villagers to get the water.What/how are they surviving in that heat.what about animals. IMO lot of hardship has to be done by them for even simple things
You said it right, we saw lots of people trekking miles for water. Deeper into the Rann, the story is even worse, those who live on the fringe villages manage to survive, life is pretty hard. Those who work on the Salt Plains around the Rann, life is even more difficult. In spite of this, you must see them laugh, they somehow manage to be more happy then city folks who have plenty.

The Animals have managed to adapt to the place, they have evolved, its the poaching and chemical contamination that's the killer.

Dhanraj said petty farmers use a particular chemical (forgot the name) used to poison animals (boars) that destroy crops kills 3 generation of animals. Animals that feed on dead ones are goners too. he Jungle cat (not been sighted in last 6 years) wild Boar, jackals and even the Wildass will all disappear in time.

=====

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Old 11th January 2010, 13:41   #10
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This is too much then. Can't the officials do something then. people are protesting for all useless things rather than the deserved cause. Thanks ramkya for bringing this into limelight so that everyone knows there are also places whihch are not green everytime
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Old 11th January 2010, 14:11   #11
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Amazing write-up loved each word of it. You have a natural talent with words.
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Old 11th January 2010, 14:44   #12
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Very nice photographs.
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Old 11th January 2010, 15:06   #13
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Amazing writeup. I have done a brief trip of the Rann area 3 years back in Dec. Rather we drove up to the Historical site at Dolovira for a day trip from Gandhidham and returned the same day. The drive across the Rann on SH51 was in fact exhilarating. Here are some pics from that trip and a trip to Narayan Sarovar along with that.
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Close encounters at Rann of Kutch--Big Fat Rat-dscn1440.jpg  

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Old 11th January 2010, 15:13   #14
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Ramky, a wonderfully written travelogue there.

We in India are blessed with such wide range of places that one lifetime is not enough to experience all the wonders here. Thanks to the sharing we at-least get the 'virtual feel' of the diverse places & cultures.
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Old 11th January 2010, 18:46   #15
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Ramky, a wonderfully written travelogue there.

We in India are blessed with such wide range of places that one lifetime is not enough to experience all the wonders here. Thanks to the sharing we at-least get the 'virtual feel' of the diverse places & cultures.
+1 to that. Well said Khan Bhai.
Ramky sir, just hooked to your travelogue. Your narration is so tempting! one feels like cranking the engine heading out to there! Keep posting.
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