Velavadar – Land of Blackbucks
Wild stretches of grassland, abundant wildlife, enthusiastic guides and amazing photo-opportunities to capture in the frame the stately Blackbuck. Welcome to Velavadar National Park, often ignored by the hordes of tourists and home to the Blackbuck- the Indian antelope.
Velavadar National Park, often known as Blackbuck National park, is situated in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat state in India and is much less explored by tourists. It is a land of Blackbucks and I am at a loss to account for the reason why Indian travel enthusiasts have not thronged this wildlife sanctuary so much.
The Velavadar National Park is one of the most stunning and outstanding wildlife sanctuaries of India. With the Gulf of Khambhat ( also known as Gulf of Cambay) embracing it in the south and the vast wasteland in the north, the national park is a stretch of wilderness – untamed. At Velavadar, nature is found in its most wild, undisturbed, natural, pristine form.
This park with widespread golden grasslands is mainly the abode of blackbucks ( Antelope cervicapra ) also known as Indian antelope. The wide spread golden grassland resembles African Savannah during a part of the year. However, during the monsoon, it becomes lush green. Apart from Blackbuck, the fauna population mainly includes nilgai, jackal, fox, wolf, hyena, jungle cat, wild boar, hares etc. We were told that the park has about 14 species of mammals and 95 species of flowering plants. The park is also very rich in avifauna, with many migratory birds coming here. With over 140 species of birds, the park is a paradise for the bird watcher. Pelicans, flamingos, cranes, white and painted storks, Rufous-tailed lark, the Indian Bushlark, the grey francolin and very rare Stolizca’s Bushcat can be found here, mostly in the southern part of the park in the wetland. The extremely rare Lesser Florican, one of the 50 rarest birds in the world, breeds here. In the winter, thousands of Harriers come here from central Europe. Plenty of Short-toed larks, Black Drongo, Bulbul, Bee-eaters and Indian rollers can be seen everywhere in abundance.
Our trip to Velavadar began with a drive for about three and half hours from Vadodara. We arrived at the National park front office near the entrance gate of the park. We had booked the Forest Department’s guest house, Kaliyar Bhavan, which is just inside the boundary of the park. Though there is a lavish resort outside the park, we preferred Kaliyar Bhavan, named such since “Kaliyar” in local language means “Blackbuck”. Apart from dormitories, it has only four rooms, hence it is advisable to book well in advance.
After having a quick lunch, we set out for our afternoon safari. Unlike other national parks, here the forest department does not provide open jeeps for the safari, one has to use their own vehicles. However, the forest dept provides a compulsory guide. We found our guide Praveen to be quiet. During our 2 and ½ days stay, we did altogether four safaris with three guides – Praveen ( twice ), Sikandar and Peer Khan (once each).
In the evening, Ramjaan, the senior guide, came to Kaliyan Bhavan to meet us. He spent the evening with us over a cup of tea and narrated various stories and facts about this park. We came to know that this park was primarily a “vidi” (grassland) of the Maharaja of the princely state of Bhavnagar for hunting the blackbucks with the help of his hunting cheetahs.
I have already said, the Blackbuck, the most fascinating and elegant of Indian antelopes, is the major attraction of the park. The male blackbucks demarcate their territories by marking with a liquid excreted from their pre-orbital gland, urination- defecation and pawing. Mainly they mark their territories by rubbing their faces on young shoots of trees, twigs and shrubs with an oily fluid like substance exuded from their pre-orbital glands near their eyes, the smell of this fluid warns other males and trespassers to stay away. Fights among blackbucks for trespassing are quite common. When one of them has established its supremacy, losers move to other areas to demarcate their own area. Our guide informed us that often we might notice Blackbucks with a single horn or a half broken horn, the outcome of an encounter with another adult! In fact, we spotted one blackbuck with a single horn in one of our safaris! Male blackbuck is black and white, rich dark brown in complexion and have twisted black horns, while females are fawn coloured with no horns. Both sexes exhibit white underparts and insides of the legs and a prominent white circular patch around the eye. They generally live in herds of 20 – 25 individuals with a dominant male.
The next day, our morning safari was amazing. The sunrise was a deep, lush orange, a postcard-perfect foreground of dry dense grass with blackbucks gazing and frolicking. Blackbuck is the fastest antelope with its maximum recorded speed of 80 km per hour. We were told that only quadruped mammal on earth, faster than blackbuck is the cheetah. The spacing of hoof prints has been recorded maximum 6.60 meters when the blackbuck is on a run at full strength. As a photography enthusiast, I was extremely keen to take shots of jumping or a sprinting blackbuck. I had heard that the fawns jump quite high, sometimes to a height of five metres or so. The guides knew when the blackbuck will cross the road and took us to the spot where I could capture some stunning shots of jumping blackbuck herd. It’s a treat to watch the blackbucks moving from one field to another, crossing the road in between, a lesson for us to see how in one particular straight line, in extremely disciplined manner, they cross the road, without jumping queue and creating a ruckus. While crossing the road, some of the younger ones, probably out of fear ( seeing vehicles and us ) jump and leap high, giving opportunities to the photographers to capture a stunning moment!
Apart from sighting hundreds and hundreds of blackbucks, many nilgais and plenty of birds, we were lucky enough to spot rare sights like a female nilgai breastfeeding her baby, a jungle cat, a wolf and an Albino female Blackbuck. Our guide, Peer Khan, informed us that there are only two Albino Blackbuck in the entire park and we were lucky enough to spot. Even sight of a wolf or a Jungle cat is not that common. We were extremely excited to catch a glimpse of the wolf on our last safari trip. Our guide, Praveen was intelligent and agile enough to track the movements of the wolf from a distance and guided us to drive to a particular spot where the wolf could be seen from a closer distance, while it was crossing the road. These guides have awesome eyesight – even a slight movement in the grass does not go unnoticed by them!
It would be an injustice if I don’t mention Bopa Bhai, the person who runs the restaurant of the Forest Guest House, Kaliyar Bhavan. Bopa Bhai serves excellent vegetarian food and always wears a big smile. Whatever food we requested, Bopa Bhai was kind enough to provide, and of course with his trademark wide smile. Our stay at Kaliyar Bhavan was just fantastic, to round off an excellent and memorable trip to the Velavadar National Park.
Read also: Of Dancing flames and Geese
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