Sunday, 30 November 2014

Indian savanna - Blackbuck National Park at Velavadar, Gujarat

We wanted to begin this winter season with a forest trip. We decided to visit Velavadar national park forest which is famous for Blackbucks. Apart from Blackbucks, it is also famous for wolves, hyenas and migratory birds. Velavadar National park is also known as Blackbuck National park.

Travelers for this trip were me and wife Renuka.

At Velavadar

About Velavadar National Park, Gujarat:
Blackbuck national park is located in Bhal region of Saurashtra, around 42 km from Bhavnagar city. It is spread over an area of 34.08 sq. km, which is typically a grassland vegetation forest area. It was established in 1976.
          The sanctuary has been declared primarily for Blackbucks (Antelope species). You can see them in their natural mood, leaping high in the air, running, feeding, drinking, rutting and chasing. Apart from Blackbucks, other species found here are nilgai (blue bull), wolves, bustards, hyenas, lesser floricans, foxes, jackals and jungle cats. Velavadar is also a home to many birds like pelicans, flamingoes, ducks, waders, white storks, painted storks and sarus cranes etc. The Park is a heaven for demoiselle cranes, common cranes and a variety of raptors including spotted eagles and steppe eagles. The Park provides one of the world's best roosting sites to thousands of harriers that arrive here from Central Europe in winter.
         To reach here, you can take a train from Pune/Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar is well connected by rail as well as by road. Private bus service like Tanna and Rajdhani travels have regular bus routes from Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar.
If you are travelling by road then you need to take a right turn after Adhelai village.

We had total 4-5 safaris in the park in the privately hired car from Bhavnagar.

BlackBuck in Action
View all the images in full screen for a better view!

Day 1: 28th Nov 2014 – Pune - Ahmedabad - Velavadar (Blackbuck National park)
             Our journey began on 27th Nov 2014. We boarded the Veraval Express train (Train No 11088) at 7.50 PM for Ahmedabad. Another option was Duronto Express but we didn’t get advance tickets however our return journey was by Ahmedabad-Pune Duronto train. After a 12 hour journey, we reached Ahmedabad by 7.50 AM.
             We went to Paldi area by auto for the further bus journey. We got seats in Tanna travels and the journey began towards the National park. Our Cab driver Kaushik Joshi was waiting for us at Adhelai village. By 12 in the noon, we reached Adhelai village. We were too hungry so we had our lunch on a roadside Dhaba and then went to Velavadar. Blackbuck National park (a.k.a. Velavadar National Park) is just 10km away from the highway. More than 40-50 demoiselle cranes and common cranes welcomed us on the way to the park. 

Common Cranes
Common Cranes 

Male BlackBuck

Who's There - Calf Blackbuck

            Quickly we checked in the guest house named Kaliyar Bhavan Forest Lodge. It is located inside the National park which offers you a magnificent view of the grassland vegetation along with blackbucks. There was no Non A/c room available while booking hence we booked A/C room. Advance booking is required and the process is a bit tedious as you are supposed to send a DD to book a room. The process to book the room and contact details are shared at the end of this blog post. The hotel is controlled by Gir Sasan forest department and rooms are very comfortable and clean.

Mother and Calf crossing road

Male Blackbuck
           After taking some rest, by 3 PM we took permit for Evening safari inside the forest area. Hiring a guide for every safari is compulsory. As our agenda in the park was photography and sighting of Wolf, Wildcat and hyena; we requested the forest officer to give us a good tracker. A guide named Vishal was appointed for us for next 3 days. Vishal was a perfect person for what we were looking for. He had a vast knowledge of the wildlife from Velavadar and was a very down to earth person. We 3 became very good friends after a few safaris.
            Forest department gave us bad news on day 1. Due to excessive grass cutting hyena families had vacated their territory and that was disappointing news for me as I hoped to see a few hyenas. Still, we (along with the guide Vishal) decided to give our best to spot hyena.

Nelgai a.k.a. Blue Bull

              The National park is mainly divided into two areas. One is Wetland area where you can spot many birds and mammals whereas the second area is grassland area where all mammals and harries can be easily spotted. We decided to start our safari with Wetland and then to visit grassland area for Harriers and carnivore species. The first animal that we came across was, of course, the Blackbuck. In hundreds! In the next three days, we wandered in the "National Park", we came across several large groups of Blackbucks. They seemed happy with so much food around and nothing much to disturb them except the wolf! Blackbucks are fast and are known to reach speeds of up to 80 km/hr.
           We saw many Blackbucks and wetland birds like greater Flamingo, White Pelican and many more birds. You can spot Eagles at the end of wetland area. After roaming for 2 hours in Wetland area, we came in grassland area to click Blackbucks in the evening light and to enjoy harriers. Velavadar Park is also famous for being the largest site for roosting harriers, i.e. in winters; thousands of harriers roost here by dusk and fly out in search of food by dawn.

Indian Spotted Eagle
Indian Spotted Eagle

White Pelican
White Pelican


Pallied Harrier
Pallied Harrier

              We were about to end our day; hence we started with our return journey to forest guest house. All of sudden we saw more than 400 blackbucks crossing the road. Vishal asked us to keep an eye on the grass as the blackbuck might have seen Wolf or hyena. We waited till all crossed the road but couldn’t spot the wolf. We were back in the car and resumed the further journey. Suddenly gorgeous looking Wolf came in front of the car from the grass. The Wolf is the main predator in the area and Striped Hyena often steals a kill from the wolf. I was unable to capture him in my camera but it was an amazing experience to watch a Wolf with hardly 10-12 Ft away from us.
           We had dinner by 7.30 PM at the guest house. Apart from us, only 4 people were staying in the guest house. We meet them to discuss the sighting in the forest. It was really nice meeting young enthuse new friends of age 40 to 60. We spend 2 hours with each other talking about wildlife and photography; it happens when like-minded people meet.

New Friends

  • Pune-Ahmadabad train ticket: INR 700/- (Sleeper coach for 2 people)
  • Auto to Paldi area from railway station: INR 70/-
  • Lunch: INR 200/- for 2 people on highway side dhaba
  • Safari entry permit: INR 200/- for car
  • Safari guide: INR 100/-
  • Camera chargers for safari: INR 200/- for 2 SLR camera
  • Dinner (Veg meal): INR 300/- for 2 person

Day 2: 29th Nov 2014 – Velavadar (Blackbuck National park)
The park opens at 7 AM. We were ready along with Vishal by 6.30 in the morning. We decided to spend more time in wetland area as chances of spotting a wolf was high. We spend around 2.5 hours but were only able to see birds, Blackbucks and Nilgai. To some extent, we saw few wild boars closely. We left this place after the good sighting of wildlife and went in the grassland area. After enjoying the sight of blackbuck’s activity in grassland and few harries (Usually Harries fly out in search of food in nearby farms area and return to park area for roosting) we decided to give one more chance to spot a wolf in another part of the park.

Male Nelgai

Female Nelgai
Miss Nelgai

            We again went to the wetland area in search of a wolf. We took the rightmost route which is parallel to a small river stream. Here we saw albino blackbuck. Entire white colour blackbuck is known as Albino blackbuck and that colour appears due to some skin disease. On the other side of the small river stream, we saw many blackbucks crossing river stream with high speed. Now we started searching for the predator that had scared them. Without wasting much time, we spotted the royal entry of a wolf. Generally, wolves prefer hunting in groups but this wolf was in the mood of hunting alone. We saw his 3 failed attempts at hunting small blackbucks. It was really memorable movement. After his unsuccessful attempts, he gave up and took rest under a tree. Soon he crossed the water stream and went inside grassland. We were lucky enough to follow him for around 40min. Our morning safari was fabulous.

Green bee eater
Green bee-eater

Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier

Blackbuck fight
Blackbuck fight

Running Blackbuck
I saw Wolf...Run fast

Prey and Predator...Wolf and Blackbuck
Prey and Predator...Wolf and Blackbuck

Run fast....Blackbuck in Velavadar
Run fast...Blackbuck in Velavadar

Wolf after 2 Failed attempt of hunting Blackbuck's Calf
Wolf after 2 Failed attempt of hunting Blackbuck's Calf

             We came back to the guest house for lunch and took rest for an hour. By 3 PM, again we left for evening safari. By now we had seen wolves twice, but unable to spot hyena and Wildcat. We decided to focus more on Wildcat as hyena was rare to spot. Evening Safari was quite disappointing as we unable to spot any predator. We only enjoyed Blackbuck and birds from the park. In the evening we met our friends inside the park and shared our contact details with each other. They left Velavadar by 6 PM. It was really nice meeting Arvind Sing, Suru Nair, Rahul Bhagwat and Subhash Bhagwat. Hope will meet soon in the forest again. 

White Pelicans
White Pelicans 


Small kingfisher.
Small kingfisher...Ready for catch

We had tasty food and slept soon in the hope to spot at wildcat and hyena tomorrow.

Veg meal
Veg meal

  • Morning Safari entry permit: INR 250/- (INR 50 extra on Weekend hence INR 250/-)
  • Safari guide: INR 200 for entire day
  • Camera chargers: INR 400/- for entire day for 2 SLR camera
  • Lunch (Veg meal): INR 300/- for 2 person
  • Evening Safari entry permit: INR 250/- (Weekend rate)
  • Dinner (veg meal): INR 300/- for 2 person
  • Coffee: INR 7/- per cup

Day 3: 30th Nov 2014 – Velavadar (Blackbuck National park) - Pune
Our Morning safari began at 7 AM. Today we decided not to visit Wetland area and just look for the predator in the grassland area of Velavadar Park. We spent 3 hours but were unable to spot those 2 predators. By 10 AM, we gave up and decided o leave the forest. We were supposed to start our journey towards Ahmedabad to catch Duronto train. Our guide Vishal was feeling bad that we were unable to spot wildcat and hyena. Just to give a last try, he called another guide who was inside the forest with another tourist. We got to know that they spotted wild cat around an hour ago. There was a thin chance to spot it again. I asked him to take us on that route as Cat family mammals are quite lazy and they spend more time in the same area.

Wild boar
Wild boar

Morning Walk is good for health...Male Blackbuck
Morning Walk is good for health...Male Blackbuck

Blackbuck Jump
Calf Jump

               Our search operation began with enthusiasm and hopes. We went until the end of that route but no sighting. Our eyes were on grassland and suddenly I saw a brown colour tail with a black ring at the end of the grass. I tapped on Vishal’s shoulder and said I spotted her, there is she. We then stopped our vehicle slowly and the wildcat was just 5-6 Ft away from us. As she was in the grass so I didn’t get proper photos. We waited for few minutes and she came out from the grass, crossed the road quickly and disappeared in the grassland. Fortunately, there was a watchtower on the grassland side. We climbed the tower and searched her. Due to the color of grass and the cat, it was difficult to find her. Finally, we saw her and manage to click few photos. I had waited such a long time for this moment! Wow, what a relief that we saw all the mammals from forest expect hyena. 

Wild Cat look
Wild Cat look

Search Wild cat in this picture in 5 seconds... Perfect example of Camouflage
Search Wildcat in this picture in 5 seconds... Perfect example of Camouflage

While returning to the room, we saw a wolf again (3rd time) but it was far away from our vehicle. We came back to the room and packed our bags. Before leaving the forest area, we visited the museum located in the forest. It has a nice photo collection and information about the forest and the species. Overall it was truly an amazing trip. We were not feeling bad as we couldn’t spot hyenas as its pure luck and we can’t control the nature. Maybe it was a sign for us to visit this savanna forest again for hyena and peace.

Guide Ramjan, Guide Vishal, Me and Renuka (From L to R)

Time to say Bye to Beautiful Velavadar

              We hired same the vehicle until Ahmedabad. We had lunch on the highway and reached Ahmedabad by 4 PM. As we were having some time, we visited the Gandhi Ashram, Sabarmati riverfront and Kankaria Lake. We boarded Duronto train by 10.20 PM and reached Pune safely by 7.15 AM

  • Morning Safari entry permit: INR 250/-for car (weekend rate)
  • Guide chargers: INR 100/- for the morning session.
  • Camera charger: INR 200/- for 2 SLR camera
  • Car rent for forest safari + drop to Ahmadabad: INR 7000/-
  • Lunch on highway side dhaba: INR 300/-
  • Local day Bus ticket: INR 50/- (30 for men and 20 for woman)
  • Kakaria Lake entry fee: INR 20/- for 2 person
  • Coconut water at Gandi ashram: INR 40/- per coconut (costliest coconut water I had ever in India)
  • Snacks such as chats, Dabeli: rate as per ordered dish.
  • Dinner at Lake Side hotels: INR 160/- for 2 person
  • Ahmadabad-Pune Duronto train ticket: INR 2260/- for 2 people in 3AC coach 

The process to book Kaliyar Bhuvan guest house at Velavadar Park:
  1. Contact to Forest department, Bhavnagar for booking on 0278-2426425.
  2. If room is available then block/book a room by providing them travellers name and contact details
  3. Create a DD by name “RFO Velavadar ” 
  4. Fax the DD copy to Bhavnagar office (Fax number: 0278-2426425, Same as contact number)
  5. Send DD to mentioned address: Assistant conservator of forest, Blackbuck national park, Bahumali Bhavan, Annex building, Block no S-10, forest department, Bhavnagar 364001, Gujarat
  6. After 5 days check whether the room is booked by your name or not.
  7. They do not provide acknowledgement receipt in advance so better to cross-check on phone about booking and carry a photocopy of DD and ID proof on the trip.

Contact details from Velavadar:
  • Blackbuck National park, Bhavnagar office: 0278-2426425
  • Car on Rent from Bhavnagar: Kaushik bhai joshi 0-9426461814, 0-9099553585
  • Vishal Zapadia, Guide/forest Tracker in National park: 0-9978770156. (Most experience guide after Ramjan but very enthusiastic person) 
  • Ramjan khan, Guide/forest Tracker in National park: 0-8140810087. (Most experience guide from Park)

Some more Clicks

European Roller
European Roller with broken beak... how he survives but the fact is he does

Albino Blackbuck
Albino Blackbuck
Blackbucks crossing...
Blackbucks crossing...whereas 2 young Blackbuck were watching us.

Male Blackbuck
Male Blackbuck

Young blackbuck
Look at me...Young Blackbuck 

All rights for images reserved and required prior permission to use.

Thanks for reading this Travel Blog. 
Happy traveling.

Pritesh Kulkarni