Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Velavadar Blackbuck National Park – the blackbuck lives here…

Of days gone by...this January during my solo all India motorcycle journey

Velavadar National Park is located in the Bhal region of Saurashtra and is set between two rivers, 50 km west of the Gulf of Cambay (also known as Khambhat). Velavadar is one of Gujarat’s best-kept secrets and that is the reason it is brimming with animal and bird life.

I passed dry monotonous landscape to reach Velavadar from Ahmedabad. This place was initially not on my agenda, but I decided to visit this place based on recommendations from fellow wildlife enthusiasts and boy was I happy for having listened to them. As this place was not on my agenda, I didn’t have any prior accommodation booking, but as luck would have it, I bumped into the Assistant Wildlife Warden of this park who was extremely kind to offer me accommodation in an otherwise packed forest rest house. The forest rest house, which is run by the Gujarat forest department is set in one corner of the park and one can watch large groups of blackbucks by just taking a stroll in the park’s walkways.

I was stationed here for 2 full days and explored most of this park on foot. During my stay here, the forest officials found an injured blackbuck that had been run over by a vehicle on the boundaries of the park. Unfortunately, the blackbuck didn’t make it and it let to a feeling of sadness in the entire Velavadar camp. Such is the dedication of the forest officials here to ensure the park’s healthy growth and survival.

Before Independence, Velavadar was a part of the princely state of Bhavnagar with the grasslands acting as private grazing lands for the maharaja’s cattle. It is currently a 34 sq km protected area. Hunting of blackbucks is strictly prohibited here. If one remembers, the Bollywood actor, Salman Khan was arrested for shooting a blackbuck. Velavadar is the only tropical grassland to be given the status of a National Park. Its ecosystem houses four distinct habitats – grassland, shrub land, saline land and high tidal lands. 

During my walks in this national park, I spotted many large groups of blackbucks with shining black males with corrugated horns always leading the way and dozens of brown, tanned females and very young calves following them closely. In Hindu mythology, the blackbuck is considered sacred. Even a glimpse of the animal is considered auspicious in many communities.

With its maximum recorded speed standing at 80 km an hour, the blackbuck is the fastest Indian antelope. I was extremely thrilled to have spotted a couple of male blackbucks in full steam. Their leaps and jumps are just a sight to behold. The male blackbuck is highly territorial and tends to lead a lifestyle that is now against the law in most human societies – the dominant male lives in harems and quasi-harems.

I spotted a lot of Nilgai (Bluebull) here too, which again exists in large numbers. The icing on the cake for me was my first sighting of a wild wolf in the late evening hours. The wolf is the only predator in this region and it exudes a sheer sense of power. The other predator that used to roam these grasslands earlier was the Indian cheetah, which is extinct today.

I hope that the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park becomes richer in times to come and this is one place I would not get tired of visiting.

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist's lens, visit the album below.
my solo all-india motorcycle journey

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