Gujarat (Goo-ja-raht): Another side of India


After slightly recovering from our epic sunburns, we continued our explorations of India north of Goa into the state of Gujarat. We made our decision based on where we could fly to from the Goa airport, which had surprising few options. From these choices, Gujarat was our choice because it seemed to offer some wildlife reservations that we could explore. India has a remarkable selection of rare and amazing wildlife that you could possibly see, if you were lucky. This includes tigers, white lions, rhinos, elephants, and the one we were destined to find, the Indian Wild Ass.

We started our journey by landing in Ahmedabad, which is the home city of Ghandi. After having an amazing nights sleep, I woke up with stomach problems forcing me to stay in the hotel while Jeff went out to explore the city. He reported back that it was a nice city, but very crowded with people coming up to him and shaking his hand. He insisted that I would probably not of enjoyed it, even in good health. While I was more comfortable with India, I was not eager to head back into the concentrated culture shock that is an Indian city. We ended up changing our initial plans of taking a bus to the nature preserve and instead opted for taking a car with a paid driver, which we thought would be faster and easier on my stomach.

We got to the nature preserve, Desert Coursers, and they had set aside a plate of food for us, which Jeff ate while the owner of the resort, Dhanraj, joined us. I still couldn’t stomach the thought of food, so I nibbled on some plain nan. When we first met Dhanraj, we were wary. He was being awfully friendly, and we have come to find that friendliness meant added costs. He would also yell orders to the other workers at the place, who would run to follow them, giving him the air of a sort of dictator. After lunch we returned to our traditional mud hut called a Kooba. For a traditional hut, they made much effort to make it modern and comfortable. I loved it. The koobas were colorful with decorations made from pebbles and leaves, the beds looked handmade but were nice and comfortable. They even provided a mosquito coil to burn, which for me, was a very meaningful touch. Jeff joined Dhanraj and some other guests on a nature safari, which I had to miss as my body still ached from what I think was a second, though milder, round of heat-exhaustion-sort-of-vitamin-depletion. I instead took a nap.

I am so sad I missed this trip though, because Jeff had an amazing time. The other guests who joined him were serious birders from Finland, and two others from Mumbai. The Finnish guys wanted to see a particular kind of bird, that is most active around dusk and into the night, so they drove around the nature park looking for other wildlife in the meantime.

They found foxes.

and the wild asses:

The asses are special because you can only find them in India, they do not exist anywhere else, not even zoos. They are also one of only 3 animals that have a non-spilt hooves, which defines the Equidae family. The others being horses and zebras.


Some blue bulls, which were not photogenic.
And, the much-sought-after Nightjar:

Jeff came back very excited and pleased with himself. I was really happy for him, and for myself because I felt loads better after my nap. We had dinner with the other guests, which was superb, and I was quite sick of Indian food by now, so that is saying something. Dhanraj pulled out some whiskey to have with us, which was a bit scandalous because Gujarat is a dry state. During the dinner the conversation mostly revolved around birding, and Dhanraj was looking at a birding book when the power went out. This itself was not a big deal, but the way that the resort workers responded was incredulous. Someone jogged to Dhanraj’s side with a flashlight and held it over him while he read the book. Others went and found candles to set on the table. All of this with military execution, and I’m pretty sure with no direction from Dhanraj. Jeff and I were pretty put off by this behaviour. He was so kind and generous to the white-people, but tyrannical and ruley to his workers. To us, this seemed hypocritical and odd.

We agreed to get up early the next morning and go out on a safari with the birders to go to a watering hole which should be teeming with bird life. The water hole did not disappoint. We saw a lot of different birds, but our camera lens was not big enough to get as good of shots as our comrades. We had a nice time, but we were definitely out there looking at specks on the horizon for far too long.



After lunch, Jeff and I went on another safari that would be like what Jeff went on the day before. We had been invited to go on a birding safari again, but decided we couldn’t bear the thought. I was quite excited to be in the back of a loud bumpy jeep, riding through the reserve trying to find the asses, foxes, bulls and other promised wildlife that the tour had seen the day before.

Boy, was I wrong.

This time, Dhanraj did not lead the expedition, but rather his worker did. We first drove into the preserve and quickly found a herd of wild asses, which was awesome. We then stayed and looked at the herd for about 30 minutes, which got quite dull. Finally, the driver started the truck and started to drive again! Only to stop a few minutes later at a salt farm. Where we stayed for another 45 minutes. The farm was tended to by a family who offered us some tea and stared at us while we drank because no one spoke english. Salt is an important part of Indian history, and once was a reason that Gandhi was arrested, but salt farms are themselves not so interesting. It involves a flat pool of water drying out, which leaves behind salt crystals.


After the excruciatingly boring salt farm, we drove to the middle of a desert plain and watched the sunset. Another disappointing venture. We watched the sunset for about 30 minutes, and to add a cherry on top, another tour group drove into the HUGE EMPTY DESERT and parked right in front of where our small group was sitting. Which just seemed like odd behavior.

What we learned from this second safari was that maybe Dhanraj was a dictator and behaved the way he did because he had to. Without someone telling the driver explicitly what to do, he just followed the prescribed set of instructions that had at some point been given to him. One of the guests from Mumbai worked for the Save the Children non-profit, and told us about how most Indians in rural society had one teacher for every 50-100 students. This more or less required the teaching to only follow a call and response teaching method, and left children lacking in critcal thinking skills. Something I completely undervalued under seeing what life is like without them. Dhanraj had to bark orders at the workers because without him doing so, they would stand around not knowing what to do. He was actually doing a lot of great things for his small community, using profits from the resort to fund an orphanage and a school, but for all his hardwork, he was not able to employ people he could confidently give cognitive tasks to. It was a first hand look at the juxtaposition of educated individuals to non-educated individuals.

Scops Owl that one of the Finnish birders found easy as pie.
One of the Saluki puppies that were running around. Apparently, the only breed of dog deemed clean enough to be in a muslim household.

It is no secret that the rural Indian population doesn’t have access to education, and this lack of it is reflected in this resort environment. This is something that maybe people will see as a snobby thing for a well-off white american to poke at of the less fortunate Indian citizen, but the difference in how education is effecting these lives is worth talking about and looking at.

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