From : DNA
5 October 2014
One of the easiest drives for good wildlife sighting in Gujarat is to the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park.
Velavadar, is about 140km away from Ahmedabad and a leisurely drive, takes around 2.5 hours with random stops for either photography or food.
You also have the option to visit Lothal and the Uthelia Palace enroute, for a peek into some history, if you so choose. The drive is very comfortable, roads are good and the only thing that you need to watch out for is - the actual turn, off the highway towards Lothal / Velavadar, that isn’t very clearly marked.
The Velavadar Blackbuck National Park is open from sunrise to sunset (except during monsoons) If you want to take just a day trip, depart from Ahmedabad at about 5:30-6 am, reach the park and go in for a drive. Have lunch at The Blackbuck Lodge, relax there until the sun loses a bit of its fieriness, go on another drive around the park and then head back to Ahmedabad.
The only reason, we suggest a day trip is because, the lodge has just 14 independent cottages and is constantly in high demand. However, to truly enjoy the beauty of this place and relax, it is advisable to spend at least one night at the resort.
The 35sq km Velavadar Blackbuck National Park park has grasslands, shrub lands, saline plains and mud flats, which support a variety of grass, 95 species of flowering plants, 14 species of mammals (blackbuck, nilgai, Indian grey wolf, striped hyena, Indian fox, golden jackal, jungle cat and smaller ones like hare, gerbil, field mice, mongoose and hedgehog), over 140 species of birds and many reptiles. The Alang and Paravalia Rivers, three artificial ponds, two check dams and nearby coastal marshes provide an ideal habitat for aquatic flora and fauna. From a conservation viewpoint, a unique feature of the park is that it is the only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park. This used to be the private grasslands of the maharaja of Bhavnagar before it was converted into a national park.
Ardent birders head here for rare sightings of the lesser florican, endangered vultures, demoiselle cranes and a variety of raptors. The park also hosts the world’s largest harrier roost. We visited during the monsoons when the main park is closed (mid-June to mid-Oct), but we saw lots of blackbuck and birds and even a jungle cat on a general drive outside the national park. It is a single lane road and the road behind the Velavadar village has massive craters, so you need a vehicle with higher clearance (like one you could use inside the park) to make this drive.
The Blackbuck Lodge is the most peaceful resort that you can visit in Gujarat. The cottages are spaced out more like an African (think Kenya / South Africa / Tanzania safari resorts) resort than a Kutchi / Gujarati one. It is spread across acres and acres, with no boundary wall in sight, just rolling swathes of green and blue. The chirping of birds is brilliant background music to this visual relaxation.
They have a fantastic in house library (small, but with plenty of books on wildlife and lots of different magazines if you prefer) at the reception and the sit out here overlooks a beautiful lake, that makes it the perfect spot to cosy up with a book or just sit and contemplate the glorious silence.
You have to choose the all-inclusive plan as there is no other place nearby to visit for lunch or dinner, unless you plan to visit Bhavnagar for the day. But the food at every buffet that we tasted, was very good (you just have to adjust salt and chillies to your taste - they are served on the side). The non-veg is excellent and quality is very high. Its worth waiting to arrive here for your meal.
However, if you feel peckish along the way, the most popular stop is the recently opened Gallops that serves more-than-average highway food (for Gujarat), although most of the options are deep-fried.
Our personal choice was a much smaller and less swanky “Darshan Hotel” near Pipali which served us some of the best dal that we have eaten on Gujarat’s highways. Let the staff recommend what is best for the day and just trust them blindly, you can’t go wrong.
Whether you head here just for a day’s outing or for a long weekend, enjoy the park responsibly, do not harm or frighten the wildlife, avoid loud obnoxious behaviour and respect Mother Nature.
5 Point checklist before a long drive.
1. Fuel (The obvious full tank)
2. Air in tyres (including stepney)
3. Tool Box & Jack (you never know)
4. Papers - RC, PUC, Insurance, Licence (right side of the law)
5. Map Route - Paper or Virtual (while getting lost has its own charm)
The Gallops complex enroute has its own restaurant upstairs, an eatery downstairs, a couple of outlets outside selling chikkis, paan, channachor and frenchfries. CCD and Havmor are due to open shortly. Gallops kitchen isn’t very clean or inspiring, so we preferred driving a little further to Pipali and eating at Darshan Hotel.
The Blackbuck Lodge serves a lovely buffet, with salads, a fairly large vegetarian spread, a non-veg dish (chicken / mutton) and a dessert. We had some awesome mutton kurma, mutton roganjosh, kofta curries and gulab jamuns. Definitely don’t miss the amazing pista colored gur which is made in the village nearby.
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