A girl with hazel eyes disappeared in a cloud of glimmering sand. She wore a maroon dress. Wrapping her head was a long red scarf, her large green eyes – a symbol of this region – gleaming through her half covered face. We came to a halt at a village by the sandy road, our guide addressing the folks for directions in Kutchi. I was in an unfamiliar terrain in one of the corners of India, where the language is strangely beautiful to hear – a mix of sindhi, gujarati and rajasthani. An amalgamation that is only unique to the Kutch region of Gujarat.
|The semi-arid regions of Kutch|
For as far as my eyes could see, the earth stretched for miles – its flat surface laid out for our feet to explore. A number of shrubs prospered in this semi-arid landscape, thriving on the scarce water received six months ago. This unique region, a part of the famed Banni Grasslands, forms a crucial habitat for many animals, resident as well as migratory.
On our way through the desert we glimpsed a large mirage stretching from one corner of the eye to the other – shimmering in the afternoon sun. A vision of an oasis was planted in my brain. As we drove on, this vision grew larger and larger, and more complex – with trees lining the mirage, dancing in the blistering heat. And as we drove further on, the land gave way for water, so vast in its content that the other shore remained hidden beyond the horizon.
This seasonal wetland is rather exploited by the birds, as they feast on the invertebrate diversity until all the water evaporates. And to feast on them, the Eagles and Hawks, Harriers and Kites, and Foxes and Wolves scan its sides from all directions.
There were also birds that were more at home in the aridity of Kutch. One turn of the head and you’ll find yourself looking at something really different. There is no wetland in your view. Only a vast, flat land lying bone dry but not empty. This is the beauty of Kutch.
|Desert Wheatear on the lookout|
Birds that are associated with arid habitats are common here, from a variety of Larks and Wheatears, to Montagu’s Harriers and Bustards. It is in these arid landscapes that you will see the Indian Wild Ass, Desert Fox, and, if you’re lucky, the Indian Wolf or the Striped Hyena. While my trip lasted for only a few hours, I had a fleeting glimpse of a Desert Fox running under the thickets.
The desert of Kutch did not seem deserted anymore, yet we were in for a bigger surprise – a social bird that I can associate with so closely – one of the most majestic of all the birds – and ancient – and intelligent – the crane. In flocks of hundreds, they took to the air at the sound of our vehicle, filling the skies with their characteristic trumpet-like calls. They soared over the thermals, picking altitude, and, swaying effortlessly over the wind, they turned and passed over the setting sun. Dazed, we looked on. The clatter in the air was music for our ears.