The nine day Navratri Festival just ended for us in India and for Indians abroad. The grace and colors of Garba in Gujarat, the beauty of dolls display (Golu) in Tamil Nadu and the divinity of the Durga Puja celebrations in Bengal are the hallmark of the festivities.
Out here in Pennsylvania in the USA, while we organized and celebrated Navratri with a Golu (display of Dolls), we didn’t miss the grace, colors, beauty and divinity at all. Nature was present in its full glory.
In fact, there is a fashion parade going on right now to celebrate Navratri and welcome Diwali soon in our neighborhood. Surprised! Yes!
Navyata 2022 is happening in our neighbourhood.
Welcome to Navyata 2022 – the fashion parade of Nature.
Note: Keyboard support was provided by my little grandson Dhruv.
When we say “wild and wonderful” where does our mind jump to immediately?
“Hakuna Matata. kusafiri” is the answer.
Confused with the answer? In the East African language of Swahili, it simply means “no worries”, “take it easy”. The answer is “Safari”.
Safari -An introduction
In Swahili, the word safari means “journey”, originally from the Arabic noun سفر, safar, meaning “journey”, “travel”, “trip”, or “tour”; the verb for “to travel” in Swahili is kusafiri. These words are used for any type of journey.
Safari entered the English language at the end of the 1850s thanks to the British explorer Richard Francis Burton. In 1836, British Army Engineer,
William Cornwall Harris led an expedition purely to observe and record wildlife and landscapes. Harris established the safari style of journey, starting with a not too strenuous rising at first light, an energetic day walking, an afternoon rest then concluding with a formal dinner and telling stories in the evening over drinks and tobacco.
The hunting aspect traditionally associated with the safari is said to have its origins where villagers got together to hunt wild boars and reclaim land for farming. However it was the British who used Safaris for hunting for personal pleasure and popularized it.
Gujarat – The wild and wonderful
Our trip to Gujarat contained two segments where we stuck to the spirit of William Cornwall Harris style of Safari as a means to understand the wild and wonderful Gujarat.
Segment 1 – Gir – The kingdom of the “Wild and Wonderful”.
Part A – Jungle Safari
The Gir National Park was established in 1965 in the erstwhile Nawab of Junagarh’s private hunting area, with a total area of 1,412 km2(545 sq mi), of which 258 km2 (100 sq mi) is fully protected as a national park and 1,153 km2 (445 sq mi) as wildlife sanctuary.
Kicking off the day at 0530 Hrs we started our Safari in the jungles of Gir. A four hour drive in an open Gypsy (A jeep) took us the nook and corner of the sprawling Gir Forest. We were lucky to spot a lioness marking her territory right at the start of the Safari. The rest of the Safari covered other animals and birds. Here is an overview.
This was followed by an exquisite lunch and siesta at the FERN GIR FOREST RESORT.
Part 2 – Devalia Safari
Evening Safari was a bit different; we wanted to present ourselves as “strange moving creatures with two legs” to the wild and wonderful. So we locked ourselves in a cage mounted on a Gypsy and paraded ourselves to the wild animals in the Gir Forest. Needless to say that the Wild and Wonderful didn’t bother about us at all and were busy at their routines.
Gujarat Tourism calls this place as “ Devalia Safari Park ” also known as “Gir Interpretation Zone- Devalia”. Here is our Safari with a dufference:
Experience in this segment summed up – “High” on expectations (with increased Lions population and previous day sightings expectations built up) and “Moderate” on success in sighting.
Segment 2 – The Little Rann of Kutch – A saline sublime
In this segment, we moved away from the Jungle to the vast, dry and extremely hot saline desert.
Covering an area of 4954 Km2, Little Rann of Kutch is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind. Wild Ass Sanctuary is located in this Rann which harbours the last population of Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur).
It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains. The present saline desert of the Little Rann (saline desert-cum-seasonal wetland) of Kutch is believed to have been shallow sea.
We checked into the Royal Safari Camp at Bajana and relaxed after a sumptuous meal.
Part A – The Wild Ass Safari
We were ready for the Evening Safari. Temperature soared to 43 deg C (in the last week of March itself) and here we are driving in an open Gypsy towards the saline desert from the village center.
Part B – Nature’s Aviary at the Saline Desert
We even got down from the Gypsy and walked around the waterbodies to have an exclusive “darshan” of the birds around there. Wow. What a sight.
Experience in this segment summed up – “Low” on expectations (what do you expect, except a few Wild Asses and that too in a hot desert) and “High” on success in sighting (not only Wild Asses but also an impressive show by the Birds and Aditya, the Sun while setting).
Lessons learnt – Safari and Vedanta
This is our second Jungle Safari after the one at Kanha Tiger Reserve at Madhya Pradesh in 2018.
Safaris like these drive home several lessons, many of them straight from our Vedanta.
Here are some of my learnings:
1. If you are keeping your expectations (desires) high, you are bound to get disappointed (frustrated). After all you are looking for a few hundred wild animals (which are mostly territory oriented) in an area spanning thousands of square kilometers.
2. What you get to see (or otherwise) need not necessarily be seen (or otherwise) by someone who are either ahead of you or behind you. Your experience is unique to yourselves.
3. Time and Space can decide what you get or loose. In other words your experience is time and space limited.
4. Enjoy what you see, your experience. That moment is precious. The idea of being present and savoring the moment is not a novel idea, but it’s often a forgotten one. David Attenborough’s extraordinary documentaries on Animal Kingdom are awesome; no doubt about that. But nothing will ever have as big an effect as seeing the real beauty of the world and its inhabitants on safari by yourselves.
5. Silence is golden. Feel it and enjoy it. Through the day enjoy that moment where a bird or a monkey or a deer provides an alarm for an approaching animal. In the night at the Camp, listen to the insects’ hum and chirp; the stars in the sky and the sounds of nature.
6. See the positives. Even dirty roads and bushy terrain offers great views.
7. The Sun always provides spectacular views both in the morning and evening. Enjoy it and pray Aditya for keeping us alive.
8. Be patient. You have no choice. Sometimes what you want and expect doesn’t happen right away; sometimes what you want takes much longer than you thought it would.
9. Ears are better than mouth. Listening is Often Better Than Talking. Listen to the safari guide or just listen to the sounds of the bush. The point is that when we listen, our bodies are much more attuned to everything that’s happening around us. You also learn what you may not have known.
10. Life is not a rat race. Reconnect with the beauty of little things and enjoy.
Post retirement we had a wonderful plan of exploring every year, one of the States and Union Territories in our country. That was working out nicely till 2019, when the dreaded CoVid 19 stuck. The years 2020 and 2021 saw us getting trapped in the residence.
At last, the opening came in March 2022. We decided that we will visit Gujarat (despite the fear of an oppressive heat). A detailed plan was drawn out (10 night & 11 days) covering nearly 2500 Kms of road journey. The tour was well coordinated and organized by Akshar Travels, Gujarat.
Here is a pictorial summary of our tour plan.
Great experience it was. From the time we landed in Rajkot till the time we boarded our return flight at Ahmedabad, it was non stop learning about animals, places, heritage, culture, food and of course people.
From the non stop “Thambakoo” chewing Rajasthani driver (thanks to Film Stars who are responsible for this addiction in many people) to the tribal people selling their wares in Little Rann of Kutch, evidences of our Sanatana Dharma, everyone in search of pure happiness kept cropping up by the minute again and again.
My iPhone X literally cried for help. Help came only through places where photography was not allowed. Consolidating the photos and preserving them is a mammoth task. That process has just started and the first focus is on my favorite, the Sun – Aditya. The reason is “After all Gujarat is shining. Isn’t it?
Here is Shining Gujarat, a video of Sun Shine across our entire route in Gujarat
Today is the first day of the New Year for Tamils who follow the solar calendar. Festival means plenty of food to eat and enjoy apart from prayers and rituals. Vegetarians in India have no issues. What about our clans in the Western World ?
Veggies face the culinary trilemma of being vegetarian, trying to eat healthy and being a foodie.
Some common modern-day myths
Being a vegetarian makes you healthy. Yes, we are practically immortal at this point!
A vegetarian cannot be a foodie. Given we are limited to tofu and eggplant parmesan.
A foodie by definition, cannot eat healthy. See above.
This Substack is an attempt to conquer the impossible trinity of vegetarianism. Please do visit for receipes.
The dark days of COVID-19 combined with the cold winter could force anyone to be tugged under the comforter and lie down on the bed even when awake particularly on a Sunday. Well, I have a different story to tell.
Sunday 24th January 2021 – It was the day after I got “moderna-ized”. Wondering about the new English word coined here ! Yes, the previous day I got the first doze of the much anticipated COVID vaccine from Moderna, making me feel that sometimes getting old is helpful (Got the appointment because I was more than 65 years old – physically).
As typical of an old timer, I got up at 0600 hrs on a cold and frigid Sunday morning with temperature smoothly gliding down to 12 deg F (Remember that I am guy who spent all his life at around 32 deg C. !). I had a choice to make – a choice about how I feel.
In my life, whenever I had to make choices, I had the luck of having someone close to me to lean my shoulders on and pause before making the choice. This Sunday is no exception. As my “close someone” unfolded himself to me, I made my choice.
THERE IS HOPE; THERE IS A BRIGHTER SIDE TO LIFE. LOOK AT THAT AND START THE DAY.
In an interview done through my iPhone in mid September 2020, the Sun gave an exclusive preview of what is in His mind.
“I have been rising early all summer. I am tired of “Early to rise and late to bed”. It is now “late to rise and early to bed”. Times are changing and so too are the colors. It is time for me to relax. If you guys want, you can change your time as per my schedule” – says the Sun. Justifiably so – isn’t it?
What is a window ? I am not talking about either Bill Gates or Microsoft. I am talking about the simple, centuries old, “opening” that allows light, air and sound in buildings.
To quote Jeffrey Kipnis (Architectural Critic) “The architectural effects of a window have nothing to do with your description of the everyday building effect. The reason there are so many different windows is because the architectural effect is totally different than letting light, air, and views through windows. Every architect uses windows totally differently to take advantage of light, air, and views, but windows also frame views, change reflections, and do all sorts of things. They work at the existential and philosophical level, not at the functional level of building.”
Let us now look at the frame views and reflections that different windows provided to me in three residences at three different places in the East of the USA. This is in the form of a video.
The photographs are taken by me on my iPhone and the background music is by my 7 year old grandson who is learning the Piano.