Lavanya Opines

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Still Noons of Summer

During this pandemic, country-wise lockdowns have been announced forcing people to remain indoors. Many have written and posted images about how the lockdown has rendered busiest sections of cities empty with an eerie silence. But to me, such silence was never a worry.

Have you ever ventured out at noon in summer? Sometime between 12 PM to 1 PM? May be just outside your home, in your balcony? Perhaps below the window of your office building? May be to a nearby outlet? Or perhaps walking through open lanes to somewhere? I have. And I felt like everything around me has just stopped in its track yet something is still moving. Time is moving, the moments will pass yet the summer noon is still and is silently waiting for me. The chirping of birds somewhere, the whistling of winds through the trees here and there, and inaudible human voice. Even my thoughts seem to have left me. Can this be called those “peaceful moments” that we long so much? May be yes.

Sometimes, I stroll through the lanes aimlessly even though I know the destination I am going to. Sometimes, I just look towards the graveled path leading to somewhere. Somehow nothing captures my fancy and nothing comes to my mind. Like the still water. Like the vast open blue sky. Somehow I forget everything, even my existence. I am only the silence around me. I am still with myself.

These feelings are given apt words by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his poem “Silent Noon” that, according to T Feezy’s D on his blog, portrays time paradoxically as that which “provides peacefulness and serenity while simultaneously lingering in its unavoidable passing”. T Feezy’s D analyzes the poetry beautifully and provides a comparison between passing time and lover’s union, peacefully in the moment but does not last.


Amor por Viajar – Little Rann of Kutch

Little Rann of Kutch or LRK was my first travel photography trip this year, January 2020. To be very honest, I did not know that there are Little Rann of Kutch and Greater Rann of Kutch. I was always drawn to “white salt desert” since I watched the movie Refugee & Vibrant Gujarat ads filmed by Amitabh Bachhan. But this time I got my clarity and I very happy that I went on this trip with my friend. LRK is a salt marsh of around 5000 square km, compared to Greater Rann of Kutch, which is also a salt marsh of around 7,500 square km (hence the name LRK 😊). LRK is characterized by cracked ground all around with some shrubs or bushes somewhere in between with salt marshes and lakes and estuaries. Read stories about LRK from Toby Sinclair in Outlook and Natasha Sahgal in NatGeo that tell you why LRK should be on your travel list.

Although, there are many places in and around LRK to visit like Modhera Sun Temple, Rani ka Vav, etc., and the famous Kutch festival during this time, this trip was meant for watching wildlife and shooting them on jeep safaris and sometimes on foot. So unlike my other trips, the time was spent in roaming lakes and shrubs and then back to resort. In LRK, I couldn’t find souvenir stores near my resort so I couldn’t get my magnets or the likes. Nearby villagers come to the resorts to sell their wares like jewelry and to engage tourists in folk dances. Since these were winters, temperature was cool in morning and evening while afternoons was bit hot. However, breeze was always there making the roads dusty. Our safari rides would start early in mornings, even before the sun rises. And so the resort arranges for breakfast which one can have in the middle of the LRK. 🙂 My thoughts –  in middle of nowhere and having breakfast, I felt like an adventurer, Miss Indiana Jones. Only missing part was Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr.. I have a feeling I will soon meet him on one of my trips. 🙂 As a responsible traveler, we ensured that we do not litter and disturb anything in our surroundings.

Breakfast in Middle of Nowhere

I am an amateur and a novice photographer, so I am learning on the jeep. 😊 Unlike the tiger reserves, there is not much restriction on how much of time one can spend in LRK as the same mostly depends on availability of sunlight, wildlife willing enough to pose for the shutterbug, and one’s need for peace. Riding the jeeps, watching the wildlife, watching other photographers is more of an experience. I have posted some pictures that I was able to click decently as @lavanya.j on Instagram. My friend, who is a better photographer than me, posts pictures as @neha_wildlife on Instagram. Don’t forget to let us know your happy thoughts.

Indian Wild Ass Herd

Now, let’s meet the Indian Wild Ass. LRK is the last refugee or home to Indian Wild Ass, also known as Ghudkhur, Khur, and is the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary. Indian Wild Ass is a donkey from horse family, and has a very beautiful pale chestnut colour. Being from horse family, they can gallop anywhere between 60-80 kmph. The view of the wild asses grazing and running in the marsh land morning and evening, feeding in groups, and playing during sunset is mesmerizing. They also love getting clicked besides doing their daily things. Watching their coat glisten while the sun is setting is beauty at its best. I was able to do some backlight photography and yeah I was happy with what I got.

Flamingos lining the lake in morning

Pelicans soaking the sun

The best time to visit LRK is during winters between October to February and so the month of January provided an optimal temperature. This is the time when the migratory birds like flamingos and pelicans visit the lakes and estuaries in the LRK (see other places in India where flamingos visit) and watching these birds is viewing nature’s vastness. Interestingly, I found in my research that pink feathered flamingos migrate to Africa, Iran, and India while bright red feathered flamingos migrate to West Indies and Florida. The pink feathered flamingos are tall birds with pink slender legs, a long, slender neck, and black-tipped bills with a distinctive downward bend. They are elusive to shutterbugs as well. Just won’t stay at one place but the view of flamingos forming a pink line when roaming in the lakes for food is a sight for sore eyes. Pelicans are more like saints, just don’t care about anybody. And they don’t make poses.

Falcon with its kill

Apart from these two beauties, LRK is also famous for other species like Indian Peregrine Falcon (not the correct name I think but the correct scientific name is Falco peregrinus babylonicus), common cranes, nilgai, jackals, and desert fox. (Please don’t mind as I am sure I have forgotten some). On the marsh Rann, we spotted falcon, just sitting there and then with a kill. We were lucky, said our guide, since we were able to spot falcon on our first trip to LRK. Many photographers have been there for days just to shoot the falcon.

Desert Fox is not camera shy

Then it was just by chance that we could spot desert fox while having breakfast in the Kutch. Imagine vast emptiness with some shrubs & bushes here and there, a highway far off but one can hear blazing sounds of horns, breakfast laid in middle of the emptiness, and suddenly out of nowhere desert fox hops on to nearby bush. And then desert fox just kept giving us poses until we all photographers were tired. All this was real. Happiness.

I feel that any wildlife story is not complete without mentioning conservative efforts. The Indian Wild Ass is currently listed as Near Threatened by ICUN, once considered extinct their numbers have now been increasing. Great Indian Bustards, which is unfortunately on the verge of extinction and is currently listed as Critically Endangered by ICUN, is now found at Kutch Bustard Sanctuary.  Salt panning and shrimp farming are threatening food habitat of the Wild Ass. Mining, poaching, and infrastructure building also threaten the wildlife. Also, the water from Naramada river that is released for famers causes havoc for the salt panning. LRK produces 75% of salt requirement of India. It is imperative that both central and state governments come to a solution that caters both to humans and wildlife.

Now, for the informative part of travelling. Through his informative story in Nature in Focus, Shreeram MV has got you covered on the how’s and what’s for everyone including photographers. However, I will just tell you how’s and what’s of our trip. Layers are definitely needed while properly covering throat, neck, ears, and face since I travelled in winter. Rides are dusty and cool. I have allergic bronchitis, so I covered myself as much as I can. We reached Ahmedabad from Delhi by air (Indigo has most flights and at cheap prices; Vistara is also cheap but has fewer flights) and then reached Dasada to stay at RannRiders. All resorts in LRK are mostly eco-friendly. We undertook 6 jeep safaris with a guide.

We roamed the marshes and lakes of LRK. There are no guided routes, just vast emptiness from one end to another. Just stillness and silence. I say LRK should be on anyone’s’ travel list not just wildlife enthusiasts but also anyone who wants to experience peace and serenity. Happy reading. Happy travelling. In these difficult times stay safe and stay protected.

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Ganapthi – Honoring Nature

(C) Lavanya 2019

Hinduism is older than human history, describing an absolute force personified in many forms. Hinduism is made of many layers and understanding such layers is not an easy task for common people like me. So I think, festivals in Hinduism form an important part to make people understand about those layers and to come together as family and community to pray. In Hinduism, there are a lot of deities, each one of them personifying one aspect of nature and life-cycle. One such deity is the Elephant-headed God, Ganapthi. NatGeo just did a fabulous documentary on Ganapthi Festival under title “Mega Festivals – Ganapathi”. Ganapathi is very popular among all Hindus, irrespective of age, caste, & class. Ganapathi festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Southern India and Maharastra. NatGeo already did a marvelous job explaining the varied details related to the Elephant-headed God and the popularity surrounding Him. So I will focus on how Ganapthi festival is synonymous with honoring nature itself.

Ganapathi is revered as nature and therefore the festival is typically about expressing gratitude to elements of the nature. Ganapthi festival involves bringing a new idol of Ganapathi to home. The festival usually comes in the rainy season, which provide the vital natural resource essential for flora, fauna, agriculture, and ecological balance – water. In very early days, people used to live near water sources and rains would replenish the water sources and banks would enrich with fertile soil. People used to build idols from this fertile soil, to show their devotion. Now, the idols are made by people still practicing the craft and brought by masses. Nevertheless, the idol of the Elephant-headed God represents the harmonious relationship that must exist between humans and animals.

Once Ganapathi has been brought home, Ganapathi is worshiped with 21 types of leaves and flowers. The 21 types of leaves and flowers represent 21 elements that make up a human body – 5 physical elements, i.e., sky, air, fire, water, and earth; 5 sensory perceptions, i.e., hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell; 5 sensory organs, i.e., ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose; 5 organs of action, i.e., feet for locomotion, hands for dexterity, rectum for excretion, genitals for reproduction, and mouth for speech; and the mind that controls the sensory perceptions, sensory organs, and organs of action. This means that the devotee is offering oneself to Ganapthi. Offering the 21 types of leaves and flowers forms an important aspect of worshiping the deity. This translates to growing the leaves and flowers to be plucked and worshiped with. The leaves and flowers not  only have sacred value but also have immense medicinal benefits and help keep the ecological balance. The Elephant-headed God is said to be foodie. He loves sweets, fruits, and grass. Sweets made of rice powder, puffed rice, ghee, gurr, etc., all naturally grown items. Again, this drives the points that one must take care of nature so as to be able to worship the Ganapthi Himself.

Finally, the festival ends with the immersion of the idol in water, implying the soil from which the idol was made returns to the banks. This essential drives the point that what has come from the Earth must return to the Earth, and that we are united with Earth and Water. The festival signifies a natural cycle – Ganapthi comes home (nature provides everything to mankind), He is offered love, sweets, and is worshiped & He bestows his love upon the devotees (mankind uses them), and then returns to His home (mankind gives back to nature).

Ganapthi essentially teaches us about reconnecting with nature, taking care of nature, and giving back to nature for nature gives us without asking anything. We all know and realize that “climate change” is real. I am not sure whether we are past the point of reversing the damage that has been done but we are certainly not past the point of controlling & repairing the damage. We celebrate Ganapthi every year and now let us take pledge to honor nature in its true sense and to be aligned with nature.