Last night I spent almost three hours cross-legged on a jeep's roof-rack, trundling over a dried-out pan of silt and salt, lamping for night wildlife and praying to all benign devas and gandharvas that my still-sprained toe would not be hurt again. It was not, and for my pains we saw:
3 golden jackals
several Indian hares
1 red-wattled lapwing
several Indian nightjars
2 Indian eagle owls
2 chestnut-bellied sandgrouse
1 Indian hedgehog
1 Indian gerbil
We did not see the desert wildcat. It was always hopeful to imagine we might; now, as with the rusty-spotted cat, there is no chance of it joining my Big Cat Quest.
We had arrived in Nakhatrana in the late afternoon, after a seven-hour journey from Rajkot. Reaching Nakhatrana is like reaching Ifaty in Madagascar or Comarapa in Bolivia: wild dusty heat and straggling spiny vegetation, thin thirsty livestock and handsome straight-backed people. These are half-desert places where sun and shade command the comings, goings and doings of people and animals.
This morning we went again to the pan. Last year the rains failed so, where usually there are waterbirds, and eagles preying on them, now there is dust. A tawny eagle hunched in the top of a scrawny bush and a steppe eagle circled above, hungering and lonely. Grey francolins scurried for cover and dust-coloured sandgrouse dropped to the dusty road beside us.
This afternoon, once the heat of the day has waned, we head for the bush again and tomorrow we move to the Little Rann. Here, under the full moon, in the wild, secretive Great Rann, in the quick feet of gerbils, in the wet great eyes of camels, and in the harsh claws of eagles, there is a wild life which I am privileged to have seen.
|A marsh tit's shadow in the salt and dust|
|Naturetrek breakfast in the Great Rann|
|Thevetia in flower at our hotel|