“How come the bird looks so close in your camera” I asked my Sir. He smirked. “You need a zoom lens to make the bird appear closer, son” He started to click pictures again.
I glanced at my camera, a pretty pink one. My mom had allowed me to take it on this school trip. I sat on the swaying boat, as my friends tried touching the water. They laughed and kept shooing the birds away, as if trying to dominate their space. I looked at them with a frown, while wondering why my camera can’t zoom. Why can’t I capture these beautiful birds as big as my Sir could. I was staring at the mist covered lake, hoping my friends would stop yelling. Maybe the birds would come closer then, allowing me to snap them without a zoom lens.
Childhood memories fade. They keep fading as newer stuff allure us. But the emotions you feel during childhood incidents stay imprinted on your mind space. They mold you as a person. Your present desires emanate from past emotions. How you felt when that rich kid in school showed up in a Mercedes, makes you want to splurge on luxuries now. The way you felt when your first crush looked in your eyes, makes you believe in love now. For me, out of many emotions I experienced during childhood, I still remember how I wished to have a zoom lens while the birds chirped joyfully and a glorious sun adorned the horizon.
I was in 9th standard when I first visited Nal Sarovar, but that urge to return to Nal Sarovar with a Zoom lens lingered somewhere in back of my head.
Maybe that’s why I loved visiting Nal Sarovar recently.
I started from Ahmedabad at around 5 AM. The best way to revel in the beauty of Nal Sarovar is witnessing the Sun rise at the glowing horizon above a platter of shimmering lake. The bird sanctuary opens at 6:30 AM and we were among the first few to get our tickets. I opted for a private boat so there’s no need to wait for others to join. Also, during a wildlife or boat watching trip, I always prefer a private jeep or tour as not all your co-passengers have the patience required to enjoy the experience. Of course it might set me back a few bucks, but I think it’s worth.
Now, Nal Sarovar is spread across a sprawling 120 KM. There are around 36 Islands in the marsh land. Of course, visiting all these islands is not possible in one day. So, once you have your tickets from the official counter, you need to negotiate with the boatmen and figure out a boat package.
There are different packages available. Given that these packages are not curated by the government, you will be asked for an exorbitant fee if you would like to see more than one island. The prices of these packages are pretty random. The package prices also depend on the season and influx of tourists. The local guys decide the prices without any regulatory supervision. The official ticket counter has a disclaimer on their rate list to not pay extra to the boatmen. However, it’s as good as ‘ay’ in Okay.
Given that I had half a day with me, I wanted to visit 6 Islands for which I was quoted Rs 6,500. This included Rs 1,350 that we gave to the government ticket counter. So, the boatman was asking for Rs 5,150 and he would show me 6 islands, without any time limit. I brought him down to Rs 2,000.
Here’s what I did to negotiate. You may try using this tactic. Before heading to Nal Sarovar, I was reading some reviews on Tripadvisor. One of the reviews had mentioned Latif’s mobile number who was the boatman of the reviewer. Latif was apparently a boatman who the reviewer had gone for a boat ride with.
When I reached Nal Sarovar and bought the tickets, I was approached by one boatman. He quoted me a price for various packages. I asked him whether he knew Latif, which he of course did. I told him I would pay Rs 1,500 for the package which he was selling for Rs 5,150. He resisted and turned my offer down while smirking.
I picked my phone and called Latif. Now, the phone didn’t connect. But, I pretended to talk to him on phone as if we were long lost buddies. Immediately the boatman, who was trying to eavesdrop the phone conversation, came down to Rs 2,500. I continued to fake talk with Latif and gave him my location. Finally, the boatman agreed to give me the package for Rs 2,000. The smug smirk on his face was wiped out.
Enjoying the boat ride
The point from where boating starts is around 2 KM away from the ticket counter. The transportation is arranged by the government. I appreciated this as it keeps the vehicles away from the lake and helps in maintenance. We started the boat ride around 7 AM. Our boatman was a 20 something guy who hummed while taking us around. As we cruised the calm lake, the sky behind us was turning from pink to orange. A mighty drama was taking place at the horizon. The protagonist of this stunning backdrop was going to appear!
Meanwhile, the lake in front of us was flocked by black ducks. These ducks had a very peculiar trait. When our boats would approach them, they would run on the water for 10-12 feet and then take off. The tiny water splashes left behind lingered for a while. Imagine scores of birds running on the water together and flying in different directions!
For a moment, I was so fascinated by these ducks, I forgot the Sun had already appeared above the horizon. I turned back and there it was! A bright orange Sun, withering away the clouds and mist. My lens turned towards the golden Sun and the black ducks kept running around and flying.
Around me, the lake shimmered under the Sun. Stunning reflections formed around, making the bountiful views even more captivating!
During the boat ride, we visited 6 islands and saw 7 different variety of birds. An island was not unique to a bird species, but the chance of spotting a particular bird at a certain island is higher. We saw White egret, Grey Heron, Black ducks, Brahminy Shell Duck, Red headed Goose, Purple Moorhen and some local birds. My favorite bird was the Purple Moorhen because of its vibrant color and the way it shined in morning sunlight.
The Red headed goose