hula hoops, the salt desert and beyond!

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January 15th 2011
Published: January 15th 2011
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Aaah I finally find the time to write again! After spending some colourful and noisy weeks in some of Saurashtra's finest cities. We are now relaxing into a slower pace of life in Jainabad, on the outskirts of the Gujerati salt desert, the Raan of kutch. This place is beautiful, just what I need....and the children love it too, which is a bonus; they immediately felt at home here! Some good and clean fresh air, peppered with lashings of hot sun, surrounded by lush greenery, cactii and thorny bushes, home to kingfishers, a family of peacocks, a flame backed woodpecker and even a black cobra (which Akashi spotted this morning, a bite kills in 20 minutes flat!)

But back to where we left off last time, Sasan Gir.....we ventured into the gujerati jungle, a 2 hour bumpy bus journey from Junagadh. Sasan is a tiny little village, and comes within the protected area of the gujerati jungle, a sanctuary for the last remaining asiatic lions. We arrived in time for lunch, and after attemtping a siesta ( not to much avail cos our swish room had a tv and the kids wanted to watch hindi cartoons full blast!), we jumped into an open topped jeep ready to meet the lions! The old gypsy was proper rickety, with no doors or windows, and I ask "Is this safe, with the kids in the jeep and all, won't the lions want my kids for dinner?" But the driver laughs and says it's fine, so we plod on. The jungle is beautiful, truly amazing scenery that my eyes just drink up, full power nature that makes my body tingle! We spot nilgai, many chittal deer (spotted deer), wild boars, a well camoflouaged river snake, jackals, but still after 2 hours, no lions. Then, suddenly in the distance, right up on the track that our jeep is on, we see some silhouettes of big cats....WOW! We cut the engine and sit quietly and reverently as the lions approach, the majestic and beautiful creatures that they are, their strong bodies moving fluidly with their soft paws padding the earth below, eyes glistening in the sun. One walks straight past our jeep, within a straight, within a metre of Shivum; the kids are in awe (they have honed their safari skills and stay very still and quiet so we don't disturb the animals; Shivum won't even let me take pictures sometimes because it "disturbs the animals!") Four lionesses and a cub walk straight past our jeep.......the cub so cute that I want to take it home and cuddle it up! On the journey out of the jungle, I had Akashi and Shivum either side of me in the back of the gypsy, with my hand resting on their hearts, and everything felt gooooooooood, just so right and beautiful, the 3 of us sitting in silence, buzzing on lion vibes....irie!

So, onwards from sasan back to junagadh, and from their to porbander, to stay with more family. Porbander is on the coast, and many birds migrate there when their home country gets to cold (a bit like us.....!). It's also Mahatma Gandhiji's birthplace. The kids loved seeing a pelican in the wild, sitting near a lake, amazing huge beak...and we went and visited a bird sanctuary were the volunteers also catch snakes that are found in homes in the city, and then release them back into the jungle. The day before they had caught a rat snake (which bites but it isn't venomous) and the dude asks if anyone wants to hold it. Shivum presents himself in a flash, and fearlessly handles the snake like he's shankar bhagvan (shivum being the shiva that he is!) and he has the thing wrapped around his neck, his waist,....those images in my head still bring a smile to my face; he was hyped! He wanted to hold the cobra too but I stepped to say 'enough is enough!' Loved seeing my family in Porbander and building stronger connections with them, spending time with my cousin Nidhi, with me, her, Akashi, Shivum and Angel piled onto her scooter and cruising around town. They took us to the most amazing beach about 20km out of the city, where the sand met rockpools covered in a layer of mossy green, slimy seaweed, with huge, deep cracks between the rocks creating dark and jaggedy lines....a landscape from a dream! Shivum was the first to spot a crab (the tiniest little shell in a shallow pool, with little legs poking out of it, moving sideways). We also found some leeches and some little fish. We spent another afternoon on another beach, just me and the kids, during siesta time (when the streets just empty out), and that was beautiful; flamingo's swimming in the distance, listening to the the sound of the waves washing, the sea whispering things of loveliness to the sand.....

So from Porbander to ahmedabad, on an overnight sleepr coach; didn't get much good sleep but the kids slept through and we managed to get from one side of gujerat to the other quite effortlessly and painlessly. I was greeted by bare family that I never knew I had, family i've never even met before apart from the grandma, who remebers me from when i came to india when i was little, but i dont remeber her. I still dont know exactly how im related to these guys even though a few people have explained it to me (something like my maternal grandma and their grandma's something or the other were real cousins); when i ask ba (granny) how we're related, she just laughs and says 'You're my dikri (daughter), what else matters?!' The love that these guys give us, and the love that I feel for them is just a beaut; straight away the kids get lavished with attention and love....and I love hearing some stories about my late maternal grandma, about the way she talked pure kathiavadi gujerati (ghetto gujerati!), and picking up a few new bits of language on the way! Even managed to blag a bit of a ride on my cousin's honda, just once round the block cos the kids didnt want me to go far!

And so, from Ahmedabad to here, Jainabad, a settlement which Dhanraj's (the guy we are staying with) grandad/great grandad set up. Dhanraj is a character and a half, 'eccentric bapu' as my freind joletta, who directed us here, has nicknamed him! He roars like a lion at his workers, and sometimes at the children who live in the hostel that he runs, but underneath that seeming ferocity there is a heart of gold, a foundation of true and pure love for the kids (who he referes to as 'my children'). I'm going to find it hard to leave him and his family tomorrow; his wife, Zaida, is a true sister, and we've had some good heart to hearts...she has looked after me and especially the kids very well, drawing pics for them to colour in, making sure they eat well and are warm enough etc. Selina and Aarman, their children (14 and 8) are also good fun; whenever we have a party here (and we have had lots, at the drop of a hat, no reason needed apart from to party!) Selina is the superstar dj and provided phat western tunes and melodic indian-ness from her laptop. Aaarman is the superstar hooper, and immediately makes akashi and shivum feel at home by pushing them round on his bike for ages! So, the reason that we're here is for akaash ganga, the hostel for destitute children that dhanraj runs...he also runs camp that does safari's into the raan, the salt desert that's very near to here, with beautiful mud huts that are locally made, and amazing food! He takes us to meet the kids at the hostel, and the kids there just blow me away,. There is nita, who has cerebral palsy and is disabled, whose parents sold her to her grandma at a young ag, and she was made to wash, clean and cook for her. There is tejal, manisha and kiran, three beautiful sisters whose father died, and their mum committed suicide in front of the. Within minutes of being there, the kids are singing and dancing and performing for us....I was moved to tears a few times.

Dhanraj suggests that we have a new years eve party with the kids at camp, and we start making preparatiosn; the kids want to sing and dance, and hula hoop( joletta came here and shared with them the gift of the hoop), and so we go to a nearby village and buy tubing and connectors, and make a load of hoops (Ithey get taped up quickly by the girls at akaash ganga in a flash taping session!) I tell Dhanraj that i love fire hooping, and he says 'great, we must make one!' and starts telling everyone that i'm doing a fire hoop performance on new years eve....and he helps me make it happen! With the help of some wire, tools and wick, we bring a fire hoop into existance one afternoon. The party is so so much fun; we set up a little sound with a couple of speakers and some usb and mp3 tunes, along with selina's laptop full of bangers, and we make much maja and masti(fun and mischief!) After the performances, we rave to songs like 'i like to move it, move it', and steps ' 5,6,7,8', from bhangra to bollywood and beyond! And when we set fire to the hoop, my little akaash ganga kids all become fire pixies, some of them waving the fire fingers we made, and all queueing up to have a go on the fire hoop! We make much merriment playing with fire and all the rest, setting the standard for the first of many parties we have in the 2 weeks we stay here. Our akaashh ganga family make a big fuss out of akashi and shivum, who are slowly and patiently brought out of their shells by the the kids, who chase akashi about, an who make mischiefs with shivum. They all made an ingenious hoop train the other night, with all the hoops filled with kids, and each hoop overlapping the next with a kid in between, choo-choo-ing about the place with shivum as the driver at the front of the choo-choo hoop! The kids have a rteal love for hooping, and are pro's, thanks to joletta (or lalita ben as they all call her)....they pick up tricks very quickly, some tricks which take me a while to master, they just do it straight away!(like throwing a hoop HIGH and catching it, or flicking the staionery hoop from your side, up your body, to the top of your outstretched hand....) We also had a great rangoli session the other day, and have had some fun with drawing rangolis on paper and also with chalk onto concrete. With the drawing session, some heartwarming images were drawn; lots of pictures of 'homes' glad the kids have a warm and caring home and that hopefully they feel safe and secure, as kids should!

And tomorrow we have to tear oursleves away from's gonna be tough and even thoug i want to move on and carry on our travels, i aslo dont wanna leave this place, these lovely spirits...but move on we must, and I think we'll be back here for sure, hopefully in february. Dhanraj has helped me sort out an itinery and booked all our train tickets, which has been a total have that weight off my mind and have that all done! So we travel down to the madness which is mubai in a couple of days, meet up with friends and family, and then head to kerala via goa......cannot wait! In kerala, we go to lakshwadeep, a load of tropical islands of the coast of kerala, which are surrounded by shallow lagoons and coral reefs, with barracudas, dolphins, sea turtles and m0re.....until then my friends!!!!!!!!!


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