What can I say about Jamnagar experience?
It’s been a colorful journey. It was most unexpected and full of surprises. Let me unlock the story as it happened. The reason I ended up going to Jamnagar was that I was mesmerized by the photographs of my photographer friend Saurabh.
It was the first time I saw bird pictures with beautiful lighting and blue background. I haven’t seen anything like this before, that too especially in India. At once, I decided to go Jamnagar in Gujarat.
Jamnagar is a city located on the western coast of India in the state of Gujarat in the Gulf of Kutch. Jamnagar is not the famous place for birding for some reason. Instead, Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) and Greater Rann of Kutch (GRK) are the most famous birding hotspots in Gujarat. Funny thing is I haven’t been to those places yet.
Do I regret my decision to go to Jamnagar? No! I will go to LRK and GRK as well this year. However, Jamnagar was worth it.
Last February I was able to go to Jamnagar for eight days. I had lots of hopes. But little did I expect so many surprises in this place. I will unfold these surprises and the disappointments as I remember.
Bird Photography @ Jamnagar
My stay was at the famous hotel of Jamnagar, the Hotel President. The owner of this hotel, Mustak, is himself an avid birder. If there is one person to thank, for making Jamnagar a birding place, it should be Mustak bhai, in my opinion. He is such a sweetheart. He was extremely helpful toward me as well he was my life saver.
Unfortunately, the beginning was disgusting. It was foggy which made photography difficult. Though light did come at around 10 O’clock, the place was not ideal.
There were few flamingos and black-winged stilts in the salt pans. I spent the whole day in the salt pans with almost nothing it was certainly a disappointment. Well, I though almost nothing, but when I processed some images, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
That night turned out to be a nightmare. There were few tea-stall workers next to the hotel who were playing music till 2 O’clock at the loudest of the settings. It was horrible! I couldn’t sleep and even after repeated requests they just didn’t stop.
I slept almost till 3 pm the next day. I felt terrible, and I decided to do some street photography. However, Mustak bhai made an arrangement to shift me to an A/C room. It was so very kind of him. Then he took me to a place in the middle of the city which turned out to be the place where I would go every day in the future.
It was a dumping ground! I know it sounds crazy. But, it was one heck of a place for bird photography! There were two tiny ponds on either side of the road with stand-still water.
I knew I found a paradise amidst a dumping ground which no one cared. There were a couple of photographers who came but left the scene quite fast. I love such places 🙂 I know it’s cynical, but there was not much place for more photographers.
You can imagine my situation there. It was quite bad, in fact. There were quite a few birds in this tiny pond. It was the perfect place for my kind of bird photography!
I love to spend a lot of time in one place with just a few birds.
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From the next day onwards, I would go to the same place almost every morning and evening lying next to the garbage like a crazy guy. I loved every bit of it.
Here is a look at the craziness. You can imagine.
As there was a good amount of human traffic on the road, the birds were accustomed to the human presence. It was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. They hardly cared about me! I could move around as often as I wanted. Of course, I was moving extremely slow. What more can you ask?
Here’s is a small sample of photographs that I made in this place. Isn’t it lovely?
The most exciting thing about staying in hotel president was the evenings. Every evening I would go to Mustak bhai’s office at the hotel where I some incredible people. Some were bird watchers, some were bird photographers, and some were birding guides. I sweetly named it as “Temple of Knowledge.”
Then there was a crazy bike rider, Sachin, who left his IT job to pursue his passion for riding. He was covering nook and corner of Gujarat on his Royal Enfield Bullet.
I even met a Ph.D. holder, Virag, who holds a Ph.D. in lesser Flamingos! Can you imagine studying about one bird species for three years? That’s unbelievable! He was so down to earth, and we had an excellent time.
Then there was another doctor, Jalpan, who did was fanatic about Asiatic Lions in Gir forest. He has studied the Lions in Gir forest for a whole 15 years! It was a love started at an early age of 12 years. He does it just for the love of it. He doesn’t share his work anywhere and doesn’t care in fact. I call that the REAL PASSION! I wish I were like that 🙂 I was very lucky to see some of his best works. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Then I met Adesh Shivkar who has seen around 900 bird species of the Indian subcontinent! I was so impressed by his immense knowledge. I met a birding guide Jumma bhai, aged 74, who did birding with the great Salim Ali – the Birdman of India.
The most interesting person was Yashodhan Bhatia, fondly known as Bittoo. It took some time to know Bittoo bhai as he doesn’t talk much. But, when I saw just a few of his photographs in his mobile, I was blown away. His portfolio was simply superb. He was such a simple and lovely person. And he has an adorable son.
Till the end of my trip, Bittoo bhai was our constant companion. One night, I spent several hours checking his portfolio till the 12 am on an empty stomach. I can barely hold my hunger…but that day I could do it. Just for the love of seeing those beautiful photographs. They were awesome.
In between, I visited the only marine national park in India, Narara Marine National Park. It is India’s first marine park. It was a disaster as the birds were way too far and dispersed because of the low tide. I did spend some considerable time making few photographs.
As per the tide timings, Mustak bhai had told me that afternoon was the best. So, we waited. As I was having my tea in the afternoon, I met four photographers who happened to be highly successful people. One of them was a retired doctor, Dr. Mahaaveer, other was a Colonel in Air Force, Col. Rana, other was a famous Naturalist, Kishan Meena, and one more was a builder, Kapil. It was an incredible experience.
The afternoon was extremely productive for bird photography in Narara Marine National Park. I had a wonderful time photographing many shore birds. Some photographs for you.
Mustak bhai warned me to be careful of the high tides as they can be dangerous. I knew it but couldn’t comprehend it until I experienced it.
I was lying flat on the sand photographing a flock of curlews. The hide tides were sweeping towards the birds, and they started hopping forward. I was struggling to keep the focus on them with my 2x teleconverter on my 600mm lens. I wasn’t able to keep things steady as I had bruises in my elbow. It was terrible. But, I couldn’t stop photographing.
When the last curlew flew forward, I had my senses back. And I was in shock as water surrounded me for almost several hundred meters! Fortunately, the place I was lying down was at a high point. There was this island with one crazy photographer standing in the middle.
Fortunately, the water was just knee deep, and I was able to rush through the tidy water to reach the dry side of the beach. A couple of minutes late, I would have been in danger I guess.
Unfortunately, no one took my photo as I was wading through the water. It would have been a memorable one. I continued to photograph the curlews again until they all flew away at the day’s end. Here’re some photographs that I made.
Here’s how I looked after an extremely strenuous and an exciting day. Thanks to Jadeja bhai (who took me there in the taxi) for this photo.
Phew…it was an incredible bird photography experience.
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Next day onwards again I continued to photograph in my favorite dumping spot.
One evening I met Mr. Bishnoi, Chief Fire Officer of Jamnagar, in Mustak bhai’s office. Then there was another series of events which occurred. Next day Bishnoi ji took me to a birding spot that’s mostly unknown. We weren’t lucky, but it was a nice outing. I happen to teach a few bird photography tips.
That afternoon I got a call from Bishnoi ji saying the SP (Superintendent of Police) of Jamnagar, Mr. Pradeep Shejul, wants to speak with me. Before I realize what’s happening, I hear the SP on the other side with excitement. He was a regular reader of my blog, and he wanted to meet me in person. It was a pleasant surprise!
On that evening, I met Bishnoi ji’s wife, his brilliant son, the SP and his wife (who is also an SP). The SP and his wife are so young and warm. They had only kind words about me and my work. We had a great time dining together. They invited us over for the breakfast on my last day in Jamnagar.
I couldn’t believe my luck of meeting some of the most accomplished people. I felt delighted and honored.
It was my last day for bird photography in Jamnagar, and I couldn’t photograph flamingos yet. Just a few meters from the dumping ground there was a place with at least thousand flamingos. I decided to spend my day with flamingos.
It was a barren land with pools of water which hosted thousands of flamingos, ducks, stilts, pigeons, etc. It was a pleasure to be in such a vast place with no one around but the birds. I stayed put in a location and enjoyed my evening watching and photographing flamingos. They even came so close to me that I couldn’t focus!
At one point in time, I was surrounded by several hundred flamingos at a distance of around 10 feet to 20 feet. I loved it.
Here’re some of my favorite photographs from that day. I tried a lot on shooting into the light that day, and I was quite successful at it.
On my way back to the hotel, I got a call from Bishnoi ji that Mr. Bhombay, BSF (Border Security Force) commander, wants to meet me. It was crazy. Everything was happening at once.
I met Bhombay ji at Hotel President on the same evening. He was such a gem and down to earth person. He has worked in many top organizations in India that one could only dream.
On the last day, I joined the SP, Bishnoi ji, and Bhombay ji for morning birding. Later we all went to SPs house for the breakfast. Their hospitality was next to none. I loved every bit of it. And I was treated with idiyappam (a south Indian dish). I was extremely fortunate to meet so many friendly people in such a short time. It was unbelievable but true. I still can’t believe my luck!
I would like to thank everyone who made my Jamnagar experience the most lovable of all. I will cherish these memories for a long time to come. Thank you! Saurabh.
Jamnagar will be on my hit list for conducting bird photography workshops from this year onwards. I hope you will join me this migratory season. Watch out for the upcoming bird photography workshops. You will have a pleasant surprise too.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to Jamnagar and Mustak bhai after all. I had to leave. I knew I would come back to Jamnagar for many years to come. Both for bird photography as well to meet all the wonderful people out there.
Thank you all!
I hope you all enjoyed this very long blog post 🙂 Let me know what you think.
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