Velavadar Grasslands in the princely state of Bhavnagar in Gujarat was the private hunting grounds of the Maharaja. The Black Buck National Park was later established to conserve and protect the 20 odd sq. km. park. Velavadar is probably one of the few grasslands in the country with a high density of small cats and canines, the likes of the Jungle Cat and Indian Wolf. Being easily accessible from the city of Bhavnagar, Velavadar offers unlimited opportunities to photograph wildlife, particularly the large herds of Black Buck.
The early mornings in Velavadar are the times when the elusive Indian Wolf is out in the Grasslands hunting. Sometimes, packs 0f 5-6 wolves are hunting and this is indeed a sight to watch. On the very first day, when I ventured into the park, all expectations for the Wolf were high when this individual was on the road. Being in a Chevrolet Tavera, shooting ahead on the road is a challenge. I swung the door open and photographed from the window. The beautiful morning light from behind created a rim-light effect around the Wolf.
The bucks often jump pretty high and it is a delight to photograph these moments. Though Black Bucks are found even in my backyard in South India, it is uncommon to see them jumping around frequently. Also the Bucks in Velavadar are quite habituated to cars which is an added advantage to see them close, unlike their South Indian counterparts who are a lot more shy. Predominantly when a vehicle passes by and the herd is near the road, they begin to jump and move across the road. At times, they appear to be flying in mid air.
Being completely open, it is possible to see the bucks bolting across the grasslands and when the packs of Wolves are hunting, I don’t have to what kind of chaos there would be with a herd of 150+ Bucks. Velavadar belonged to the princely state of Bhavnagar and it was the private hunting ground of the Maharajas (Kings). There was a clipping from a documentary film of the Maharajas using Cheetahs to hunt Black Buck which went viral a few years ago. The clip was supposedly shot prior to Indian Independence (1947) and there are speculations that it could have been filmed in the Velavedar Grasslands, although it could possibly be in Rajasthan too.
And when the sun sets, the cats are on the prowl. Jungle Cats are common in the Grasslands, being most active at dusk. Most of the cats I had seen were hunting rodents and hares. Swift as they are known to be, they can stalk and wait patiently for the prey to exit the holes in the ground. These smaller mammals and their common sight is what makes Velavadar special. The Grasslands are also one of the largest roosting grounds for Harriers and also scores of raptors (Birds of prey) winter here.
A white Black Buck, no no, a black buck which is white. Wondering what it is? Yes, that’s an Albino Black Buck. There’s one individual that roams around the grasslands. The buck seems to have melanin mutation that is responsible for this colour. Genetically they are the same as the other bucks.
The fog during the early mornings and late evenings create a mystical effect in the grasslands. It is fascinating that the Black Bucks seldom move out of the Grasslands and come to the highway which passes pretty close to the park. Velavadar is also famous for Indian Striped Hyenas but I wasn’t very lucky to see one. In fact, I am yet to see one in the wild. The park is easily accessible from Bhavnagar and the nearest airport being just over 50 km away. However, I flew into Ahmedabad and drove 4 hours to Bhavnagar. Options to stay close to the park are few in number while Bhavnagar city has good hotels and its an hour’s drive from the park.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan