WildZests: January 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Sequel to Dec 2011 - A Rewarding Experience At Jamnagar!


Today was the day we were leaving for Jamnagar to participate in the Bird-A-Thon. Pozu had skipped dinner last night and thus it was decided that I’ll go for the morning safari while Gozu and Pozu will finish all morning activities and be ready for departure by the time I come back. A futile search for the Short Eared Owl delayed our morning jeep ride and by the time I was back at the resort, the mother-daughter duo was all set for us to leave. We made a quick departure from Desert Coursers after all the customary bye-byes and were on our way to Jamnagar. There is no major highway connectivity between Zainabad and Jamnagar and a good part of the road is through smaller towns and villages. Though the roads were decent, the average speed wasn’t all that great since we had to slow down every now and then for the slow moving vehicles and pedestrians. We reached Jamnagar at about 4PM and caught some rest before joining the team for the briefing and dinner party.

With the rules understood and the team introduced, we were told to be ready to leave at 6AM on the following morning. Each team was of 5 participants and had a good mix of novice to expert bird enthusiasts. There was a local Jamnagar participant in every team who was pretty much an expert at birding. Gozu and me were in the same team and we had one person from Mumbai and another one from Ahmedabad and last but not the least a young “veteran” bird watcher Chiku (Chirag Solanki) from Jamnagar.

It was going to be a bit challenging with having Pozu ready at 6AM since usually on all our trips we let her sleep till her usual time even though we leave at unearthly hours. However, going out on a mission meant that she had to be ready with all her morning rituals completed by 6AM. She also hadn’t had her dinner last night so we needed to make sure that she would eat a good breakfast meal. This is the part where I can’t stop admiring my daughter, at just about 3years of age her adaptability is unmatched. Not only did she wake up at 5AM and finished all her stuff, she was wide awake as we started and was really enjoying the whole kickoff event. The organizers had arranged for packed breakfast for all participants and that really helped in ensuring that she had proper meals through the day.

4.3I had been reading up on the birding scene in Jamnagar to prepare myself for the event and I was amazed to see how blessed the port city has been blessed with a vast bio-diversity of residential as well as migratory birds. The whole city is pretty much like a huge bird sanctuary and one can easily see a lot of bird species without making too much of an effort. Our plan was finalized based on discussions with Chiku and it was going to be the Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary – Narara beach – Lakhota lake – Valasura salt pans and if possible we’d go to the area near the railway station.

The late sun rise at 7.20AM meant that we’d not be seeing much activity until the light comes in and the birds take to the sky. We utilized this time to reach Khijadiya and spot the elusive Indian Nightjar which was the first species to be recorded in our books for the day. The next 2 hours were spent at Khijadiya which yielded us 75-80 species on the list and that was a pretty good start for the day. We had some of the packed breakfast at one of the watch towers and then started towards Narara which was a little more than an hour away. The Narara Marine National Park was a very pleasing experience and I could potentially spend a full day in a place like that without feeling hungry or thirsty. Given that we reached there pretty much as the tide started moving in and water level was increasing fast, we could spot the Crab Plovers and who’re the stars of the area and an Osprey making attempts to find its food amongst the various other waders that thrive in this place.


With two major birding locations covered and more than 130 species on our list, we were now focused on finding specific species that weren’t covered yet. The cab guy we had was moving at a very slow pace and keeping the needle at a max of 50-55kmph even on open roads, he said he had gotten some work done on the engine and was running it in. While that cost us time to move between places, the fun thing about birding is that it can be done anywhere since birds are not restricted by boundary walls. The slow speed was a blessing in disguise as it helped in keeping a lookout and spotting several species that weren’t seen inside the sanctuary. On the way back from Narara we made a brief diversion to the Ranjitsagar dam where we found some of the common birds like the purple moorhen, the coppersmith barbet etc. By the end of the afternoon, we were comfortably sitting at a total of 150 odd species count and a quick visit to the Lakhota lake helped in adding a few more. It was still 5PM and we had an hour more to report back at the hotel so we decided to go towards Valasura and see if we can find some more and we did add 2-3 more to the list.


The rough list had a little over 160 odd names and we were sure there will be some duplicates, we had started filling out the log book while on our way to Valasura and were glad that the duplicates weren’t too many. At the end of the day we submitted a total of 157 species recorded from all the places we visited. Now, I must admit that I’m a casual birder and even though I know most of the bird names and can identify the parent species of most birds, identifying a specific species and its sub-species is a difficult task. This is where our champion Chiku proved his mettle, an avid birder and a very cheerful person, he’s been an active bird-watcher in Jamnagar for over 12 years and was able to describe the differences between sub-species very clearly. Moreover, he seemed to be an expert with the waders which was a definite plus as there were quite a few waders that we could spot and identify with his help.


The contest required us to photograph as many birds as we could so that there is photographic evidence available if required in case of any questions etc. There was a special prize for the day’s best picture based on the jury discretion as well. Each team had to submit 5 photographs before 6.45PM to be qualified for the contest. Now, I had been lugging around my 600mm all through the day handheld to get record shots of most species that we saw. However, given that we were always rushing from one place to the other, there was absolutely no time where I could sit and photograph thinking about the picture contest. A monopod would have been best suited for this kind of jobs but sadly all I had was the tripod which was pretty difficult to carry and setup everytime. At the end of the day, we were scrambling to find suitable pictures for the submission and all I could manage was some marginally decent shots that I’d not be “happy happy” with. Anyways, the single-minded focus of the team was to make sure we put up the best count and we were proud of that, so this was nothing to be worked up about.

The award ceremony and closing out dinner was arranged at the Rotary Club hall nearby and we were all sitting exhausted from the day’s work hoping that we’d win something. One by one, all the awards got announced and everybody at our table was pretty much sitting quiet. Then came the announcement for last award which was the most important one too, the winners of the Bird-A-Thon with the most number of species count from the day. We had heard totals of 140 odd numbers so we knew that we weren’t too far off from others, but we didn’t know if someone had more than us. Then came the biggest surprise, everyone suddenly turned to our rather quiet table as the winning team was announced. We had won the first ever Bird-A-Thon and that too by a good margin!

4.7Everybody shook hands and hugged each other in glee and boy were we glad that the trip turned out to be so successful. They even announced that they’ll be sending a special prize for Pozu as the youngest birder of the event, she really deserved that mention coz she had been such a good sporting kid all through the day.

While sitting through the event, Gozu had a sudden urge to see if we can get some bookings at Gir and drive down on the next day. Now, that’s not something that I’d like to turn down and I immediately turned to my newly found friends in Jamnagar who got me in touch with a reliable source in Gir. Being a Sunday and the 30th of December, I knew the chances were bleak but my contact was determined to try his best and promised to give me a final update in the morning based on which I could decide to drive down to Gir or go back home.

After a sumptuous dinner which was infact the first proper meal of the day, the happy day ended with bidding farewell to our wonderful hosts and to our super-efficient team members.

That night we slept like logs and the only thing that woke me up in the morning was the alarm I had set to call my contact in Gir about the possibility of getting a safari booking for the evening. He had already told me that staying will not be an issue, but getting a slot in the safari will be a matter of chance. Unfortunately, that Sunday morning was swarmed with people at Gir and he was very polite in telling me that it may not work out to my satisfaction even if I take a chance. Well, you can’t always get what you want and Gir wasn’t even remotely connected to our original plan so there was no heartburn. We promised ourselves to return to the land of the Asiatic Lions pretty soon and started our return journey to Mumbai in the morning after breakfast.

The roads were pretty good till Limbdi post which we took the right turn to follow the path shown by Google Maps and that 150 kms stretch until Karjan slowed us down considerably. We passed through some small villages and the road wasn’t wide enough in most places, plus it was patchy in some places. Overall, we must have lost an hour or a little more doing this stretch. Once at Karjan, we joined back to the main wester express highway and continued our drive until we stopped at my parents’ house for a quick 4 hour rest before leaving for the final leg of our journey to Bangalore. We were back home by evening time and had managed to avoid the new year mad rush that would have begun a couple of hours later. We enjoyed the new year party hosted by a friend here with some nice barbeque and I was found mostly dozing on the sofa while the others danced and made merry.

Here’s wishing all the readers a very happy and prosperous 2013!


A Sequel to Dec 2011 - Exploring the Little Rann Of Kutch


The 2012 monsoon hasn’t been great across the country and one can easily make out the impact of it in LRK. The water bodies that were full last year and had a lot of ducks and other waders had just ankle deep water and were now flooded with flamingos who prefer that habitat. The ducks had to move to the creek side which had some water but not as much as the last time. There was some water released from the Narmada which had an impact on some of the access roads and the only option to go the creek side was from Bajana which is 20kms from Zainabad whereas last year there was another road midway. 


The number of birds this year were less as compared to the previous year and what I got to know was that the flamingos on the way to Dholavira were no longer there in this season. Last year, I was told that there was a huge gathering of 1.5 to 2 lakh flamingos on that side of the Rann. We missed it because we thought we’ll go to Dholavira from the GRK side and unfortunately that road access was closed when we went there. Now Dholavira is about 5 hours from Zainabad and is one of the sites where you can see the remnants of the Harappan civilization, but my main aim was to also go there for the Greater Flamingos which are not found in LRK otherwise. We made plans and we dropped the plans, that’s pretty much what we did and end of the trip, we didn’t really take off for Dholavira. May be someday when I visit the place again, I’ll keep this on the itinerary. 


We did go to the Modhera Sun temple which is quite a brilliant depiction of how ancestral Indian man was knowledgeable about subjects ranging from history, geography, science, mathematics to sex education. The temple is no longer a place of worship since it was desecrated and is now a well maintained archaeological site. Our guide kept telling us intriguing stories about how Mahabharata was depicted in the sculptures and how the temple was built based on the sun calendar etc. Overall, a nice visit and there’s always something you learn from such places. 



During the course of the 4 days at Desert Coursers, we made friends with a lot of people and surprisingly one of them was a family from Bangalore who stay just about 7-8 kms from our place. Their son and Pozu immediately took off and what followed was a couple of days of sheer playing madness between the duo. Given that LRK isn’t really a place that has too much to offer for a general tourist, usually the people who visit the place are wildlife enthusiasts and that has helped keep the crowds limited but the overall region can definitely be kept a lot cleaner than what it is today. Plastic trash is seen almost everywhere and can easily be avoided through proper regulations and education. 

My favorite photographic subject in LRK has been the Lesser Flamingos and even this time I spent most of the time sitting at the edge of Nawa Talav waiting for these beautiful creatures to accept me and close in for a nice shot. Finally, persistence paid off and I was able to get a few shots that were satisfying enough to call it a successful day. 



While I was busy photographing the flamingos, Pozu was keeping her Mom busy with her insistence to use my other camera. She also wanted to try her hand at some shots of the flamingos and finally managed to work her way out.


A Greylag Geese couple also happened to pose nicely for the camera, though they maintained safe distance at all times. No amount of hiding helped in getting close to them and they’d take to the sky at the slightest hesitance from anyone in the group.


The LRK special for this visit was the encounter with the nightjars, we spotted both the Sykes as well as the Indian nightjars after sundown. The only challenge was to get a nice picture of these supremely camouflaged birds, the search light surely helped in spotting these beauties, but the harsh light didn’t make it easy to get a pleasing picture. Still after fiddling around with the exposure and dialing it down to soften the light, I was able to get a couple of pictures that are worth posting here. 



The Eurasian cranes were found almost everywhere but I was glad to document some aggressive behavioral shots in a siege. I couldn’t make out whether the two males were either fighting for dominance or it was mock ritual, but it went on for about 10 minutes while the other cranes were seen cheering the fight. 


The Demoiselle cranes were missing last year during our trip, but this time they made a good special appearance and during the evening golden light hour and it more than made up for their absence. 


3.15The sunrise and sunset are the two most beautiful events in the Rann where you can see the big orange ball of fire just rising from or sinking into the perfectly flat horizon. One of the evenings we were lucky to witness a really beautiful orange glow reflecting off the shallow waters, introducing a magical effect into the whole landscape. We positioned our jeep to get a classic silhouette shot of the curlew sandpiper in the orange waters and after a couple of tries, I was happy with what I had gotten. 

A day before we were supposed to leave for Jamnagar, I called the Saevus organizers to check on my stay arrangements since I had asked for a separate booking. I was told that they have blocked the room for me separately, but since there was a cancellation they offered my wife to join the event as a participant if she was willing. Given that there was basically nothing that she was going to do except babysitting Pozu, she was ready to join but we wanted to make sure that it was okay to have our daughter along with us all the while. We were happy to know that there wasn’t any issue in having Pozu with us if we were okay with it and so now all three of us were going to participate in the bird race which was quite exciting.

A Sequel to Dec 2011 - Finally The Trip Begins

As the vacation time comes closer, most folks are either already out of office or are in no mood to conduct too many meetings. I realize that I could easily take a day off on Friday to make preparations for the trip and that would also give us the opportunity to plan an early departure than the 2AM schedule. I had a quite few things to take care of before the trip could start. First and foremost, the car hadn’t been checked for readiness and even though it was serviced only a while back the clutch wasn’t feeling all that good. So I took it to the service center in the morning and got it checked thoroughly and had all the fluids topped up as well. The clutch seems to have suffered a normal course of wear and tear with almost 56k on the odo and though there is no risk of failure it does feel a bit hard now. The SA told me that I could choose to replace the clutch  but it would need a day, so I can finish the trip and then leave the car when it’s due for the next service.

2.1There was a lot of packing to do, get all my camera gear cleaned, batteries charged, choose accessories that I needed etc. An 8-9 day trip meant a lot of munchies had to be stashed in the car since we don’t usually stop for meal breaks. I usually carry a 20 liter water can and a 5 liter smaller can for daily use along with wide mouthed pet bottles, that way I don’t have to trash the place with plastic bottles. By the time I finished all of this, it was already evening and so we decided to leave between 9-10pm so that we can grab some quick dinner and be on our way out of the city. I had a quick lie-down for an hour which is nothing but keeping your eyes closed no matter whether you’re actually fallen asleep or not followed by a refreshing bath that is enough to keep me going till we reach the destination.

We started at around 9.30PM after having some quick frankies for dinner. My friend Elly decided to join us till Mumbai since we had some college friends gathering for a small reunion of sorts. Given that we were leaving early meant that we’d be skipping the stopover in Pune since we may cross it really early in the morning for the folks to be awake. It would be better to directly halt at my parents’ house in Navi Mumbai and rest till the evening before we head out for reunion party.

Getting out of Bangalore was pretty okay except for the traffic jam in the Mahadevapura to KR Puram area where we spent almost 30-45 mins crawling in 1st gear. The highway was busy with the buses that leave the city around the same time but with the wide roads, it wasn’t so much of an issue to overtake them and make sure we were ahead of that crowd. The BLR-MUM roads are now pretty much like driving in your backyard since we’ve done this 4-5 times in the past year. Soon we were happily cruising at 100-120kmph and making good progress.

With no big stops on the way except for one tea break before Kolhapur, we stopped directly at the Datta vadapav just outside Panvel at 8.30AM for some nice sumptuous breakfast. Given the time delay we had exiting the city, we still had managed a decent time of 11hrs for a little over 1000kms. Reaching early also meant lots of time for rest before we head out in the evening and that’s pretty much what we did apart from filling our stomach to the brim with my mom’s super amazing food at lunch.

2.2The evening was fun and it turned out to be a very good idea to meet at a friends’ place at Vashi instead of a restaurant. The kids had all the freedom to run and play and leave us alone to talk about the nostalgic stories from college days. We were back home a little after midnight, and I could sense that my sleep deprived body was just waiting to hit the bed before I started snoring.

The next day was primarily divided between meeting some family for short visits and then a surprise meeting with a friend who’s had a baby recently. Then it was time for some resting at a friends’ house in Thane from where we’d take off in the night to reach Zainabad at or before lunch time. So the stay at Ahmedabad was reinvested in some quality time with friends, reaffirming the fact that having your own flexi travel option surely helps to make choices on the go.

The day went off pretty okay and we were running on time as we reached our friends’ place for the evening. Thankfully it being a Sunday we didn’t hit much traffic as we traveled from Navi Mumbai to South Mumbai, then to Andheri and finally settling in Thane. The rest of the evening went in chatting and catching up on updates etc, followed by some nice Chinese for dinner. It was well past midnight by the time we hit the bed, the departure time was adjusted to 4AM instead of 2AM and the alarm was set accordingly.

The alarm went off on time and I had a quick bath to freshen up for the morning drive. Pozu was still sleeping and it was good to keep her that way since otherwise her full day’s schedule gets upset. We were ready to leave by around 4AM which was a very good thing but I had to lug around 15-20 kilos of my camera equipment and laptops to the car. I hate it when I’m carrying my camera equipment on my trips and have to park my car outside a secure area. Not only do I have to carry all the stuff with me, it also takes time to get the car ready when it’s time to leave. Unfortunately, in Mumbai there’s no way you can find a secure parking for a visitors’ car and except for my parents’ house I end up lugging all my stuff up and down a few times. At 4AM in the morning, I walk down with all my gear for about 300m to get to the car and that breaks me in sweat even with the rather cool weather for Mumbai. Anyway, we were finally on the road and were placed comfortably to make it to Zainabad by lunch time.

I drove for the first 3-4 hours and then passed on the wheel to Gozu who did a pretty steady 90-100 kmph until we crossed Bharuch. Now the bridge at Bharuch has been discussed at length on numerous occasions on t-bhp and it can be a nightmare if you don’t know that you can actually go the wrong way and then use the older bridge to avoid all the jam. We crossed it in about 15 mins which is not bad, but the main bridge seemed to have pretty slow moving traffic and I could see quite a few cars stuck in between those the trucks. I remember the first time even I had almost gotten myself stuck but I managed to reverse for about 100m and move over to the older bridge else I would have been in for hours as there was a truck broken down in the middle of the bridge and the traffic was basically going nowhere.

The rest of the stretch was pretty uneventful and after tackling a little of the Ahmedabad traffic, we were on our way to Zainabad. The good thing about Gujarat is that the roads are pretty darn awesome everywhere and there is no frustration that sets in during long drives. We reached Zainabad at around 3PM and quickly got ready for our first jeep ride into the Rann at 4PM.

The vacation had officially begun and the next four days had only nature and photography on the agenda!


More in the next post....

A Sequel to Dec 2011 - We're Birding Again In Gujarat


Planning The Trip

Every year in December, we plan our year end trip to take advantage of the company shutdown that mandates us to utilize a week of time-off. Last year we had the Rann Of Kutch trip planned out well in advance and the bookings were confirmed in August/September timeframe. This year was a bit different though, after the long vacation in August we didn’t really want to spend another two weeks out on a driving holiday. We were not even sure we’d want to go out in December, so we just kept our plans open and had no bookings etc done. It was only in the early part of December that we finalized that we’d go out at least for one week if not two.


Getting a booking for the last week of December is a big deal, places are usually running full and pricing is at its peak. Not that we didn’t know it already, but we still wanted to give it one last try and see if there’s any economical and good holiday destination for us to visit. A lot of places were taken into consideration, from Goa, Kerala, Assam, Andamans and even Sri Lanka, almost everything we wanted to cover was evaluated. Either it was going beyond budget or there was simply no availability at almost all places. Sri Lanka was a strong contender since tickets were still going cheap, but stay options weren’t all that cheap (atleast the ones I could find on the internet). If it were any other time of the year, I wouldn’t mind taking a chance and landing up without prior bookings, but last week of December isn’t a good time to do that so we decided to drop the plan.

Something that’s very peculiar of us while choosing holiday destinations:
  • It must be very obvious by now that we prefer remote locations to busy hill stations or crowded cities – the lesser the number of people, the better the location!
  • I personally like natural creations versus man made wonders – I feel mankind has basically ruined the landscapes with what we think are aesthetic structures and marvels of engineering etc etc.
  • The holiday should preferably have some element of wildlife – definitely not the zoos but not just the national parks either. Any natural habitat where we could enjoy watching and/or photographing birds, mammals or reptiles in the wild is good. 
  • There is no fun in leisure vacations – if you’re going to be in the room or resort for the full day, we might as well do that at a resort in Bangalore. Vacations are to explore and experience, not to laze around all day and watch TV or float in the swimming pool.
  • The stay has to be hygienic, comfortable and more importantly economical. We hardly spend time in our hotel rooms so all the luxury things are a wasted effort.
  • The food has to be basic– we’re no food aficionados who have their menu charted out in the minds even before the meal break. 
  • If there’s a place we can drive versus fly or go by train etc – driving takes precedence. There is no substitute for the freedom of being able to choose what you want to do and when.
  • Lastly, there is always a plan and then there’s Plan B.
Ok now, back to the story telling. Around the same time in early December we saw that Tata Motors Full Throttle team was arranging a desert expedition starting at Delhi and ending at Jaipur from 22nd-25th . It was a four day event organized for Tata UV owners and the stay options and the pricing was really good. Gozu was a bit excited about this event initially since we were getting a chance to explore Rajasthan (which has been on the list for a while) on a guided but self-driven tour.

1.3Owning a Safari and the Thar is going to let us experience the best of both worlds as the TMFT and Mahindra Adventure teams compete in their own ways to put up some really nice events for their customers. I am pretty much sold on the Mahindra Adventure off-road and TSD events and plan to participate to the extent possible in 2013. On the other hand, we’d always prefer solo driving expeditions rather than being a part of a convoy while exploring places and thus the Tour-de-XXXX or Conquer the YYYY type programs are a big no-no. Not that they’re bad, but just that the element of thrill is missing plus you always end up choosing to go with the flow to avoid conflicts.

Everything seemed okay with the TMFT plan except maybe a couple of things:
  • Driving to Delhi for a 4 day event was a really boring idea. There’s absolutely nothing on that route to keep us excited, plus the event was ending on Christmas eve. The following week is the busiest time everywhere and especially in Rajasthan. That meant we may not be able to extend the holiday unless we’re prepared to pay through our nose for the hotel bookings. Besides, except for Jaisalmer where I’d want to go for the sand dunes and the landscapes devoid of people, the rest of Rajasthan though culturally rich with the havelis and history and all of that, it’s a crowded place I think. 
  • All our vacations have been with an open agenda for the next day, we never get fussy over following the plan. We only have a rough draft of what we’d like to do and then we just let things flow freely. This is one of the big reasons why we love to drive versus make advance bookings for flights/hotels etc on our vacations. This event was going to be a bit restrictive in that sense as we’ll have to follow a schedule and we were a bit nervous about it. 
Anyway, we weren’t ready to commit to a schedule as yet and so decided to drop the idea for now. May be we’ll need to start with smaller events and see how that goes.

With the Rajasthan plan out of the contention, we started searching for some more alternatives for a week’s vacation. Spending time with extended family in Mumbai and Pune was an option, but that usually turns out to be very dangerous on our weight management practices and at the end of it we’re so exhausted with doing absolutely nothing. Moreover, we’ve had 3-4 trips in this year for various occasions so this plan could be parked for now. 

Just before we gave up on our choices, another idea came up, why not go back to Gujarat again and spend some time only at the Little Rann of Kutch instead of doing a full-fledged trip like last year. We had skipped a couple of places last year (mainly the Sun Temple and Dholavira), and it would be good to explore them this time around. A quick call to Dhanraj who owns Desert Coursers yielded a positive response and we were now booked for 4 days at Zainabad. We went from no plans to having clear plans within 5 minutes! 

About a week later I received an invite from the Saevus magazine folks for the Bird-A-Thon that was planned in Jamnagar. Now this was an event originally planned for November, but had gotten delayed and I had no clue that it would pop up now. Luckily, the dates for the event matched our checkout date from LRK and a quick check on Google maps showed Jamnagar to be just under 240kms from Zainabad. This meant that we could leave LRK after breakfast and comfortably make it to Jamnagar by lunch time and participate in the event next day.

1.4The Bird-A-Thon was a bird race organized by Saevus magazine along with the Gujarat Tourism and sponsored by Samsonite and Olympus. For those who are new to the bird race concept, it’s not exactly a race where you have chickens running to a finish line. It’s about a group of people roaming through the city limits, trying to spot and identify as many bird species as they can between a 6AM-6PM time window. The team with the highest bird count wins and there may be other awards such as for the rare species that someone has seen or the best picture etc. This is however not a photography event and is mainly focused on getting you to explore the bio-diversity of the region and using all resources to identify a bird species so that you can note it down correctly in the log book. The annual HSBC bird race is quite a familiar event and is conducted in a lot of cities. The Bird-A-Thon however, was the first such event being held in Jamnagar and the Saevus team was going to organize stay for the outstation participants, provide cars to move around the city as well design teams with atleast one person familiar with the areas in and around Jamnagar. This was definitely going to be a new experience for me since whenever I’m out for bird photography, the focus has never been to spot as many birds but to spend time with only a few and make sure you have atleast 2-3 shots that you’d be happy with at the end of the day. The new plan was that I’d book a separate room for us and Gozu and Pozu can chill and relax on the day I’m out for the event and we leave for home next day morning and make a stop at Mumbai or Pune if possible. 

This is exactly what I love about being independent on our vacation, we could easily make amends to our original plan and accommodate the Jamnagar event without any issues. Now, we didn’t just have a vacation plan, I also had a mission for the trip which made it more exciting!

Here’s the final plan that we had chalked out:
  • Dec 22: Leave early morning 2AM and be in Pune by lunch time, reach Mumbai in the evening for meeting friends 
  • Dec 23: Spend some time in Mumbai meeting family and reach Ahmedabad the evening/night
  • Dec 24: Reach LRK in the morning
  • Dec 25, 26 and 27: Stay in LRK and explore the Rann. Visit Modhera temple and Dholavira. 
  • Dec 28: Leave LRK and reach Jamnagar by lunch or evening
  • Dec 29: Bird-A-Thon
  • Dec 30: Reach Mumbai by evening and rest
  • Dec 31: Leave early morning 2AM and reach Bangalore before the evening mad rush begins

To be continued....

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Pozu Turns 3eee

Pozu 01

The clock has been running really fast ever since Pozu has been born. End of November and it was already time for us to celebrate Pozu's 3rd birthday. The feeling that our daughter has started becoming big hasn't really sunk into either of us but Pozu makes sure to remind us that she's a big girl now whenever a reference is made to her as a baby.

This time we knew it would be a bit special for her since now she could relate to the birthday event more easily than the last two years where she didn't really know what the celebration was about. Moreover, since it was a weekday, she could even celebrate her birthday in school by distributing chocolates to her friends and teaching staff.

The birthday cake was ordered based on her most recent favorite disney character - Mickey Mouse. She actually wanted Mini and Goofy to be included as well, but the cake shop had no designs with all three of them.

Pozu 02

The evening event was a small congregation of the regular weekend crowd that we hang out with and the kids had a nice time playing around in the lobby. At the end of the day, Pozu didn't want the party to end and expressed her displeasure when everyone was leaving. It was a day that she still remembers and she's now able to make references to her birthday and her age.

It has been so wonderful having her around and we will always cherish these days as she keeps growing and amusing us with a new learning everyday.

We love you darling....

Mum & Dad

Friday, January 4, 2013

First Outdoor Experience With The Thar

The initial excitement had me taking the jeep out even for grocery shopping trips, just to enjoy the attention it receives on the road. I got the first phase of mods done on Saturday last week where the jeep received new set of off-roading bumpers and rock sliders from Swastik Fabs. The old ones are now going to go up on sale very soon since they’re just a week old and practically brand new. The Thar now looks like a mean machine and ready to live up to the “Thar Hates Tar” statement, but I’ll have wait for the next OTR whenever that happens.

I was supposed to make a visit to the Kabini JLR with a friend on Sunday and this was a good opportunity to understand the highway manners of the jeep. Given the running in period of 1000kms, I was supposed to keep the needle under a 100kph but that wasn’t an issue since beyond that speed I’d be risking my life driving in a tin can with poor brakes. I’m basically treating the jeep like my enfield on four wheels and so a cruising speed of 80-90kph would be good enough on the highways.


We made an hour stopover at Ranganathittu where we were able to photograph the usual residents like the River Terns and Stone Plovers in good light. The park is yet to receive the winter visitors and it’s only the Ibis that’s nesting all over the place for now.

The drive to Kabini through the HD Kote road was a breeze, the jeep performed quite brilliantly and the a/c was just right enough to tackle the warm outdoors. The last 20kms though were a bit too hard on our backs, but I’m comparing it to the Safari which tackles that ‘kaccha’ road at 40kph and still feels okay inside. The luggage security issue takes a bit of getting used to and we unloaded all our camera stuff when we stopped for breakfast. Next time we need to find a place where the jeep is in direct line of sight to avoid the extra work.

The stay at Kabini was refreshing and though we missed the big cats, there was enough to stay engaged with nature and its beauty. The elephant sightings were quite nice but we also witnessed a heart-wrenching view of a baby elephant that had a broken right hind leg. The herd was taking good care of it, but I’m sure it’s going to go through a very tough childhood and hopefully one day it will grow up to become a big beast.


On the way back, I took about 5 hours to reach home which is a little more than what I’d take with the Safari but not by much. I made a few observations and notes to myself from the trip:
  • The jeep feels a bit nervous after the speedo has touched the 100kph mark. Not because of lack of power, but because of driving dynamics. 
  • The brakes feel better than before or may be I’ve just gotten used to them. Anticipated braking is always a good thing to do, and I also use a bit of engine braking to make sure the jeep slows down faster.
  • The soft-top flaps a bit beyond 80kph, but soon that noise just becomes a part of the environment and we didn’t even realize it on our way back since our sub-conscience automatically applies “noise reduction” on such regular sounds. E.g people staying near train tracks don’t really notice the sounds after a while.
  • The lights badly need calibration, the high beam shows me tree canopies and I’m sure it’s going to be blinding for oncoming traffic. While the low beam is okay, I don’t particularly like the spread. I will be adding the Hella spot beams, but I think I may also need to get ‘cornering’ lights that can act as the standard fog lamps and help in improving the peripheral view. 
  • The fixed position passenger seating is quite uncomfortable and the rear bench seat needs to go away quickly to resolve this issue.
  • The two door arrangement at the rear will need a bit of getting used to, it’s best to keep the door shut and use it only when really required. Also, the tyre is now mounted higher than the stock position, so getting access to the back without opening the door has gotten difficult. 
  • The side rear view mirrors have a terrible view and the blind spot on the left is at times dangerous since you don’t notice bikers who are riding close to your tail on the left. I tried talking to a few folks on whether a horizontal mirror would be a good idea but haven’t heard any positive responses yet.
  • The lock for the fuel lid uses the ignition key and I want to get this changed asap. The issue is actually two-fold, one it’s just inconvenient at the fuel pumps and two, it’s a security concern. I’d like to get some feedback from someone who’s gotten it changed with regards to the costs involved and whether there are ready-to-fit aftermarket options available easily. I believe a remote lid opener will be a complex solution and not something that I’d want to spend hours on getting it done. 
  • The front tires are fouling slightly on a full U turn and I need to get this looked at. Given that it’s an 245mm section tyre vs the 235mm stock, I thought it should be a non-issue. But given that the Maxxis are almost 4cms taller than the stock tyres, maybe I need to make some more room for them under the front fender to avoid the touching.
  • The front roof panel has a screw missing on the driver side beading and will need to get that done at the service center. 
  • The door handle touches my knee while driving and I need to see how I can make it comfortable on long drives.

Initial Impressions From The Jeep Ownership


Now I'm no auto expert and my comments should be taken with a pinch of salt. With whatever little experience I've had driving, I'm putting down all that I could notice with the Thar. No technical jargons, no indepth discussion on the technical aspects, just plain simple layman experience of the jeep. 

  • The engine is butter smooth, the noise & vibration levels are far better than the conventional jeeps
  • The steering needs a bit of getting used to, but maneuverability in traffic is quite good
  • Rattling and squeaking come free as a part of the overall package, my jeep has been squeaking and rattling since the time of delivery – I now consider this as a part of the jeep music but would want to have it fixed soon
  • Interiors are really basic and there’s nothing to write about them – I knew it so I don’t hate it
  • The OVRM is decent but the side mirrors are quite pathetic – both in build quality and in terms of the view they offer
  • The brakes made me feel at home like with the Enfield – you need to press them and quickly say a prayer. Even then they’d only slow down the jeep and not stop it quickly, so you need to add engine braking as a standard feature for assisted braking. The manual says that the brakes need like 3 months to break-in or something, wonder what someone is supposed to do until then.
  • The suspension was really jumpy at the back, but I guess it’s the initial phase and it will finally settle in over time
  • The soft top is quite good enough to insulate noise and have the A/C work decently in the Bangalore weather.
  • The rubber mats are very “sasta” (cheap) quality and I will need to find better replacement for it soon.
  • The door handles, enough has been said about them already. I’m just being careful all the time not to break them in the initial few weeks, but I’m sure they’ll be due for replacement by the first service.
  • The wipers feel funny, but they’re typical for a jeep so no real complaint there.
  • The body panels are painted well but have spot welding dents all over. The black color actually shows up the deformities a lot than the Rocky Beige I guess.

Overall, I still am glad that I got the Thar. All the shortcomings are more like characteristics of the jeep that I have come to terms with in order to enjoy what lies beyond them.  I’m now eagerly waiting for an OTR event to be scheduled in and around Bangalore to learn the tricks of the trade and put the beast to good use.


Biker To A Jeeper - Mahindra Thar Joins Our Family

A Quick Flashback – Making the Decision


Sometime in mid 2011, when the question came up on replacing my wife’s 3 year old i10 Kappa (which has done its service beautifully so far and will end its lease period in November), our discussion started going in all directions. My wife didn’t really want another hatchback as a replacement so even though we test drove the Figo, Swift, Micra etc, none of them had her excited. The Fluidic Verna was something that she liked, but I rejected it for its poor handling and soft suspension based on my test drive a few months back. The news of the Cedia price drop had her drooling over it, but given the gasoline engine and her every day usage, it wasn’t going to be an economical drive. So after going back and forth on the choices, she came up with an interesting proposal. She offered to make the Safari as her daily drive and then I could buy a car for myself. Initially, I tried to talk her out of the idea since the Safari is a pain to drive in the city, but given her willingness to tame the monster, the proposition looked like a win-win situation for both of us.

So now the question was which car should I buy for myself? Personally, I’ve never been too fascinated of having fast cars that can do a quick ton on the speedo, or those which can transport you faster than the 200kmph mark. Neither the sleek sporty designs nor the classy status symbols entice me enough than when I look at an old school SUV or a Jeep. I always had my heart set on getting a 4WD jeep or gypsy so that I could join the off-roading events as another weekend activity to complement my love for photography. Given the nature of our expedition-like vacations, a jeep was indeed going to be a good addition, plus the soft top meant that I could remove it during the birding trips and have more flexibility to move around with my camera gear at the back which used to be a bit painful in the Safari.

The downside of the idea was that with the Safari in the garage already, we’ll be fueling up two monsters, none of which would have good city manners. Moreover, we couldn’t really keep the i10 anymore coz three cars for a family of two was overkill, and I would run out of parking space too. So with all pros and cons weighed in, we were out in the market looking for our first off-roader.
  • The first option was to explore the pre-owned route, that way I could even settle for a well maintained Gypsy and get it rally prepped for that one-time Raid-de-Himalaya experience (it’s on my bucket list). I tried a couple of times but could never close the deal because at the end of it, it seemed like it was going to cost me equal to a new one or even more.
  • Building a MM550 was the other option that I had in mind, but the thought of the time investment needed for such a project kept me away from it. The other big requirement was reliability of the jeep since I may just use it for some of my crazy road trips as well which was not going to be a forte here.
  • The last and final option was to buy a new Thar, albeit this was also the most expensive one. However, after giving it some serious thoughts and working on the CBA multiple times, I finally decided that the Thar it was going to be. It looked like a very decent overall package to start with and then build on that as the need arises. The key was the reliability factor which was the highest as compared to the above two options and the fact that a diesel motor would be easier on the pocket when I do try the long haul trips in it.

Having grown up with the company of my Dad’s Enfield and then owning one for over a decade, I can relate to the care and attention needed in owning a jeep. I always liked the fact that these machines were built to have a character rather than being mere transportation equipment. There has to be some kind of bonding that happens between the owner and vehicle as time progresses, otherwise there’s no thrill in life. Reading the ownership threads on TBHP, I could easily tell that this isn’t going to be a very easy phase of my life but it may still be the most enjoyable one. It took me a while, but I think I’m ready for it now, more than ever before. I’m ready for the pain, the angst, the sacrifices, more importantly to give it the love and affection it needs and all this for the simplistic joys of owning a jeep...Amen!

The Buying Experience - Mahindra Thar

Given the amount of customization I’d need to do with the Thar to make it fit into the family, there was no way I’d buy it on the company lease scheme. That meant that we’d have to forego the tax benefits and pay 10.5% interest p.a. to SBI on the 5 year vehicle loan. The proposal wasn’t sounding financially appealing, but nobody seemed to care about it now when our hearts are set on taking the plunge with the Thar. We’ve made a lot of our decisions so far based on gut feel rather than financial calculations and we don’t regret any of those, so this was one more addition to that list.

So on one fine weekend in October, we went for a TD to India Garage with a couple of friends even though we had clear intentions of buying it eventually. I had TD’ed it earlier in 2011 but that was when there was no standard A/C fitment available. The Sales Rep (Khasim) was pretty good in attending to us and arranging for a test drive promptly. The A/C felt quite good in terms of the cooling power and with the windows rolled up, even the soft top did a reasonable job of cutting down the traffic noise. The India Garage guys had kept a pretty nicely done up Rocky Beige Thar on display, I was told that it had already been sold to somebody who had ordered the custom fitments.
My 3yr old daughter who’s been an enthusiastic companion on all my wildlife trips associates jeeps to the jungle safaris. The moment I took the jeep out for a spin, she popped the question whether we were going to see wild animals and that made all of us have a hearty laugh. It was difficult to make her understand that were actually going to buy the jeep versus going for a safari.

After the TD, we discussed about the availability and price with Khasim and he mentioned that there was a Black Thar readily available whereas the Rocky Beige would take about a month he said. My initial choice of color was the Rocky Beige, but given that Black has been our all-time favorite we decided to settle with it. I told him that I’ll be back on Monday with the loan documents and the down payment and that he should hold that Black Thar for me. The loan guy said he could get it done in 3-4 days and that meant I could pick up the jeep on the next weekend if everything works out.

That next week was crazy and we couldn’t really get everything done on time, we barely managed to get the loan approved that Thursday or so. I could have pushed Khasim for delivery on Saturday but I was scheduled to be out on business travel for the next 10 days so decided to wait it out till I return back. The delivery date was pushed out to Nov 9th since that gave me some additional time to plan for the mods that were needed, the first of which was to find the tires I wanted.

I had a made list of mods to be done right after delivery or within the first 2-3 weeks since my experience has been that anything that is scheduled to be for later never gets done. I’ve had that experience with the Safari where I thought I’d put the alloys and leather upholstery later and now that it’s been more than two years I don’t really feel the urge to put them at all. The idea was to do only functional mods and keep the bling factor to a minimum; the jeep had to be ready for the OTR events in 2013.

  • Tyres – Maxxis Bighorn/Cooper STT (should fit stock wheels – no alloys)
  • Off-road Bumpers & Rock Sliders
  • Snorkel intake
  • Insect Mesh, Headlamp & Tail Lamp Grill
  • Headlamp Upgrade & Aux Lights
  • Horn Upgrade
  • GPS Security System with or without central locking
  • SA Roll Bar
  •  FF Rear Seating
  • Music System (swap from i10)

Khasim informed me that there was a new batch of jeeps coming in the first week of November, so I would be able to choose from a new lot and may even have a choice of color if I change my mind. I was scheduled to return home on Nov 7 and had told them that I will inspect the jeep before it’s allotted to me and sent for registration. I did get a call from him that morning on Nov 7 informing me that the jeep will arrive for PDI later that day and I could drop in at the showroom and give a nod to send it for registration. Finally, the jeep arrived at 5.30PM and I was able to do a quick PDI and a test run before giving a final nod. Everything seemed to be okay so far and the VIN decoding thread on t-bhp helped in identifying that this was an October manufacture vehicle which was good.

I was told that there could be a possible delay in delivering the jeep on Nov 9th because the request for the registration DD hadn’t been sent on that day and it could take an additional day. Having already taken a holiday on Friday, I was insistent that I get the jeep on Nov 9 given that I had informed them of the delivery date more than two weeks in advance. After a little bit of stern talking with Khasim and his manager, I get an assurance  that they will make it happen on Nov 9th itself. 

The insurance quoted by the dealership was a bit too high for my liking and a couple of phone calls saved about 5K and got me a better deal with a Tata AIG zero-dep policy instead of just the standard comprehensive coverage. With the engine number and chassis number available after the PDI, I finalized on the insurance and had them send it to me within an hours’ time.

On Nov 8, I got a call from the dealership that my car was sent for registration and will be ready for delivery on the next day as promised. That night, it took a while for me to fall asleep because of excitement and anxiety of getting the new toy. The following morning I promptly get a call from Khasim informing me that the vehicle will be ready for delivery by 11.30AM. My daughter was going to accompany me for the occasion while my wife had to rush to office for some work. We took a bus to get to the dealership and found it standing in the delivery bay, ready to be driven!

The delivery process was pretty smooth overall and we were done in less than 15-20 mins. There was the usual picture taking event followed by a quick instruction delivery session about the features (or lack thereof) in the Thar. I picked up the Insect mesh and the lamp grills from the accessory shop which had to be installed at the workshop since the guy said he couldn’t get the fitting done there. I also spoke to Mr Chandrashekhar from the spares dept about ordering the SA roll cage to which he said that he had received two sets for the orders placed before me but both were unusable because of wrong parts being shipped. He promised me that he’ll place an order for me once that matter was sorted out, but that could mean about a month long wait for it. Not having too much of a choice, I decided to take his word and wait until there is a pressing need for it. I didn’t want to put the one sold by the accessories store since it felt more cosmetic when compared to the SA roll bar which looked a lot functional.

The next stop was going to be at Madhus Enterprises for the tire change. While on the way to the showroom, I had told Nikhil that I’ll be visiting his shop for the tires and he made sure that it was all ready when I reached there. The tires had to be changed on priority right after delivery to get the best exchange price. I needed something more for off-road rather than highway performance and had zeroed in on the Maxxis Bighorn 245/75 R16. The most popular choice everywhere was the Yokos 255/65 R16, but I wanted an aggressive tread pattern rather than extra wide rubber. The reviews said good things about the off-road capability of the Maxxis and mentioned that they had decent on-road performance as well. After checking a few places, I had finally found them with Nikhil (Madhus Enterprises) who promptly booked the tires for me. The tires came in at a premium but I didn’t want to back out since I wouldn’t be changing these for quite some time.

My wife wasn’t going to be home until later that evening, so we (my daughter and me) decided to hang out with one of our friends and share our joy. The jeep looks awesome with the new shoes and the black steel wheels, I could notice a lot of heads turning towards it that day.

The next day I took it to Autoshop and got a new set of Osram 100/80W headlamp bulbs installed with a relay and also got the stock horns replaced with a pair of “skoda-type” Hellas. There’s still a lot to do and I can see myself spending a lot of time with the jeep over the weekends to finish the list of mods that are planned.