Jamnagar is a city with a princely past that is reflected in its huge places with their minarets and clock towers soaring skywards, fortified walls and gothic style public buildings. The centerpiece of this princely marvel is the Ranmal or Lakhota lake which was dug out in the early 1800’s to provide water and employment to the people of Jamnagar.
Situated some 22 miles into the Arabian sea from Jamnagar just off shore in the Gulf of Kutch, 42 islands sit like gems in the sea, fringed by fine coral reefs, rich in marine life and mangrove trees that offer breeding area for birds. In 1980, the 42 island cluster was declared India’s first marine sanctuary and two years later, the core of the sanctuary including the island of Pirotan was notified India’s first national marine park. In fact, few people, even in the state of Gujarat, know about the wonders of these islands and most travel and wildlife destination guide books do not feature India’s first marine nature reserve.
It was with some excitement therefore I set off for Marine National Park in Gulf of Kutch to explore wondrous creatures like the octopus that can change color in water as effectively as a chameleon in the trees, the brittle star fish known for its ability to drop an arm to get away, the sea cucumber that disconcerting ejects its internal organs when threatened and the puffer fish named for their ability to inflate themselves to several times their normal size by swallowing air and water.
As the tide turn, thousands of coastal birds gather on the mud banks to feed on the beached cache of marine creatures, some of the largest flock along the entire coastline of India. Having procured our permits from the marine national park office I decided set off in the morning for the island driving to the port, passing salt pans, where flocks of flamingo with striking scarlet wings, long slender pink necks and long legs wade through the saline waters.
The mangrove has roots protruding from the soil that acts as props in the marshy soil and reach out to oxygen lacking in the water logged environs. The rib like roots protect smaller forms of marine life and trap nutritious foods and the mangrove’s protein rich leaves add to the nutrition of the shallow water around the mangrove trees.
A haven for fish and other marine creatures, and also for birds that feed on them, the branches of the mangrove trees were full of darter, cormorant and other birds. There were predators of the sky too, like the endangered Palla’s Fish Eagle perched on the stump, a marsh harrier flew over the water probably waiting to swoop down on prey, and an osprey hurling itself down to seize its prey.
Soon, looming up in front was the lighthouse of Pirotan Island with a lovely white beach around it and a thick stand of mangrove forests. Took a short walk around the island where enjoyed seeing a flock of about 500 crab plover and assemblages of scores of other birds descending on the shores to feed on the beached fish, as the tide began to ebb.
When the tide was really low, my guide took me for a wade in the waters around the colorful coral reefs of Pirotan, where a rich and varied life can be seen, as nowhere else, except in a rain forest of great luxuriance. When peered into crystal clear waters, a wealth of marine life could be seen. Spotted an octopus, changing its colors from blue in the clear waters and then to green and brown as it jetted through the muddier waters, more adept as camouflaging itself than the chameleon.
As the tide began to rise again it was time to set off back to the Bedi port. Tired after a long day, I decided to relax at the hotel and indulge in a delicious dinner of fresh pomfret tandoori, prawn curry with rice and lasania bataka – a kind a garlic and potato curry which is a regional speciality and some bajra roti’s. On my way back home I took the route west on to Charakhla known for its shrimping ponds and salt works. Closer to the salt works, painted storks and spoon bills were feeding in the shallow waters of the narrow road side canals. But the greatest sight was the hundreds of flamingos and pelicans creating an amazing splash of pink on the blue waters. The sight was a spectacular end to the weekend at Jamnagar.