the-south-asian Life & Times                 January - March 2011




 Editor's Note


 Cover Story
 Kashmiri Pandits

 Eminent Pandits
 Neel Kashkari

 Veer Munshi

 Pradman Kaul

 Pandit Bhajan Sopori

 Photo Feature
 The Obamas in India


 100 years of aviation
 in India

 Mt. Kailash
 Stairway to Heaven

 In the footsteps of
 Smythe in Garhwal


 The Wild Ass

 By O P Dutta









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The Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch


Anahitaa Bakshi

Three hours west of Ahmedabad, past miles of salt pans and wind energy farms, lies stretched across 5000 sq km of barren, cracking land the Wild Ass Sanctuary, the home to about 4,100, zoologically speaking, Equus hemionus khur. Our spacious mud and dung-plastered room at the Royal Safari Camp outside the remote village of Bajana, surrounded by chilly and cotton fields, had all the necessities of modern life – satellite TV, internet connection, air-conditioning, hot water, toilet paper and tandoori chicken. After a sumptuous Chinese meal cooked by a Nepalese chef, we trooped into the resort’s open safari jeep and with gusts of cold winter wind blowing our bodies we entered the sanctuary gate. A squadron of feeding cranes scrambled into the air, flapping their large wings in greeting. Spread before us, all the way to the horizon, was an endless land, dark and silted, with enormous patches of white – saline mudflats on what was once a shallow sea. Inundated during the monsoons, the land had now dried and brought up the earth’s salts to the surface.

Driving into the sun, Mansoor, our guide and driver, spotted a herd of wild asses far to the south. Separating us from the herd was an extended patch of wet, muddy soil. A section of the Kutch Branch Canal, being constructed through the sanctuary under the Sardar Sarovar Project to provide water to 1.5 million people in 948 villages and 10 towns of parched Kutch district, had breached and swamped a thin stretch of the scorched desert. Finding a dry patch, Mansoor flew over it – only to land into slushy ground that absorbed all four wheels and the chassis. Fascinated by our setback, the wild asses watched us with interest and when we walked towards them in a fraternal manner they turned their backs towards us and trotted towards a bet, an elevated island that provides refuge to the wildlife during the monsoon flooding. As I photographed the sky thick with soaring cranes, a picturesque troop of about 20 furry camels marched boldly towards us. Led and followed by rustic Rabari nomads, sons of desert draped in white turbans and dhotis, the procession was seeking the pastures of Bajana. When the Kutch Branch Canal becomes functional it will check the seasonal migration of Rabaris, camels and cattle. Within an hour the Royal Safari Camp sent another Mahindra jeep to continue our journey through the Little Rann. A tractor was called to pull out the trapped vehicle.


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