By Amit Rawal
It is a wintry morning. The mist is just lifting up and the sun is peeking through the tree trunks. I stepped slowly and softly, making sure I made as little sound as possible, and getting my camera in position to photograph this beautiful family. A female nilgai antelope and her fawns, lit by the morning light. You might already be thinking that this scene is from one of many popular national parks in India, but it is not. This is Victoria Park and not many would have heard of it.
This small reserved forest is situated 3 km south of Bhavnagar city in the state of Gujarat, India. It covers an area of 2 sq km. The hot, dry climate supports scrubby and thorny vegetation. It has a variety of bird life and is also home of mammals like nilgai, fox, hyena and porcupine. Just next to the park is a small reservoir (Gaurishankar Lake) where plenty of waterbirds can be seen.
I have spent my entire childhood and part of my adulthood in Bhavnagar and this was one place I never missed a chance to visit. The park remains open throughout the day and there is no entry fee, though early morning is the ideal time to visit this place. If lucky one can get a close view of nilgais and occasionally a scampering fox. It is a paradise for bird watcher and one can spot plenty of local birds like bulbuls, green bee-eaters, robins, tailorbirds, silverbills, sunbirds, spotted owlets, shikra, rose-ringed parakeets, common peafowl, treepie and many more.
The best part is that one can walk around and get a close feel of nature. If you are not too adventurous you can simply walk though the main path. If you like to get a feel of walking inside a forest you can take a detour and get into one of many animal paths that diverge from the main path. The park is not too big, so do not worry about getting lost. One way of other you will find a way out within 30 minutes. You can also get on any of the watchtowers (machans) in the park to get a panoramic view of the park.
There are a couple of nurseries and a garden in the park. This makes it an ideal spot for a half-day picnic, though there are no shops around, which means that you have to carry meals and water.
In earlier days there used to be a lake inside the park and that used to be best place to spot animals. Now the lake is dry for most of the season. However, there is one more lake at the edge of the park and it is called Gauri Shankar lake. An early morning visit to this lake will ensure sighting of plenty of waterbirds including pelicans, black-winged stilts, darters, herons and egrets. It is a perfect setting for bird lovers.
Victoria Park is not the only place to hang round in this sleepy town. If you like beaches then the nearest one is barely a 40-minute drive from Bhavnagar. Kuda Beach, which is is about 25 km from Bhavnagar, is a beautiful sandy beach with a Shiva temple at its edge. You can easily spend about half a day here playing around the beach or take a long walk along the shoreline. There are also a couple of stalls where you can get refreshments and food.
Getting to Bhavnagar
Plenty of private buses ply between Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar at intervals of 30 minutes (it takes approx 3.5 hrs to reach Bhavnagar). Ahmedabad is itself well-connected to all major Indian cities via air, road and train. There are also flights between Mumbai and Bhavnagar. There is a direct train from Mumbai to Bhavnagar.
Where to stay
There are plenty of hotels options in Bhavnagar. Neelambag Palace, restored and converted to a hotel, is one of the best hotels. Other options are Hotel Blue Hill, Sun and Shine, and Hotel White Rose.
Amit Rawal is a software engineer in Bangalore who dreams of becoming a full-time photographer and traveler. Get to know him better at his blog and Flickr photostream
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