My corner…. Coral walk at Narara marine national park.

Ahead of long weekend of Holi, I was searching for some short holiday destination which has bit of all, adventure, education and pleasure (off course!!). And believe me or not but I was rewarded from most unusual source – Femina. I always thought Femina is a magazine which lures our females into buying more cosmetics, clothes and jewelry, only to realize later that those things look good only on Femina models. So when you buy Femina next time don’t think you are spending just 50 bucks, you may actually be poorer by few thousands depending on where your wife sets her sights!. Here was a short write up on Narara marine sanctuary and national park, located offshore same 50 kms beyond Jamnagar. Fringed by coral reefs, island promises close views of variety of marine life, including octopi, star and puffer fishes, brittle stars crabs and lots of coastal birds. This sounded very interesting for me and my 8 year old son. After a little bit of research I came up with an ace to convince my wife too. “Well Reliance has opened a mega, hyper mall at Jamnagar which spreads over 2 lac sq feet and easily the biggest in Gujarat!” So after few calls and email bookings we were off to Narara on Friday. My holiday starts as soon as I leave home and not after reaching destination, so we really enjoyed 7 hrs drive (500 kms) to Narara via Borsad- Tarapur- Rajkot and Jamnagar. One starts appreciating roads of Gujarat only when one leaves city and hit the highways and still if you are not happy, you must visit Madhya Pradesh. We had our dinner at a place called Chowkidhani, 18 kms from Rajkot on Rajkot Jamnagar highway. Its set up in typical village like set up with 2 restaurants one serving Rajasthani/ Kathiawadi food and other the usual ( Punjabi- Chinese- and south Indian), beside there are very interesting chat, kulfi, chai stalls and

icing on the cake- a pan ki dukan. We decided to opt for assorted items, hopping from one stall to other while kids enjoyed bioscope, magician and Indian rope trick. This refreshing break enabled us to cover our last leg up to Jamnagar in quick time, all the while listening to Pakistani FM radio from Karachi. It was very interesting to note that Pakistani RJs are sweet and sober but too preachy compared to our loud mouth Radio Mirchi ones, who keep muttering meaning less monologues. There are 2-3 reasonable staying options at Jamnagar, but we decide to stay at Hotel Express ( yes, baby sister of our own express at Baroda), mainly for 2 reasons - Hotel was beyond Jamnagar, nearer to Narara Marine park and only last week they had hosted Kareena Kapoor!! (Managed to get the same room but alas on a different Sunday!) . Jokes apart this hotel is a good business hotel mainly built for Reliance refinery traffic, so we see people from various nationalities and many moving around in their orange and blue work gears. We got up really early next morning to reach Narara in time for a low tide; Permit for entering the marine park is required and was already obtained by Hotel for nominal extra charges. Narara is about 30 kms from Hotel and one has to turn at Vadinar on Jamnagar – Dwarka highway. Roads are quite good as we drove past massive Reliance refinery – Its worlds biggest refinery and responsible for changing the present and future of this sleepy corner of Gujarat. Makes you feel proud to say the least. As we are nearing island we came across many back water pools, full of migratory birds. One has to be really early to sight them and should be ready to skip morning breakfast at hotel. Even the Marine creatures are best visualized in shallow waters of low tide early morning before sun really start heating up this mostly stagnant waters and forcing them to go back in deep waters. Narara Island is a misnomer because it is connected to mainland by road and one can actually take cars right up to the forest lodge from where marine nature walks starts. At forest rest house we got our permits checked and hired a guide, Abdulbhai. One can not and should not avoid a help of guide here as going in corals without a

proper guide is like looking and trying to appreciate a modern art without a painter explaining you about it. On foot we traveled across the sandy beach and along the marshy land of inter-tidal zone where we entered ankle deep waters and lo behold! The entire sea bed lay exposed in front of our eyes covered by crystal clear thin film of water. We could see abundance of marine vegetation like sea weeds and algae, broken by rocky outcrops forming rock pools at places. Soon Abdulbhai started showing us which we could not appreciate with our naked eyes - crabs camouflaged among the rocks among the rocks, star fish, brittle stars, crocodile fish lying motionless o the sea bed to attack the unsuspecting prey. I was happy to watch my son keenly listening to Abdulbhai and taking notes in his tour diary. Soon Abdulbhai caught hold of a puffer fish, fascinating species known and named for its defense mechanism. Touch it and it inflates rapidly like a self inflating balloon or airbag. It achieves this by filling its elastic stomach with water and air and it inflates until it resembles a sphere size of which can deter its predator. We held it in hand for photographic session (Can remain alive without water for 2-3 hrs). It was also interesting to know that most puffer fishes are poisonous to eat but are considered delicacies in Japan and Korea. Parks star attraction is octopus, eight armed (or legged) marine creature is a master of camouflage. It possesses specialized cells on its skin which can not only change color but also opacity and reflective ness. An octopus can squeeze itself with a squish into unlikely crevices of rocks. In clear waters it can eject thick black, blackish ink in a large cloud and slip away from your sights in seconds. So it was a pleasant surprise to all of us when Nagesh my urologist friend put his hand in water and came out with an octopus. Next we were in knee deep waters and Abdulbhai led us to coral reefs. We were introduced to brain corals, star and moon corals. Coral formation here are much less luxuriant than those you would see at say Andaman or Maldives, nonetheless wading so close to them is an unique experience. Because of the protection they provide to smaller animals and the high nutrient provision to those

who dwell in them, coral reefs are justly called rain forest of the sea. We hardly knew that we spent almost three hours in water and walked for more than 4 kms, though wanted to stay little longer we had to head back as it was the time for high tide. Only after we reached at forest guest house we realized how tired we were. There are no café coffee days around and decision to pack some sandwiches was being appreciated by one and all. Even after lots of persuasion the care taker was not ready to serve us even tea, which he said was only for his sahibs from forest department. Though, he did allow us to sit in the shade of his trees and have our sandwiches. Back to hotel we all slept like a log for three hours. In the evening we went to Jamnagar for a stroll around a lakhota lake – eighteenth century water body with a palace at the centre. The lake is ideal spot for bird watching; pelicans, spot billed ducks, tufted ducks, herons, gulls and so on. We were hungry again and after a little enquiry we headed to Rasik’s pau- bhaji. It turned out to be a road side shack not very hygienic but serving very tasty butter pau – bhaji. If you ask me- taste and hygiene, you can’t have both at a time. Next day morning we decided to give it a slip to proposed Khijadia bird century and instead lazed around in hotel pool. We headed back to Baroda after a promised visit to reliance hyper mall. To certain few this may be worth less effort, going almost 600 kms just for 3 hour walk in stagnant sea waters. For me it was a different and satisfying experience. I would go to any distance to just hold octopus, about which I used to read as kid with lots of fascination. Or for taking picture of my frightened son holding puffer fish in his both hands may just be the only reason to travel so far.
Catch me on anand.naregal@rediffmail.com with your comments and feedbacks.

Fact File: How to reach Narara marine national park- 55 kms from Jamnagar, turn right from vadinar on Jamnagar- Dwarka highway Total distance : 500 kms Duration – 6-8 hrs Essentials: permit to enter the marine park – usually arranged by hotel where you are put up for coral walk: Comfortable walking shoes which are also waterproof, sun protection cream, shorts, sun glasses, hat, sandwiches, flask of coffee or tea, water to drink Staying options: Hotel Express : On jamnagar – Dwarka highway , near Sikka, - 3 star : 3800- 4400 for double occupancy, has swimming pool and wi fi connection in rooms Hotel president : 2 star, Centrally located , owner Mustaq is old hand at arranging trips at Pirotan and Narara.1200 – 1500 for double Hotel Vishal international: 2 star, on outskirts of Jamnagar, relatively new property , 1500 -1700 for double Other excursions: Khijadia bird century 10 km– essentially for dedicated bird lovers Dwarka _ for obvious reasons Obsessive shoppers: Bandhni saris, odhanis and stoles – jamnagar Nicely packed dry fruit kachoris from H G Vyas – exported to many countries Did you know!!! Gujarat created mile stone in India’s conservation history in 1980 when it notified the first marine sanctuary in the country containing about 457 sq km of the Gulf of Kutch waters, including 42 islands.