This morning I woke well before dawn. The streets were quiet, an occasional trio of motorcyclists zooming past in tandem, having a 5 am chat. (Tourists, I said to myself.) The house felt asleep as I walked through the dark corridors, solar lamp in hand. Clean teeth, Coffee, hurried breakfast of buttered poee and cheese. Then, under duress of the ticking clock, I woke M, dragging him out in the semi-darkness once he was ready, to the other side of the road outside, where our ride awaited.
Today, as part of our #summerholiday plan, we were going on an early morning bird walk. Totally kid-friendly.
Chasing the sun, we arrived at the Chorao ferry. As we waited for the others to arrive, the sun bounced out of the water. One moment it was dark, then the sky turned pink with a deep blush, and then, in a matter of minutes, it was business as usual.
On the ferry, excitement bounced off the deep blue metal of the boat like the choppy waves below. Adults and kids looked around for birds. And spotted flying fish skimming the water like a smooth stone.
At the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, we hired the Forest Department boat to take us around (Rs. 900 for 12 passengers) and it was wonderful. The boat went in and out of inlets around the island, gently slowing down when we spotted a bird or three. An hour or so later, we were back at the Sanctuary, ready to get off the water and do some walking.
The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is a mangrove-bordered haven for local and migratory birds. The narrow path is not smooth and is littered with the occasional dog poop and what looked like cow droppings (but might more likely be mounds of earth diligently excavated by mud crabs).
Construction work ongoing on the path makes a bit of a mess, but like most things in India, you learn to ignore it and carry on.
The kids ran on the path, ignoring stories of wildlife. They were captivated by the possibilities of crocodiles and make-believe dinosaurs. If you want to do some serious birding, leave the kids at home.
Despite all the excess energy around, we spotted many different kinds of birds including the kingfisher, egrets, koyal, pond heron, white breasted water hen and a couple of Lesser Adjutants.
The Salim Ali trek is a wonderful activity for families. You can explore the sanctuary, take the boat ride around the island and be back home in a few hours. And if the early morning start prevents you from feeding your tummy, fill it up at the local tea-stall at the ferry point. Fresh pav-bhaji, batata wadas and wonderfully greasy samosas make the perfect ending to an unusual morning.