In 2010 an International Bird Watcher’s Conference was held at Khijadiya in Jamnagar, off the coast of Kutch in Gujarat, testifying to its importance as a bird watcher’s paradise. Today, the area has been turned into a picnic spot with hundreds of benches and other activities like chopping of shrubs and bushes that have kept the usual migratory birds away. Will the wheel turn a full circle and will the authorities be able to return the sanctuary to its previous state is a question that only time will answer but in the meanwhile, it is worth a visit as a jumping board for a visit to the Marine National Park.
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Khijadiya sanctuary is about 12 km from Jamnagar and it covers an area of about 6 square kilometers. It was declared a sanctuary in May 1981. However, it became a natural habitat for local and migratory birds much before during the 1920s when the then rulers constructed a small check dam to store waters of the River Ruparel for supply to Jamnagar. This dam created a unique ecosphere with the freshwater lakes on one side and the salty water of the seas forming marshes on the other to support not only a variety of fauna but also flora. The main sanctuary covers the area around the Ruparel and Kalindi rivers towards the north-east of Jamnagar.
At one time Khijadia was home to hundreds of birds like shikras, eagles, Dalmatian pelicans, Eurasian spoonbills, Indian skimmers, kites, grebes, gray francolin, pigeons pheasant-tailed jacana, greenshanks, terns, godwits, ducks, cranes, harriers, shovelers, cormorants, and flamingoes. In all, there are about 300 types of bird species of local and migratory nature. The painted stork, black-headed ibis, and oriental darter are now on the endangered species list due to degradation by human activities and beautification activities that are turning the sanctuary into a picnic spot. It is more about recreation than conservation with the focus shifting from birds to human. Birds were and are attracted to Khijadia because of its strategic location. Birds from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran winter here.
The sanctuary is also home to jackals, cats, snakes, wolves, bluebells, mongoose and reptiles.
There are mangroves in the marshy coastal areas, the local variety of acacia, pilu and the threatening spread of Prosopis. All the trees and ground vegetation serve as natural shelter, roosting sites and nesting sites for birds.
Jamnagar has an airport that is about 20 km from the sanctuary. Jamnagar is also a railhead and there are two railway stations, one of which is the old one about 11 km and the second one Hapa, about 7 km from the sanctuary. Jamnagar is easily accessible by road from all parts of Gujarat. There are state transport buses, private buses and private vehicles one can avail of to reach Jamnagar from Rajkot or Ahmedabad or Dwarka. Travel by train from Ahmedabad is the most affordable way to reach Jamnagar. There is no public transport to the Sanctuary so it is a good idea to hire a private car or a taxi from a local hire agency. One can get there on the cheap by traveling in auto rickshaws or shared rickshaws. If you travel by bus then get down at Bedi Gate because the central bus station is 15 km away.
Once you get inside the Khijadia sanctuary you can take advantage of existing nature trails, watchtowers, and reclamation bunds to watch birds. The best time is probably morning and evening when the birds are most active. There is an Interpretation Centre for tourists where one can get more information about birds in the sanctuary and their particular traits.
Things to Do
Because Khijadia is more like a recreation eco-tourist village, you can relax on benches, sit by the water bodies and have a good time or go on a hike to various points like Jambuda and watch birds and their nesting sites. The Marine National Park and the gulf are not far off so you can get into your hired car and drive off to the coast.
Best Time to Visit
Summers are best avoided due to high temperatures. Monsoons can see many areas being flooded. September to February end is when you should plan your trip to the Sanctuary with December being a peak season. The weather is pleasant and you can stay out in the Sun all day long.
There is no accommodation inside the Sanctuary and camping is not permitted. The best thing to do is seek accommodation in Jamnagar where there are hotels ranging from budget to luxury as well as dormitories and guesthouses.
This sanctuary is perfect for people who are more in the mood for a relaxed visit rather than a trip to experience the raw side of nature. Photographers will love Khijadia.
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