What if you were told that you don’t have to go on a multiple day’s expensive diving course in case you wanted to experience underwater coral reefs and the varied marine life under the sea? And no, I’m not talking about visiting an aquarium as an alternative either. In fact, if you head an hour’s drive to the west of the city of Jamnagar in Gujarat, you can do a walking tour of corals. Yes, you read that right. A walking tour of underwater corals.
The Marine National Park and Sanctuary in the Gulf of Kutch in Jamnagar region offers visitors an opportunity to view coral reefs, mangroves, sea-grass beds, mudflats, a network of creeks and other ecosystems which support rich marine life and bird life. It is one of those rare places in the world where you can look at coral reefs without having to dive underwater. Visitors can just walk in ankle deep water when the tide ebbs to watch this fascinating world.
Besides the reefs, a variety of puffer fish, sea horses, octopus, jelly fish and star fish can be spotted during the coral walk at Narara which lies about 60 km from Jamnagar. The coral walk can be done during the dry spell between two high tides. The walk takes anywhere between two to three hours. However, before going on the walk, one has to obtain a permit from the forest department which is available at Narara itself. One can also avail the services of the guides who are skilled and will make your visit very informational.
One can also take a day trip to Pirotan island which is close by but it requires a lot more planning than coral walk. Tide timings have to be taken into account to see which is the most favourable day to visit the island as the boat can only reach the island when the tide is at its fullest. Also, a whole day has to be dedicated; once you reach the island you can only return to the mainland after completion of a tide cycle which is usually 10-12 hours later. Therefore, pack your food, water and other essentials like sun glasses, sun blocks, and a good pair of shoes. The best time of the year to visit the sanctuary is from October to March when the days are sunny and the temperatures are relatively cooler.
Unfortunately, the recent boom of SEZs, ports and oil pipelines is beginning to show their adverse effects on sea life of the sanctuary. Lots of corals are dying and the mangrove covers are depleting. Hopefully, the authorities will initiate necessary action to keep this wonder of nature as pristine as it once was.
(In September 2011, Venkat went on a solo trip to Ladakh after which he quit his job to devote nearly all his time for travelling and exploring)