The Velas Turtle Festival is one of India’s premier destinations (apart from Orissa) for viewing the Olive ridley turtles hatch and head to the sea. The conducive environment created on the beach, helps female turtles trust and leave its eggs on this beach for it to hatch. The turtle conservation program also helps in everyone in this area being aligned to preserving and conserving turtles. It’s also India’s first formal program to stay in villages with the locals and then watch the turtles head out into the sea from the observatory.
This is Part 2. If you have come here directly, there was a Part-1 and a Part-0 too. Do have a look at the series before you start this.
Here’s an option if you are feeling lazy to thumb through the post in images.
- The post and the video will have different content though the end story is the same.
- The post talks about my experience and thoughts, while the video has the most important elements captured on camera from various angles
- Only the video has elements on the history of the Velas Turtle Festival in an interview with Hemant Saldurkar- The organiser of the festival.
- If I were you, I would watch the video and read further to let the mind check if what you imagined is the same as what I have written about to get a complete picture of what to expect if you are planning a trip to Velas.
Post Dinner on Day 1
I had a very fulfilling dinner, and also noticed that Nandu had eaten a little more than he does at home. I felt satisfied that he had adjusted to the place and was feeling comfortable.
After watching the documentary, he kept running around the house with some of the other kids, and at some point, he was forced to sleep, since the lights were switched off for everyone to sleep.
Some of the folks from Travel Trikon travel group, were playing some game sitting in a circle. I was ready to sleep, since it was beyond my sleeping time at 2130 back home.
I was sleeping next to the biker couple from Mumbai, who kept getting up showing some signs of discomfort. I later realised that some of the mosquitoes were troubling them. I had slept with my jeans pant and did not have a problem as such luckily. The house had about 20 people sleeping in the portico of the house, by the mud floor. My only requirement, getting up, was to make sure my devices were charged and I could walk and find my slippers to either go drink water or to to the toilet, which was behind the house. I seemed to have a peaceful sleep, except for getting up a few times and finding my throat showing signs of catching cold. I just prayed and went back to sleep, hoping I would not fall ill.
In such places, under the stars and in a community environment, I tend to sleep deep, but I am also very cognisant of what is happening around me. I woke up without the need to switch my alarm on. I had woken up at about 5 am, after sleeping at 11 pm the pevious night, well rested and ready for the day ahead. It helps to wake up early when you have 2 toilets and 50 people who may compete for it. As soon as I was done with my ablutions, a state transport bus blared its horns and brought the morning load of tourists from Mumbai before the break of dawn. I just had to get my son to use the toilet before the queue started to build.
Milind and his helpers started serving tea, while a large portion of people were still asleep. Some of the portico lights were on. It was already 6 am. I hurried into packing my bag for the morning jaunt, which I heard was around 2 kilometres of walk to the Turtle hatchery.
Walking to the Hatchery
If I had known, that I could take my car and park it there, I would have taken the offer, but the lure of walking slowly through town and keeping an eye out for absorbing the beauty of the town at the crack of dawn. Walking with us were a couple of bird watchers, who were telling Nandu on what to observe. Nandu looked like he was listening and then proceeded to shift his attention elsewhere.
We were walking without actually knowing the route. There were a bunch of people also walking, but each of us without knowing the route managed to just copy each other and we reached a point, where there was a bridge.
If you had a car, you would park here, and get down from the bridge by the steps and then walk on a pathway to the beach.
This is a kilometre of walk with barren land on one side, and mangroves on the other.
After about 40 minutes we reached the beach, just in time for the morning hatchery procedures. I saw a team of 3-4 people who had gone near the sea to erect temporary structures which serves as boundary. I heard the team was a new team in place, since the earlier organiser Mr Upadhyay had moved to Anjarle (a village 2 hours away) to set up a new turtle hatchery there. The new team had taken a little more time than usual, is what I heard and they made their way back to the hatchery.
Morning Turtle Hatchery
As I settled around a corner, the organisers went in the hatchery, which is covered by a wire mesh on all 4 sides. It was like they went into a ring/den to communicate with their brethren. The crowd was gnawing at the wire mesh, trying to somehow not get a human or a wire in our view to see the turtle. It was here for these fleeting moments that the organisers felt like people with super powers. They come and do this twice a day, and at some point, I don’t even think they are having this thought that they have more access than the commoners. It’s their job and livelihood while the rest of us are here for amusing and entertaining our boorish selves.
With every basket they lift, there is either a chorus of disappointment or joy depending on whether a turtle made its way up in the soil to the top of the beach sand under the basket or whether it did not.
The Turtle Run
Once the turtles have hatched, then the organisers quickly wind up proceedings at the hatchery. They let each of the baby turtles get on to a bag, which is placed inside a basket and they transport them to the portion of the beach where they had erected the temporary chained boundaries. The tourists watch them getting inside the sea.
The turtles are under intense scrutiny, as scores of SLR totting photographers are bending backwards to get the right angle, while some parents are doing a live video call with their brethren back home. That serves a mild reminder that 4G signals probably come at the beachThe experience ends with that, until it re- starts in the evening, which I enjoyed even more since more turtles came about
Google Maps- That Thing Turtles Don’t Use
The interesting thing to note is that years later, the turtles (if they are alive) find their way back to the same beach of their birth. I’ve heard that fascinating story to be amazed on how the turtles can find their way to exactly the same beach. The turtles use the invisible lines of the magnetic field. Humans at sea would probably use a compass or Google Maps to navigate their way, but turtles don’t need any navigation help. It is the same magnetic field signature that each place retains, which also helps the turtle find its way home. Here is a mathematical paper and article explaining the turtle movement according to the magnetic field.
We Make Babies, Not Family
I found it a little deviant behaviour, that a turtle lays its eggs and does not stay for its babies birthing or does not even know its babies, since it just seems to come and lay eggs. I am not sure a turtle ever can identify who its family are. Can it? If you know something about it, do comment.
Evening Run at the Hatchery
Our evening run was more fruitful. For one it was relaxed. We had seen turtles in the morning, so there was not this angst that this may be our last session (since we still had a session the next morning). This time, owing to the heat, Nandu and I drove in the car, and parked it some distance away from the parking spot, and walked our way to the hatchery.
The feeling when a turtle shows up when the basket is lifted is pure sense of elation. Its as if we are communally celebrating the birth of every turtle we see.
Once the turtles are taken into the wetter part of the beach, closer to the sea, it seems that the turtles have this pressure to go run and perform, but they don’t quite care about their new found celebrity status.
As the sun gave way to the moon, and the chill evening breeze started during our walk back, I could not help think of a perfect song for the evening mood
“Yeh Raatein Yeh Mausam, Nadi Ka Kinara, Yeh Chanchal Hawa”
“Yeh Kya Baat Hain, Aaj Ki Chandni Mein, Ki Hum Who Gaye”
By the time, we made our way back to car park, Nandu and I were tired. The walk also felt longer due to the number of people ahead of us and the fact that we were walking slowly, owing to a huge group in front of us. As we made our way to the car park, we noticed that a villager, had set up a mobile bhelpuri stall catering to the hunger pangs of the mass of tourists. Saturday evenings are probably the most crowded evenings in a week, during the season. I was tempted to try it out, but I realised I had not taken my purse, since I had worn my swimming trunks to the beach, knowing Nandu might jump into the waters, and I need to be around to have a safety watch around him. No Bhelpuri, but in a few minutes we would have the divine dinner, that was waiting for us at Milind’s home stay.