There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, all of which are endangered. Velas beach in Ratnagiri is one of the places in India where these turtles come and lay their eggs. The villagers with some NGO’s have started a conservation program which protects the eggs and once the hatchlings emerge they release them in the sea. A visit to Velas gives you an opportunity to see the uniqueness of life, thus making you appreciate life, in its all forms.
One day sitting on my FB, I came across the post by my friends in Wild Rangers about Velas Turtle Festival. For years I have known some Olive Ridley turtle’s making their journey from the isolated island of Australia to some beach in Odhisa for laying their eggs. This journey of the Olive Ridley turtle’s always fascinated me as a child, given the enormity of the route. As a child, I failed to understand why a species will undertake a journey as vast as this to lay eggs and never come back even to see their born. Although today also, I don’t have an answer for this gigantic journey of the turtles, I believe this is a part of the uniqueness of life which eludes our attention as we are busy doing the mundane task of life.
I thank the villagers and NGO’s helping conserve the endangered turtles and Wild Rangers for arranging such a marvellous trip.
Velas is a beach in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, south of Mumbai. It’s a six hours drive (by bus) from Thane, Mumbai. On the night between 15th and 16th of Mar, we started for our trip to Velas. The agenda was seeing hatching of the turtle on 16th -7 O’ clock in the morning.
After finishing my office a bit early then the usual timing, I came back home, packed my bag and started for Thane where everybody was supposed to meet. I reached 11:00 pm well before the designated time of 11:30 and found myself to be the first one to reach their. It was indeed a commendable feat for a person like me who is usually late. As minutes passed, all the 15 people who were supposed to join poured in one by one. Thus there I stood with 13 unknown faces and one known- Deepak who was my friend and the tour coordinator from Wild Rangers.
Sleep is essential for me. I think I can sleep even when an earthquake shatters the ground. At around 12:30 am our bus started. I positioned myself tactfully in a single front seat, wherein the disturbance caused to my dreams was supposed to be minimum. Soon after a few toss n turns I found a comfortable position and went into my sleep. On the back of my mind, I could judge the rumbling sound of the bus as it went pass through the rough road, the flashing headlights of the vehicles coming from the opposite direction and the laughter of my group members as they cracked jokes. But I was already half deported to my world of dreams from where nobody could bring me back.
It was 5:30 in the morning, when the bus stopped. Finally we had reached Velas. Deepak informed us that the beach was 5 mins away from the place where we were putting up. The place where we were putting up was one of the village house or to be more precise the “wada”, what you call in the local language. Wada’s are big houses that you typically find in the villages of Maharashtra. In the entry there will be a huge “barandha”- what we probably call in English a courtyard- open space which might be covered or uncovered, wherein most of the guests sit. There after will be an entry to the house which is a bit elevated. The rooms are typically big elongated ones without any partition. The architecture of the house is pretty simple wherein all the rooms come one after another and there will be a small kitchen and room for worshipping at the corner. Usually the washroom and toilet is at the backyard separate from the main house.
Deepak gave us strict instruction to freshen up by 6:30 am so that we can be in the beach well before 7:00 am, when the hatchlings were supposed to be released. So finally we all muscled the power not to be lured by the temptation of the sweet morning sleep and thus queued ourselves near the washroom for our turn. The lady of the house served us tea and thus we all were re-charged and ready to go to the beach.
When we reached the beach there were already hordes of people gathered in two three places. We went to the place wherein a make shift fence was made and all the people were glued to the fence as if honey bees glued to their hive. This was the main conservative area wherein the conservationist put the eggs that they find in the nest made by the giant female turtles along the beach. Giant female turtles usually come at night to lay the eggs. They built their nest in the sand dunes along the coast. The giant female turtle digs hole in the sand dunes and can lay upto 100 eggs. Usually the hatchlings emerge from the nest after ~60 days. Although after laying the eggs the giant female turtle covers the nest with sand, but still predators like stray dogs, birds, crab etc can destroy the eggs. This is where the conservationist plays a crucial role of collecting the eggs and placing them in a protected area wherein the hatchlings can safely come to life.
When we reached the fenced area the conservationist were giving general information about sea turtles. There were two baskets placed upside down on the ground inside the fenced area. The conservationist informed us that the hatchlings if they have hatched over the night would be under these baskets. The conservationist calculates the hatching of the eggs basis the day they have found the eggs. Rough calculations basis two months of incubation gives the conservationist fair idea about the hatching of the eggs. When they opened the first basket, their emerged 17 tiny hatchlings some clinging to each other while some positioned all alone, trying to figure out the way ahead. Although I don’t remember the species the hatchlings belonged to, their colour and the colour of the sand was more or less same- greyish black. The conservationist placed the hatchlings in the basket over a jute cloth and brought them outside the protected area. People were strictly warned not to click pictures with their flash on as it harmed the hatchlings and distracted them. An area near the water where the waves were coming was barricaded and people were told to stand outside the barricade. Thus a passage was created for the tiny hatchlings to walk into the womb of the mother- the sea which is supposed to protect them and raise them to become giant turtles one day.
Thus when the conservationist reached the tail end of this passage- the ramp from where the hatchlings were supposed to walk, all people were ready with their heavy guns to shoot the first step of the hatchlings into the wild. But turtles can’t walk as they don’t have feet or claws; instead their legs are shaped like long paddles with flippers. Thus turtle have to drag them on the land before they reach the water where they can easily swim.
As the turtles took their position on the ramp it was a delight to watch natures wonder of how life comes into being and the struggle one has to do to preserve the same. As the hatchlings dragged themselves on the land in hope of a better and simpler life without so much of hardship, it made me realise that we also are in quest of a simpler and better life and this quest of our goes on for eternity or till the time we live. In this quest of life we forget to live the life that is presently with us. No life is without hardship, but the beauty of hardship is that it makes us realise and appreciate the good things in life. We might not remember all the hardships that we face in our life time, but we will remember all the good moments we have enjoyed in our life. Thus it’s important for us to live the life that we have right now with us, so that we can collect some precious moments which will always be in our mind. Thus running away from hardships may not be a solution to our quest for a better life, but facing them and conquering them the way the hatchlings did may better our life.
As the hatchlings started conquering their hardships, people scrambled with each other with their magnificent cameras which reached the ear drums of the hatchlings, to take pictures. I was the only odd man out, with a handicapped blackberry in my pocket. After a lot of conscious effort, I sheepishly took out my blackberry to click few pictures. But then I realised it’s better to leave this job to my friends who were also carrying these magnificent guns.
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