I often wondered if Nature smiles only at unusual International destinations but one of recent trips to the humble & pristine village of Velas changed my perception altogether. What Velas has to offer is simply surreal and divine! It is a must-watch, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The reason being it welcomes an exotic visitor every year- Olive Ridley turtles.
Olive Ridley turtles take decades to reach sexual maturity. After mating at sea, the adult female turtles return to the shore to nest. They dig a hole in the sand, about 40-50 cms deep, and then start filling this nest with soft shelled eggs. After about 60 days of incubation, the hatchlings break-free from the egg shells and then crawl all the way to the surface. Once they reach the surface, instinctively they head to the sea with their tiny legs.
Once the eggs are laid, there are multiple challenges that exist like the threat of being poached by locals or being hunted by Jackals. This has caused these turtles to being labeled as endangered species. This is where Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM), a local NGO in the region deserves a special mention. The workers from SNM do a commendable job in protecting the eggs of the Olive Ridley turtles from the poachers and the predators. They create a simulated environment for them in a fenced location and are covered with baskets so that once hatched, they can be released into the sea. This is what the Velas turtle festival all about.
I registered with the Mumbaitravellers.in to get up-close with Velas Turtle Festival. This festival is once a year, during the months of February and March. Bookings get filled up quickly so if I were you, I’d keep my calendar open for this. The journey to Velas from Mumbai is an overnight one.
We arrived at the Velas Beach when the sun was just announcing the start of a new day. The glowing rays of the morning sun filled our hearts with hope and enthusiasm of getting a glimpse of the tiny hatchlings. I must tell you, viewing the turtle hatchlings is a matter of chance. You may get to see one or may be none at all! But I must add here, the beach itself is a beautiful sight to behold!
There were many nature enthusiasts on the beach, who were up early to view the spectacular event. We stood around the enclosure as the SNM volunteers uncovered the baskets with shouts of ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya’ that reverberated the shorelines of Velas beach. After all, there is some divine power that manages such a beautiful scene! As we excitedly looked on, there were no hatchlings under the first basket! Sigh! But, we had a few more baskets to try our luck. What we saw when the 2nd basket was uncovered was simply breathtaking. 5 little Olive Ridley Sea turtle hatchling moving around with their tiny little feet, they sight was a cynosure to the eye and I almost had goose bumps on seeing the little fellas.
The volunteer lovingly carried the hatchlings closer to the sea for the little ones to crawl their way into the vast blue. For the tiny hatchlings the first touch of the sand is as important as the first touch of a mother to a child. Male turtles never come back to the shore, it is the female baby turtles that recognize this touch of sand when they come back decades later to lay their own egg and remember this is where it all started. It makes you wonder how creative nature can get, isn’t it?
As for me, I was left to marvel at Nature as these newly born turtle hatchlings scuttled away, never looking back and started their journey of thousands miles and more and leaving me bewildered at the natural beauty that unfolded just in front of my eyes.
PIC COURTESY: Ashwini DSouza