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For the last couple of decades or so, we are all used to seeing cards in hotels informing us of ecological conservation and protecting the environment programme and do we want to reuse bed linens and towels. This has been a huge success in saving resources in various forms and of course conserving clean water. But what about bath products? Is there a thing called recycled soaps? Who would use these recycled soaps?

Soap for Hope – a bar of recycled soap

The bath products are a different ball game though. It is often that the hotel replenishes the stock daily. The guests generally use the soaps once before it is replenished during daily cleaning and the used soaps taken away as waste. In some hotels they don’t take away the used soaps. There, the guests have the option! Throw away or use it a couple of more times. Some of us also generally pick up a few fresh soaps, especially the perfumed ones, for house-helps back home.
One question that often bothered us was while the hotels take so much pains to conserve clean water, what could they possibly be doing with the discarded soaps.

Soap for Hope – The Story of Recycled Soaps

Then we came across Stefan Phang of Diversey and the phenomenal work he was doing in the field of soap recycling as part of “Soap for Hope” programme. To cut the long story short, after few aborted efforts, we eventually got to meet him in Mumbai and that too in a workshop manufacturing these Soaps for Hopes.

You might wonder what’s the purpose of all this and who is going to use recycled soaps?

Health and Hygiene

Health and hygiene are completely interlinked. One of the important factors of hygiene is keeping oneself clean. As per UNICEF, millions of children are afflicted with diseases linked to hygiene and many of them succumb to their diseases.

They also note “Good hand-washing practices have also been shown to reduce the incidence of other diseases, notably pneumonia, trachoma, scabies, skin and eye infections and diarrhea-related diseases like cholera and dysentery. The promotion of hand-washing with soap is also a key strategy for controlling the spread of Avian Influenza (bird flu).”

Soap for Hope – potential users Ecological Conservation

The soap plays an important role. Among the economically weaker sections, even in a city like Mumbai, it has been found that use of soap is quite absent before and after eating, toilets, cooking, playing etc. It could result in an unhealthy household.

Soaps to the rescue

Diversey, as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), have developed multi-step processes that include collection of discarded soaps from the hotels to re-manufacture and packaging them for further distribution. Stefan Phang, head of CSR at Diversey, has implemented this process in 22 countries in the world, partnering with 1000s of hotels for supplies and many NGOs and communities to implement their visions which are, Help hotels reduce waste, provide livelihood and the most important of them all, save lives!

We suggest you to watch this video. It would give you a thorough background about the Soap for Hope project and what it is for Stefan.

Soap For Hope - From trash to treasure | Stefan Phang | TEDxBaDinh - YouTube

Diversey has partnered with Doctors for you in India, a medical NGO, started by a bunch of like-minded doctors, under the stewardship of Dr Ravikant Singh. It was set up with the twin aim to help the local community where they provide free medical facilities and medicines and as a disaster response unit when medical aid is required in disaster areas.

Recycled Soaps – the Process

Diversey in India has a network of hotels who ensure that all the discarded soaps are saved and not thrown out with the other garbage. Diversey’s logistics partner collects them from each of the hotels all over India and delivers them to the processing centres. Stefan said, that almost 1 tonne cakes of soaps per month are collected from 140 hotels and equally distributed to processing centres in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.

The process steps in brief

  1. a) Top layer of the soaps is completely scraped to get rid of dirt, fibres and other impurities using potato peeler manually inspecting them to make sure that they are perfectly clean.
    b) It is then dipped in a sanitizing solution for a few minutes and then dried.
    c) The soaps are then grated using a vegetable grater into tiny slivers of soap.
    d) At this point herbal ingredients such as neem or aloe vera gel or zests of lemon could be mixed with grated soap.
    e) The grated soap is then pressed into 100gms cakes using a specially designed manual hydraulic cold press.
    f) The cakes are then cut into two before packing them in individual paper.

All the steps above are completely manual and simple. It was not long before Nisha tried her hand and quickly churned out a couple of soaps, which we got to keep as souvenirs

Segregating, scraping and grating Nisha with Stefan, Diversey team, Doctors for you team in the soap recycling factory

The three staff members churn out about 300 bars of 50gms soap each day. While it may not sound much but it sure is enough for the community that’s being serviced by Doctors for You in Govandi, Mumbai.

Recycled soap – how it helps

Often, we see doctors use the soaps as an incentive to get the residents to bring their children for a thorough check up. At that time the staff members also educate them about the benefits of using a soap and how it helps avoid diseases.

We too went out with the Doctors and nurses to nearby settlements to educate the parents and distribute soaps to the children and cajoled the women folks to take their children for health check at the centre. It was good to know that a few children could read English and helped their parents understand what Stefan wanted to convey.

Inside one of the Slum Rehab Settlement Stefan playing marbles with the kids

Stefan travels to various countries and helps people to set up their “home factories” which could give the economically weaker people a livelihood.

Kudos, Stefan! Keep it up. It is a great privilege knowing you. May your tribe grow.

If you want to travel places with us, I suggest you to join us on my Facebook travel page.
P.S.- This article belongs to www.lemonicks.com. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited. If you are viewing this on a website instead of your RSS feed reader, then that website is guilty of stealing my content. Kindly do me a favour. Please visit my site and help me taking action by letting me know against this theft. Thank you.

The post Soap for Hope – The Story of Recycled Soaps appeared first on Lemonicks - Indian Travel Blog.

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It was the cusp of Autumn. A couple of leaves of some trees here and there had starting changing colour.  This was undeniably the best time to visit the Tyorlean capital. Only a few weeks back Innsbruck found its way into our schedule in deference to suggestions by both personal and social media friends. As usual we began with a walking tour of Innsbruck.

Goldenes Dachl or the Golden Roof, Innsbruck’s iconic symbol.

The initial days of #NiVaEuro Europe trip had helped us perfect a strategy to deal with new cities. That is, to start with a 2 or 3 hour walking tour, with a guide or self-guided. This gave us time to take in the atmosphere, understand the place, get some tips as to where to eat etc from the guide and also get to know the main streets and sights and generally getting to know the way around.

Innsbruck Walking Tour

We began the tour from Innsbruck Tourism office. Why? There were a lot of tourism books, information booklets, maps and also staff available to help available to plan our day and is located in the city centre. Once could buy also buy souvenirs at reasonable rates here.

Route map for the walking tour of Innsbruck. History of Innsbruck in short

The name Innsbruck means Bridge on the river Inn and is derived from the original Latin name (Yes, Romans were here before and so were Stone Age people), Oeni Pontum, meaning Oenus (Roman name for Inn) Bridge. Innsbruck was always in the hub of things because of the bridge, a major connection for trade and communication between the North and the South.

Our  guide informed us that the city’s coat of arms is the aerial view of this famous bridge and has been so for almost 800 years.

Staue of Maximilian I at his cenotaph, inside the Court Church. He seems to ask for forgiveness on his knees with folded hands. Innsbruck

Major boost to its economic and social activities began with the arrival of Maximilian I, in the second half of 15th century, the ruler who made Austro Hungarian Empire and the house of Habsburg possible. He also built the beautiful building with an incredible roof made of golden shingles, which exist to this dazzling the tourists further.

Innsbruck became the capital of Tyrol first and then became the heart of European culture, economics and politics under Maximilian I.

One more thing, many buildings are more than 500 years old in the old city.

Rest as they say is history!

Goldenes Dachl or the Golden Roof

Let’s start with the landmark of Innsbruck, built by Kaiser Maximilian I. This was a unique structure with a roof made of gold-plated shingles was built so that it would be visible from afar and also as a mark of affluence of the Kingdom but primarily to mark his wedding to his second wife Bianca Maria Sforza.

Golden Dachl at daytime, Innsbruck Golden Dachl at night, Innsbruck

The façade is very well decorated with murals and paintings of various members of the royalty, courtiers including the court jester, and 8 coats-of-arms of all the areas ruled by Maximilian I.

Imperial palace and garden

A quick detour and in & out of a tunnel full of souvenir shops will get us to the Imperial Hofburg Palace. It is almost as important as the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and was built around 1460 CE or so. This impressive structure now houses several museums. As this was just a walking tour we had to wait for another day to enter the museums.

Souvenir shop proudly displaying the fact that all items are Austrian. Location perspective, Innsbruck. On the right red wall is of Komgress. Next to that is the Imperial Palace Hofburg. The spire straight ahead is of Hofkirche or Court Church. The Imperial Garden is on the left side.

Next to Hofburg palace is the Court Church or Hofkirche which also serves as an elaborate cenotaph for Maximilian I with a hall full of larger than life statues of 28 popular kings and queens of till that time including King Arthur! This was planned by Maximilian himself when he was alive but constructed by his grandson. After the walking tour of Innsbruck, we went in and spent more than an hour inside. It is also home to Tyrolean Folk Arts Museum.

Just opposite the Hofburg is the Imperial garden or the Hofgarten spread over 10 hectares. There are fountains, stunning landscape, a sunbathing section and children’s section too. The credit for this garden goes to none other than Empress Maria Theresa.  It is said that the garden was originally built as a playground for her children! Yes sir, you are in her kingdom now. And we will hear more of her.

St. James Cathedral or The Innsbruck Cathedral

A lane by the side of Goldenes Dachl got us to the new St James Cathedral. Comparatively this is quite new but still more than 300 years old and it was built on the site of an 800-year-old church also dedicated to St James. The works of art inside the Cathedral is very beautiful and you need to drop a one Euro coin if you plan to click pictures but it is more than worth it. Wait for noon time for the bells, weighing a total of over 4 tonnes, to peal.

St James Cathedral at Domplatz, Innsbruck A view of St James Church from the top of City Tower. Stadtturm or the City Tower

This was a manned watchtower to alert people and the King of any impending danger from enemies, fire or weather. It is older than Goldenes Dachl by a few decades. The lookout gallery offers a 360-degree sweeping view of the Old city of Innsbruck, with most of the building maintaining their antiquity, and the new.

Town hall and city tower, Innsbruck A view of 133 steps at City Tower or Stadturm, Innsbruck.

As per our guide there was a tower warden staying under the cupola which was her home, till as recent as 1960s!

Helbling House

Right opposite to the City tower lies the extravagantly decorated Helbling house. No marks for guess the year of construction. It is 15th century. However, the current levels of decorations were carried out in early 18th century. It looks like one of those elaborate cakes!

Ornately decorated Helbling house, Innsbruck

We could not gather any more information from the guide than that it used to belong a wealthy merchant but was named after a Café owner, Sebastian Helbling.

Goldener Adler (Golden eagle) Inn

This is perhaps one of the oldest hotels in Innsbruck, probably also in Europe. Operating since late 14th century. The claim to fame is that any one who was someone has stayed here during their visit to Innsbruck.

Gasthof Goldener Adler , the Golden Eagle guesthouse, one of the oldest hotels in Innsbruck.

There is a board which highlights visits by Mozart, Maria Von Trapp (Sound of Music fame), Jean Paul Sartre and many members of European Royalty.

Girls’ School by Maria Theresa

We were following the guide like an automaton, when she suddenly opened a door on the side of the street and entered, beckoning us to do so. From the outside it was looking very clean and beautiful but inside it was a wooden structure of multiple floors which was dingy but appeared solid.

Originally a Girls’ school started by Maria Theresa . now unused waiting for renovation and re-purposing. Innsbruck.

As part of Maria Theresa’s education reforms all over Austria, she also built a girls’ school right here. At this point of time nothing was here and it was conjectured that it will be redeveloped into something modern.  Maybe shops?

More Gorgeous Buildings

There are several other interesting buildings close by which are almost as old and historically relevant too like the Claudiana Palace, Ottoburg, Kolbernturm, Hospital Church on Maria Theresa Street and many more. We are sharing the pictures here for you to appreciate.

Ottoburg Palace, Innsbruck Ottoburg, Innsbruck Originally a church built in 1700s. Later the Innsbruck hospital was shifted here hence it is called Spitalkirche or Hospital Church. To protect the citizens fro infection this was built outside the old town. Location Perspective. On the right is the old court building with Golden Dachl (hidden). In the centre Helbling Palace. At the far end of the lane is Ottoburg Palace and somewhere in between is the Golden Eagle (Goldener Adler) hotel. Innsbruck Inn Riverfront and Marktplatz (Market square)

After crossing the Ottoburg palace, we were at the Inn River front and got the spectacular view of the Alps, up close. We spent a lot of time enjoying this part of Alps called the Nordekette range that rose to an impressive 2600 metres.  Soon we were on the very bridge that gave this city its name, Innsbruck. We wondered how many times this bridge would have been destroyed and rebuilt!

Colored houses on the North Bank of Inn river. A view from Marktplatz, Innsbruck Night view of Colored houses on the North Bank of Inn river. A view from Marktplatz, Innsbruck Colored houses and the Inn Bridge (Inn Brucke), Innsbruck

A short walk on the south bank brought us to the Marktplatz. From here there is a beautiful view of colourful townhouses of the North bank.   What was once an open-air farmer’s market is now full of restaurants having river view tables. The original market is now shifted indoors into Markthalle which now sells fruits, vegetables, meats etc.

If you like your fish then this is the place to eat in Innsbruck!

Maria Theresa Street and St. Anne’s Column (Annasäule)

At the border of the old town is the new town which has one long street named after Maria Theresa. This is a pedestrian only street with lots of old statues, buildings and restaurants. At about 100M from the beginning of the street is the St. Anne’s Column, the statue on top looking in the direction of the old town and the mountains behind. It was erected as a victory monument when Tyrol was freed from Bavarian troops.

St Annes column at Maria Theresa Street.
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Heritage Mansion in Lucknow

The hotel driver, the escort and their refurbished old Ambassador car met us to take us to the Heritage Mansion in Lucknow, now converted into Lebua Lucknow Luxury Boutique Heritage hotel.

Grand view of Lebua Lucknow from its lawns

As we make our way to the hotel, a lot of heads turned. That gave us a thrill which a celebrity feels on having been recognized in a strange place. However soon we realized it was not us (sigh!) but our distinctive yellow car that was causing so many turns of heads. It was always the same, a look at the car and a glance at us to see who in the world are travelling in this. Anyway we felt quite distinguished.

Roomi Darwaza, Lucknow. In the foreground our bright yellow car.

After negotiating a few lanes, which gives us the indication that we are perhaps in the central part Lucknow, we enter The Mall Road and into a huge wrought iron gates which gives us the first hint as to the age of the building ahead.

The Hotel

This 2-storyed art-deco building was originally named Saraca Estate, due to the abundance of Saraca Indica, commonly called the Ashoka trees, in its 1.5 acre plot. These trees are supposed to be more than 100 years old! The mansion was built in the year 1936 by an officer of the British-Indian Army. The original owners were already running a sort of a boarding house when this property was acquired by a Lucknow born Abdullah and his wife Nayab, recently.

Luckmow Lebua Luxury Boutique Heritage Hotel at night

The couple transformed this weather beaten bungalow into a luxury heritage hotel with a perfect blend of the modern comforts with the original opulence and partnered with Lebua group of Thailand to bring to us this unique experience called Lebua Lucknow, Saraca Estate. The words of Mr Faisal, the group Vice President, that Lebua is a combination of the French word Le meaning “The” and Thai word Bua meaning “Lotus”, resonates in our minds while we check into our suite on the first floor.

The well at Lebua , Lucknow A vintage car almost as old as the Saraca Estate built in the year 1936, if not older. Lebua Lucknow.

While it took 2 minutes for us to reach the room duly escorted, it took 5 on the way back as we got lost in the maze of staircases. Was the architect inspired by Bhul-Bhulaiyan (Labyrinth) , a well known tourist spot on top of Bara Imambara, I wonder. Hahaha!

One the many stairs at the hotel. Badha Imambara, Main entrance façade, Lucknow Rooms

There are 41 rooms and suites and no two of them have the same dimensions. However the underlying theme of the décor is always the same, reminding us of this land of Chikan and Zardozi.

Elegant room with designs from the bygone era of Nawabs,

We were guided by smartly liveried staff to the first floor suite, facing the front lawn. It was not a suite as per the classic sense of the word in that, it was a huge hall divided into useful spaces by intelligent placement of furniture. Of course there was a huge private balcony overlooking the lush green lawns.

The old fashioned bedstead on which a modern high quality mattress to address the comfort shows how the old and the modern have been seamlessly mixed. The green cushions providing the contrast in the other white bed seems to match the emerald of the lawn outside.

The colored glass panes gave it a look of the yester years. I remember some of the very old houses belong to our relatives had them. In fact similar panes were mounted on a wooden bracket to hide the incongruous air conditioner!
While high quality amenities are provided in the room, what caught our eye was the electric tea kettle made of ceramic. That was new to us and somehow accentuated the character of the room.

Tea Service at Lebua Lucknow

The bathroom was quite roomy with her and him wash basins, which alongwith high quality bath products meant that we could look forward to refreshing bath or shower after or forays into the city of Nawabs.

We were lucky to move into the biggest suite after a couple of days. Access to the room was from a large covered sit-out with comfortable chairs and old fashioned recliner too. The room was well furnished and so was the bathroom. The handles of doors and wardrobes were made of Chikankari wooden blocks.

Chikan Block handles and colored glass panes reminding us of the years gone by. Dining

About dining experiences at Lebua Lucknow, the words won’t do any justice. I wish our tongues could speak!

Azrak, the signature restaurant, served traditional cuisine from the erstwhile princely states (including Awadhi) and served exotically named dishes fit for the royalty. Meal after meal the likes of Papad Mangodi ki Subzi, Diwani Handi, Paneer Khatta Pyaz and a variety of rice, dal and rotis kept us licking our fingers and drooling for more! In Urdu Azrak means blue, perhaps named so because of the blue floor tiles!

At Azrak Chinese or more correctly Pan Asian cuisine is also served. We particularly relished the Crispy Veg Mongolian style. In Urdu Azrak means blue, perhaps named so because of the blue floor tiles!

An old Lambretta scooter depicting India’s Italian connection.

Ristorante 1936 belts out authentic Italian dishes and is quite popular with the guests and also with Lucknow people. Named after the year of construction of this estate, this ristorante provides indoor and outdoor seating (just like in Europe!). When we had our multi-course dinner one night we found that from Antipasti and Zuppa to Portata Principale , transported us to Italy and reminded us of our time there. We ended our dinner with Chocolate Fondant for Dolce. What an indulgence!

Sehen, with old brick floor, is a dining area, open to sky, in the courtyard surrounded by some greenery and overlooked by the many terraces. It is quite the center of attraction literally. The theme of the night’s dinner was Awadhi. Some exquisite creations from the Chef with offerings like Kuti mirch ke paneer tikka, Mawa mewe ki seekh, mushroom ki galawat (true to its name just melted in the mouth) and a glass of red wine kept us warm in the chilly night. We are sure the non veg selections Galawati Kabab, Murg Tikka mirza hasnoo , would have been equally delicious.

A view of Lebua Hotel from Khema. Shubham Mishra captured in a wine glass setting the atmosphere at Khema (a tent in Urdu)

The well rounded gastronomic experience ended with a dinner at khema, meaning tent in Arabic and tent it was. The highlight of the evening was live music by the very talented Shubham Mishra (whom we later saw in Rising Star 2 TV programme too) to the accompaniment of western and Indian fusion cuisine. Moongdal ki Aranchini with salsa for starter and Ravioli of Paneer capsicum bhujia in makhani sauce for main course were just out of this world.
Lebua Lucknow has indeed raised the bar as a veritable culinary must-stop in this city of Nawabs.

One of the back lawns converted into breakfast place on a sunny day.

Lebua Lucknow is in the process of establishing a terrace dining space too. That would be awesome!

Activities

Lebua has in its folds a team of experienced tour operators and guides who know the city and its history very well. It was a great pleasure and beautiful experience when we saw the regular historical sights like Bada Imambara, Chhota Imambara and walk through the Rumi Darwaza, exploring the grounds of La Martiniere and hope to bump into the Ghost of La martiniere and so on.

La Martiniere Boys’ School, Lucknow. Are the ghosts still there?

The tours could be customized based on interests. We also tasted some awesome street food.

Other facilities

While our stay inside the room was made comfortable by the decor and furniture, there were enough spaces outide the room to spend quality time, other than dining too!

A compact gym to take care of guests fitness regime, if they ever do get time from exploring the city of Nawabs.

There was a small but reasonably well equipped Gym that helped us shed those extra kilograms assimilated while enjoying the cuisine in the hotel and in Lucknow! There is a swimming pool too but the weather was too cold for a dip. However just sitting by the poolside with a cocktail was refreshing enough.

Baradari is a large banquet hall next to the pool and is apt for meetings and training or even small parties. For larger parties, the lawns provide right ambience.

Location

Lebua Lucknow, the luxury boutique heritage hotel, is located bang in the central part of Lucknow and is next to the sprawling bungalow belonging to Mayawati. It is close to many historic places and also the Gomti River. Many old buildings can be seen to be along the river.
The airport is just 14KM away but may take upto 30 minutes drive owing to traffic delays.

You may also want to read other accommodation reviews.

Pin it Printing blocks for Chikan work, a kind of Lakhnavi embroidery, are used as door handles.

Disclaimer: We stayed at Hotel Lebua, Lucknow at their invitation but the opinions, as always, are own.

The post Lebua Lucknow, A Luxury Boutique Heritage Hotel appeared first on Lemonicks.

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We were on our way to an unknown village to see some new-borns take their first baby steps and then swim into the sea! We are, of course, talking about the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles in Velas Maharashtra. This is a ritual that happens during the months of February, March and April in this otherwise sleepy village called Velas in Ratnagiri District, South of Mumbai.

A few years back a friend mentioned to us about turtle conservation in this district on the western coast of India. We would have pooh-poohed the information as rumour had it not been for the stature of our friend. He was a wild life enthusiast, a naturalist and would definitely know about these things.

We had been reading for some time about the dwindling population of sea turtles and breeding-nesting seasons which is January to April. On an evening in February, we decided on a spur of the moment to go to Velas Village and experience what is now known as the Kasav Mahotsav meaning Turtle Festival.

We waited for our transportation at the highway. It was already close to mid night and in our minds, we try to imagine what was in store for us at Velas. Velas is a small eco-friendly village in Ratnagiri. A few years back, an NGO named Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra, who were involved in conservation of dwindling population of various animals, found out that Velas beach was one of the many location where the female turtle comes to lay its eggs. They also found that while there was evidence of large number of nests, they could not find any intact eggs. They were perhaps poached by the villagers or animals. Also, when young ones did hatch they were again hunted by the predators.

The villagers were educated on the importance of saving these marine reptiles and thus was born Kasav Mitra Mandal in Velas. This was really win-win for them. They were able to help conservationists and also create a tourism opportunity to boost the economy of this village.

After a mostly uneventful journey we reached the village just in time for breakfast. Most of the village houses open their doors to the tourists for a nominal fee that includes all meals. This was homestay at its best. There were matrasses on the floor to sleep, men and women were separated into different rooms and a couple of common bathrooms. For breakfast we were served Poha, a tasty dish prepared out of beaten rice, which is very common in these parts.

After freshening up we went in search of the conservation specialist. We wanted to know how they had achieved what they had achieved and the methods undertaken to protect the endangered sea turtle.

The chief conservationist said that initially the villagers did not listen and did not even care about this new age hullaballoo about conservation and protection, which they thought were just propaganda to encroach on their daily lives. Persistent education bore fruit finally. Not only the villagers but also the fishermen had to be persuaded to release the turtles if they were inadvertently caught in their net. They were also trained to inform the NGO if they spotted any injured turtle which were then nursed back to health and sent back to the sea.

He then took us to the beach to explain the procedure. He told us that this was essentially the hatching season. The egg laying or the nesting season had started about 2 months back. The turtles travel thousands of kilometres every year, yet the most incredible part is the female turtle always returns to the same beach at which it hatched. How it does remember is no less than a miracle. The male turtles almost always never return to the beach at all. Another astounding fact is that the Olive Ridley sea turtles practice arribadas. It means large scale synchronised nesting. Groups of female turtles come ashore during a specific period for laying their eggs, pushing with their flippers till they reach far inside the beach for safety. The females may mate with multiple male turtles.

Every morning during nesting season a team of volunteers from Kasav Mitra Mandal would comb the beach for signs of turtle movement on the sand. Generally, you can’t miss the tracks as the turtles are almost 70cm in length and weight about 25 to 50kg and leave deep trails. The conservationist laughingly added “By the way they are some of the smallest turtles”. The volunteers follow the tracks to their end and start digging.

The turtles using just their flippers dig holes in the sand to a depth of 1 metre and lay up to 100 eggs in about 45 minutes! This is a very energy consuming and tiring process and they are often found to make hissing sound of laborious breathing. They then use their flippers to fill up the hole completely. All in the cover of darkness.

The volunteers dig deep but carefully so as not to break any eggs. Sometimes the tracks are false indicators. Some turtles are known to return without laying eggs or move to another spot on the beach. If eggs are found, then details are recorded with date, nest number and number of eggs. These eggs are carefully collected in baskets and taken to a designated area in the beach, which is generally fenced off to prevent predators from poaching the eggs. The eggs are then deposited in one of the series of holes dug for the purpose, fill it with sand completely, just like the mother turtle, and covered with a basket with a card mentioning the nest number.

This exercise is done for each of the nests found till the nesting season is over. After that is the long wait for incubation. Of course, the fenced off portion is protected adequately often with locks to keep away the curious onlooker.

After seeing the fenced off area, we returned to our homestay. He had said that the uncovering of the nests would happen in the evening when the temperature dropped and cool enough for the young ones to come out. On our return journey, he explained that the name Olive Ridley was due to the fact that the carapace (shell) of an adult turtle is olive green in colour. Even the plastron (the underside of the turtle) are green-yellow. He smilingly said no one really knows why it was called a Ridley! We liked his honesty & forthrightness.

There was nothing much to do till evening when the baskets would be revealed to see if any babies were there. In all this while we had not seen a soul who we could identify as a visitor! Later we found, since this was a free time, people were either resting or exploring the little village or even hiking to a small fort, called Bankot, on the nearby hill giving a spectacular aerial view of the Velas beach.

For the visitors, the turtle festival begins when the incubation period of 45 to 60 days is over. Each day the volunteers uncover the baskets to see if any hatchlings have come to the top of their new nest. We wanted to beat the crowd and started from our homestay early to go to the beach. However, everybody seemed to have the same idea and the route from village to beach was thronging with visitors. When we reached the beach, we found a good crowd had already gathered around the fence.

The organizers were dutifully making sure the viewers would be safe and not scramble over each other. We were glad to see a sizeable number of children in the crowd waiting to see the babies. This was a great family outing too, away from the bustle of the city. At last at the appointed time the organizers enter the fence.

There are several baskets to be exposed. Not necessarily each nest would have hatched. They uncovered the first, there was an audible sound of disappointment in the crowd. Perhaps the time had not come for the eggs of this nest to hatch. They covered the nest and opened the second for the same result. We were sure by now that the organizers were now playing to the gallery and sensationalism and that the last basket would have the babies.

It is yet another nature’s wonder that buried deep into the ground, when the turtle babies hatch they know instinctively to claw their way up overcoming the weight of the sand above. This was a protected environment, however in the wild they would face immense challenges by way of predators like fox, hyenas and sometimes even eagles and kites soaring high above.

As expected the last one had the babies. What a magnificent sight it was!

We were all then asked to gather near the sea shore presently as the babies were collected and taken to about 70 metres from the sea and left on the sand to fend for itself. Here was another marvel! The baby is so small, just 10 cms or so, but knew exactly what it should do. It intuitively uses its baby flippers to propel toward the gigantic sea. For us even the thought how these babies would survive in the vast sea brought goosepimples. We could see them getting tired once in a while and just slopped on the sand for a while then started once again towards the sea. Eventually they were engulfed by water. The females would definitely come around sometime and the whole lifecycle continues!

This was definitely a festival with a difference. Observing a baby turtle coming out of the nest and then finding its way to the sea is a magical, remarkable and memorable event, in its life and now in our lives too!

How to get there: From Mumbai and Pune, there are several touring companies who conduct a 2D/1N trips to Velas. One can go in a private vehicle as well.

Where to stay in Velas: Almost every house is a homestay. One can walk-in and negotiate. Weekends are bound to be very crowded.

If you want to travel places with us, I suggest you to join us on my Facebook travel page.
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The post Olive Ridley Sea Turtles in Velas Maharashtra appeared first on Lemonicks.

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