Thursday, June 5, 2014

Chir Batti in Banni grasslands, Rann of Kutch, Gujrat

A bird in the monsoon season in the Banni Grasslands
Chir Batti is a strange and mysterious phenomenon of lights in Banni grasslands on the outer southern edge of the Rann of Kutch, Gujrat. Located very close to the international border of India and Pakistan, the Banni grasslands are a seasonal marshy desolate wetlands in the district of Kutch. The Banni grasslands, which covers almost 2500 square kilometers, is the largest tropical grasslands in Asia and are well known for biodiverse and rich wildlife. It supports at least 37 species of grasses, 275 species of birds, 190 species of plants and several species of mammals and reptiles.

The Banni Grasslands in Kutch, Gujrat

Indian Wild Ass grazing together

The endangered Indian Cheetah

The Kachchh Desert Wildlife Sanctuary consisting of 380 square kilometers and Chhari Dhand Conservation Reserve consisting of 227 square kilometers are also part of the Banni Grassland. The grassland is a protected site, and one of the last remaining habitats of the Indian Cheetah. The animals commonly found in this area is Asiatic Wildcat, Blackbuck, Caracal, Chinkara, Desert Fox, Golden Jackal, Indian Hare, Indian Wild Ass, Indian Wolf, Nilgai and Wild boar.

A herd of Nilgai
Indian Desert Fox

The arid grassland is located only a few meters above from the sea level, and the salty soil supports sparse vegetation most of which is salt tolerant such as low-growing forbs, graminoids, while thorny trees and shrubs are found scattered over the grassland. Several lagoons filled with water during the good monsoons in Banni grasslands attract over 150 species of migratory and resident birds including flamingoes and migratory cranes.

A beautiful Black Buck

Common Indian Crane

Flamingoes in the breeding season

The elderly people of the villages in this region believe that before an earthquake in 1819, river Indus flowed through Banni and the land was fertile enough to support a rich harvest of crops like red rice and sindhi chookha. The land was made fertile from the organic sediments deposited by the Indus and other rivers over thousands of years. Red rice was the main diet of this region. It was so light that the doctors adviced it to ailing people. However, after the earthquake, river Indus changed its course, and the area of Banni became arid. The river now flows through Sindh in Pakistan.

The Banni Grasslands

Rann of Kutch

The Banni grasslands are witness to mystic unexplained lights are called Chir Batti in Kutchhi-Sindhi language (Chir Batti means Ghost Lights). These unexplained lights as reported are often seen in dark nights mostly after 8:00 PM, floating two to ten feet above the ground. They can change their color to white, red, blue, yellow and can be as bright as mercury lamps. It sometimes resembles a moving ball and traverses very fast, while sometimes it may even become stagnant. People have been experiencing these unique phenomenon of lights since centuries yet very little is known about it. The people who have witnessed the strange phenomenon feel that the lights appear to follow them if they move away from it and sometimes even play hide and seek. However, the mystic light fools their senses if followed, and often often mislead them to the thorny bushes off the road or to the salty desert of Rann of Kutch. Not only single but up to 7 light balls has been sighted simultaneously. These mystic lights balls could exist for several minutes and some of the light balls can even divide into two. These mystic lights are not known to be harmful.

The salty desert of Rann of Kutch

Chir Batti in the Banni Grasslands

Attempts to take photographs or record the video of the mystic Chir Batti has not succeeded yet. The phenomenon of Chir Batti in this distant land was unheard of until quite recently. But as the Banni grasslands became renowned as breeding location for some rare species of birds, it became the right spot for biologists and ecologists. A team of local and US ornithologists has seen these lights. Jugal Tiwari, a local biologist, claims to witness the strange lights more than 100 times. These weird lights has distracted his team many times while setting out bird traps in night time. The Indian Border Security force is also well aware of the Chir Batti in this area.

Chir Batti in the Banni Grasslands


There are also some other locations in the world where such phenomenon has occurred. Chir Batti or Ghost Lights are also called Friar's Lantern or Will-O'-The-Wisp. Scientists believe that this is a flitting phosphorescent light seen at night, chiefly over marshy ground. It happens due to spontaneous combustion of gases (mostly phosphine (PH3), diphosphane (P2H4), and methane(CH4)) from decomposed organic matter. A proper scientific investigation is required to enlighten the facts.

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