I would never have imagined myself getting up well before the crack of dawn to go birdwatching. But there we were, my cousin and I, braving the February chill when we set off for Nalsarovar to watch the feathered visitors that make the lake a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.

Every winter, more than 200 species flock to this site in Gujarat, many from as far away as Siberia, to escape the snow. This seasonal opportunity is what motivated the two of us to spurn a late morning lie-in and behave like “twitchers", or serious birdwatchers.

As we set off in the dark, fortified by a few cups of tea and some of Ahmedabad’s famous chavanu (tangy snack), both the visitor (me) and the resident (my cousin) were excited. Gujarat’s famed roads helped us make short work of the drive, and as the sun was starting to smear orange streaks across the sky, we pulled up at our destination. We paid the fee and jumped into a car that took us to where a few boats were anchored. After haggling vigorously, we were off with Umar bhai on his flat-bottomed boat.

No amount of research could have prepared us for what the next few hours had in store.

We hadn’t gone far when we were greeted by a flock of noisy Brown-headed Gulls. Umar bhai steered us forward so that we could take pictures as the rising sun lit up the sky. We passed a Grey Heron, a Glossy Ibis and a Great Egret contemplating the water’s bounty with Zen-like patience. We tried to creep up on a flock of Ruddy Shelducks, but they caught wind of us and took to the skies, their wings gleaming like bronze arrows. Luckily, a Northern Shoveler was a lot less skittish and let us approach close enough to admire the large bill sprouting from its lustrous green head. We spied a spoonbill stalking the shallows like it owned them as an Asian Openbill regarded the intrusion with stoic disdain. We also sighted a flock of Bar-headed Geese, whose migration from Central Asia takes them over the Himalayas. They’ve been known to fly at altitudes of over 20,000ft, making them the real high fliers of the avian world.

Suddenly, a flash of bright purple among the reeds caught my eye. Peering through my telephoto lens, I sighted perhaps the most striking of Nalsarovar’s birds—the Purple Swamphen. A chicken-sized waterfowl with glistening purple plumage shot through with an iridescent green, topped with a bright red beak and crown. This shy bird is both unmistakable and unforgettable.

We were the only non-feathered beings around. We drifted along, but as the sun rose higher and the birds retreated, we knew it was time for us to do the same.

Manan Dhuldhoya tweets at @manandhuldhoya

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