Bangalore: Racing cars and bikes have been a second nature to India's IT capital. But if you happen to witness a large flock of serene white and grey birds soaring high in the skies, it means Bangalore's pigeon-racing season has just begun.
Hundreds of homing pigeons across Bangalore, Raichur, Anandpur, Nandid, Akola and Bhopal will be participating in the much-awaited race."The beginning of any race is an awe-inspiring sight. To see pigeons flying out of their cages and soaring across the skies homeward always leaves me enthralled," said Edwin Gladson, vice-president, Karnataka Homing Pigeons Society.
The first of these races between Anandpur and Bangalore (180 km), held by Bangalore's oldest club— the Karnataka Racing Pigeons Club— got off to a great start with 350 homers or homing pigeons competing.
"However, this was nothing compared to the numbers of pigeons competing in Chennai, which is currently considered India's Mecca for pigeon-lovers. But the good news is racing has definitely picked up in Bangalore and will continue to grow," said Gladson.
No prize money
The cost of transporting, logistics, and training involved in moulding these birds would leave most people stunned. Unfortunately, this rare sport provides no monetary incentives. Once a pigeon-lover gets addicted to the sport, he has to shell out his own money to quench his thirst for pigeon racing.
"A modest loft with 30-50 birds would cost about `15-25,000. Of course, I know there are those who have no qualms about investing even `2-3 lakh for their lofts. But my deep-rooted belief is that this sport should become a sport of the common man. There should be a spirit of camaraderie more than competing among the pigeon enthusiasts when it comes to breeding blue-blooded lines. It's a true, noble sport which needs more patrons than it has now," said Praveen Vijayaraghavan, who owns more than 250 pigeons in his loft.
The races from Akola and Nandid in Maharashtra to Karnataka ought to elicit considerable interest, because apart from the distance, the birds competing will also be the more seasoned long-distance flyers.
The last race mentioned ought to make you gasp in awe — as the swiftest or the 'Derby' class winners are expected to make a whopping distance of 1,240 km between Bangalore and Bhopal.
"Pigeon racing is the pastime in Belgium and the government provides so many incentives to pigeon breeders. But here in India, everything, including the cost of the race, the prizes, and the breeding of birds, is taken care of by the pigeon lovers. The sport will go a long way if only there's a little more encouragement from other quarters as well," said Dr Noel Kannan, a dentist and pigeon enthusiast with more than 250 pigeons in his loft.
Interestingly, in every race there are various categories, such as the undisputed winners, who would later go on to become 'Derby winners, the 'also-ran' birds who come back one week later, the slow-coaches who come back six months later and the ones who never come home at all.
"If a breeder happens to release 30 birds in a race, that is 15 fledglings and 15 older or more seasoned birds, it can be categorically said that while eight or 10 birds come back within the stipulated time, three or four pigeons take their own time getting back home and one or two birds get killed or lose their way home," said pigeon racer Chelliah, who has bred pigeons for more than 50 years.
Another interesting fact is the fine-tuning of the homing instincts that nature has blessed these pigeons with.
"Training starts early on. First, the birds are taken for a 5-km drive and released to see how they come back home. This is followed by a 15 km and 30 km drive, and then finally from the starting point of the races. So if our birds are in Anandpur race, then the training would start one month earlier. It's time-consuming, money-draining and a strain on other family members. But nothing can beat the joy you get out of this sport— the happiness when you see your bird comes swiftly back home," said Vijayaraghavan.