Gir Afternoon Safari – Through the Sanctuary with the lions (finally!!!)


DAY 2: 17th January 2011

The Gir Forest Reserve has one of the most dynamic teams which is dedicated to make the lion survive and also ensure that the flora and fauna alongside is intact if not increasing. There are so many initiatives and a constant check is kept on the health of the lions and their movement across the park.

Fact: 1. Although the Gir Sanctuary is 1412 sq km reserve, only a small part is open for tourists.

2. Ever since Amitabh Bacchan advertised for Sasan Gir, the footfalls have gone up tremendously. The local economy

makes 5 times in the peak season than what they do otherwise!! 😀 😀

It is also said that the best time to visit the Gir Sanctuary is in the summer months of April and May. But one would question this.

Q: Why should you go to Gujarat of all places and go on a safari in the sweltering heat of the Indian Summer??

A: The summer is the best time to see as many animals as you can because they all come out to drink water at various spots. Also, the summer is where lion spotting is at a peak.

Now your hotel probably reserves you the spot at the sanctuary for an ‘Afternoon Safari’ but they will definitely add their own charges along with it so if you have your own vehicle or are close to the Park, then I’d suggest you book your own safari.

The Safari charges are nominal (=Rs 1750) and it also include a guide who is sent with you to help you identify the various species that you manage to see. Often (=as we found out, always) the guide spots fauna for you, which are things that you wouldn’t even notice.

The guides are employed by the State Forest Department and are paid a fixed salary. (=which is minuscule). Also there are 6 routes that a jeep can take. Its 3 routes used back and forth. (=route 2 is also route 6 backwards)

The guides have their own code of letting the fellow guides know that a lion’s on their way so It is essential that you DO NOT tell people you meet about lions that you saw because it gets your guide in trouble.

So we decided to go on the afternoon safari on 17th Jan. The afternoon safari starts at 3:30 and you are out by 6. The park is shut in the evenings and nights and entry is prohibited with harsh punishments.

So by and by we were allotted Route 2 which is supposed to be the best route as far as lion sightings are concerned. Our guide was Abu Bhai (who tuned out to be a good friend). At 3:30 we set out for our Afternoon Safari.

At the gate, the guide is required to get the receipt and the vehicle permit checked so that no unauthorised vehicle goes into the Sanctuary.

As soon as we entered, we saw a peacock as if it was waiting to welcome us. The old jeeps we were travelling in made  quite a noise. All around us, there were trees covered with dust, with brown prevailing more than green.

Suddenly the guide, (=Abu Bhai) asked the driver to stop the jeep. We were quite puzzled as we couldn’t see any animal or bird. Then we saw a couple of paw prints in the dirt. Looking at the paw prints, Abu Bhai reckoned that a lioness with cubs had been on this way some while back which increased our chances of sighting a lion. The guides and the other forest officials do their best to make your safari worthwhile by showing you lions.

The Forest Department, in order to keep a strict watch on the lion population, sends trackers who play on their lives and follow the lions to check their movements and also keep a watch on their general health. If during your Safari, you run into a Tracker (like We Did 😛 :P) it means there is a lion/lioness/cubs nearby!!

We did see a lot of spotted deer, the ones that we saw in the Devaliya Interpretation Centre.  We also spotted a green bird and we drove through a small pond.

Then we noticed a basti (=settlement) of tribals called Maldharis. The Maldharis are tribal people who live inside the Gir Forest. They have been there for decades and they live in harmonious co-existance with nature. The Forest Department allows only the Maldharis to settle in the Sanctuary, this being their home for decades and does not allow others. Maldharis are mostly uneducated and work in menial jobs earning a pittance. But they have intimate knowledge about the forest and its functioning and are a valuable asset to the forest department. Yet, because of increasing population and the spread into deeper areas of the forest, the Department has a problem at its hand.

We took a turn at a point where you could see the hills and it was a beautiful sight. And there was a person who came out and spoke to Abu Bhai and to our delight it was a tracker which meant there were Asiatic Lions nearby. So we waited patiently. Also we noticed that there was a Forest Patrol Officer in the bushes. These officers patrol the tourist paths to make sure that the tourists do not stray and wander or litter. If you’re caught, then a strict procedure is followed I’ve heard.

Along with us there were a few others who were waiting, 2 other jeeps to be precise. And we had to wait there patiently for our turn as we tried out our new Sony camera

While we were waiting we ate a few chocolates (=Power Munchies) being careful not to throw the wrappers anywhere.

Even though it was around 4:00 it wasnt hot in the forest. The forest is densely packed with trees. shrubs and undergrowth of grass and other flora. So those act as natural temperature monitors. There was a time when we drove through a thicket of forest and the temperature drop inside the glade was almost 3-4 degrees.

well back to the lions. So we waited our turn and drove through to see a lioness playing with her cub, well it actually wasnt like that. The lioness simply looked bored while the cub poked, lazed and played with her. I guess the heat was bothering the mummy along with the cub because once she just grabbed a bite off the cub telling it to mind its own business.

The cub had a lazy stretch after which it playfully jumped at the mother again when the mother started playing with it too, biting and licking the cub. It was a real treat to watch. We were simply awestruck. I guess even among animals the relationship between the mother and child is same as us humans, (= remember our mothers playfully attacking us after we bugged them, see the same!!)

We could have stayed there forever watching this exchange but our driver took us ahead where a teen cub (=duh she was a little grown up, looked moody n didn’t indulge in games with the cub!!) Also she was hidden amongst some dry grass so we couldn’t get her picture properly and i know it was a she because she didn’t have a mane growing!!

After our lion fantasy, (=we were darn lucky few people get to see what we saw, lions playing with each other, a cub, etc etc) we drove on ahead. To our surprise (=and Super luck) there was another lioness ahead. But she was surrounded by jeeps with many people chattering as usual.

What I don’t understand is the need to converse and gossip among yourselves as if the animal u see is a model i mean you’re in the jungle so doesn’t it seem right to shut your trap for a while?? Amartya Sen rightly calls Indians argumentative, we feel the need to talk always even without reason.

Finally our guide got others to shut up. It wasnt a picnic at a zoo really. I urge tourists who have plans to go to Gir to please respect the place you are at, spare the jungle and save the chatter for afterwards.

We would have had a chance to see a third lion but the tracker said that the lioness (=in this case) was hidden and could move anytime so it wasn’t worth the drive. So we went on ahead.

As we drove on, we noticed a weird parrot like bird, i think it was called ‘Plum headed Parakeet’ or the like (=Sorry if i got the name wrong!) which Abu Bhai said was a rare sight. We also spotted a boar, (=which we found out was the lion’s dessert, a choosy pick over the deer or sambar that is preferred usually)  Also we saw an eagle (=A Lesser spotted Eagle as Google Images reveals)

We also spotted the ‘Ghost Tree’ (=Ooh Spooky).  It’s supposed to be a native to Australia but survives here because of migratory birds bringing seeds in their droppings.

We drove through a thicket of trees, also called as the ‘Dark Forest’ (=Aww quit it it was nothing like the Forbidden Forest)  and through red muddy tracks (=as opposed to brown tracks before) to make our way out of the Safari. On the way we also crossed a railway line, from i think Rajkot to Somnath that passes through the Sanctuary borders. It’s a narrow guage railway line and there was a station called Sasan, Gir \. That must make good watching, passing through the Sanctuary.

Thus ends our AFternoon Safari, First Lion(ess) Sighting and Encounter with Nature

Coming Up ASAP: Morning Safari, Drive to Somnath and others

Also notes on Turkey 😀 😀

The forest patrol bikes!! Pretty cool i’d think

a peacock at the entrance to greet us

The Road Ahead

Naughty Cub Poking Bored Mum

Mummy n Baby

Bored Model.

Lioness wid Pillu (=Cub)

Gir Forest beckons:-Part 1


What was a booking by compulsion turned out to be a short, power packed trip filled with tons and I mean tons of Wildlife n fun!!!

We never intended to actually go to Gir, we’d just booked 2 TENTS, yes tents at Club Mahindra, Gir because our days were scheduled to lapse. By chance we decided not to cancel the booking and make a trip out of it.

So this follows, the notes are BACK!!!

Day 1: 16th Jan, 2011 6:30 am

Our flight earlier scheduled for 5:30 am take off was delayed to 8:00 am (whew, more time for zzzzs). So early we woke and went to the airport for our JetLite not without a couple of donuts (M.O.D rocks!!)

Rajkot, a super small airport you’d probably not think of, was our destination. It’s funny to think of how the revolution and spread of airports and air connectivity has put small cities and towns on the national radar making them so much more easily accessible and reachable!!

Back to point, Rajkot is an hour from Bombay (I still like calling it Bombay,!!) and it being morning was chilly.

Outside the airport we met our driver and companion for the next 4 days, Sanjay, a gem to travel with, filled with many many anecdotes about life in a village and also very good knowledge about farming and crops (he could name every crop they grew there by just looking out of the corner of his eye)

Ha so we loaded the luggage and then found an authentic Gujju (read Gujarati) place that would serve us Sunday breakfast Rajkot style. We ended up having puris, fafda (excuse the spellings), gathia and some awesome cold carrot salad (=MasterChef Aus fans read coleslaw) and cold green chillies rubbed with salt. A classic way to start the day.

Now our destination was not Rajkot but a village called Sasan, which held the famous Gir Lion reserve being the only reserve in Asia to house the Asiatic Lion. Which happened to be about 4 hours drive I think.

On the way we could see the rural landscape transformed because of industry which had spread to even small villages. Nothing had been spared in the spread of industry and investment. There were areas which had developed into auto hubs, cotton ginning and spinning hubs and sugar hubs. Small pockets worked on their USPs and became industrial hubs bringing in higher incomes and consequently a better standard of life. All this was also helped by Amitabh Bacchan’s endorsement of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ inviting people to explore the state. Whatever people across the country may think about Gujarat the fact still remains that the men at the top (read Modi) have done a brilliant job to leverage on their unique features, use their capabilities to bring Gujarat on the global map (My Gosh, reading Business Standard is having an effect on me, I write like those people in the Opinion page lol)

Our first stop, Virpur, a place famous for the temple of Jalaram Bapu. The temple itself was pristine and small but the aura of the place was marred by many commercial establishments outside and beggars who’d follow you everywhere. I’d have to say the things on sale were interesting (=lots of trinkets, utensils, devotional items)

It is said that a devotee with a true heart who prays at this temple does not return disappointed. This explains the number of people who flock to the temple.It is also said that a person who visits the temple has to have the Prasad that they gave there. So we made our way to the place where devotees were given Prasad which turned out to be some Sweet Boondi, Sev and a Potato bhaji on the side.

Soon after we were driving across various towns and villages to our destination, Gir!!

*Sheepishly* I napped while we drove through Junagarh and I missed the stories our driver told everyone about the fort and the history of the place. I was up when we were very close to Sasan and where we’d left the National Highway and come into the lanes that would carry us to Club Mahindra.

But I did catch fields of wheat, tur dal, cotton and carrot!!. A special mention about carrot fields, carrot flowers are white, small and when in a field it looks like a white carpet!! Awesome!!! Also wheat fields look like a green carpet. And because we saw fields in patches that were sown at different points of time, they were in different hues of green. This monochromatic arrangement was a sight to see as well.

Our Tent Room

Ah finally we entered Sasan as the pic below shows. And drove quickly to Club Mahindra. I and Sachi grabbed a quick bite and made our way to the tents.

Now our tent wasn’t a typical tent (=it had an A/C, a proper bathroom, tiles and a bed….i was hoping for something more authentic but nonetheless)…Yeah, the tent didn’t have a door, we just had to zip it!!

So we settled into the tent pretty soon and then decided to explore the Fun Activities Centre. Club Mahindra always has a set of Fun Activities and this time they had cycles which we could ride on their property. CM Gir wasn’t a big property but it made a good ride.

 

Considering it was ages since I’d cycled, I was apprehensive but it turned out to be quite fun. After some initial bloopers, I had a fun time driving across the property. Sachi and my Dad also had a fun time with the cycles.

The Fun Activities centre also had a carom table, an ice hockey table, a TT table, and Chess. There was badminton and a Zorb thru which we could Zorb on water!!

While playing TT, my dad and sister were totally engrossed and one of the table legs was getting loose, so when my dad leaned across to play a shot, the TT table collapsed!! We were too surprised to react let alone capture the moment through the camera lens. We did have a lot of laughs after that!!!

We also walked across the property and outside. It becomes pitch dark after 6:45-7:00 and the air becomes chilly. The chilly walk was a lot of fun. We followed that up with badminton and then dinner (Club Mahindra style) and then retired with awesome plans for the next 3 days.

Coming Up: Gir Interpretation Centre, Devaliya

                      Afternoon Safari: Rendezvous with the Lions

Stay Tuned!!

Our Tent from outside