Continued from Somnath
Today we will be travelling to Gir, the land of Asiatic lions. It is just 45km from Somnath and we need to reach there by noon. So there is nothing to hurry. We wake up lazily and get ready by 10AM. The taxi had already arrived by that time. Quickly we check out and say good bye to Somnath. The focus shifts from religion to wildlife!! The journey took us an hour and by 11 AM we were at our resort in Sasan Gir!!
The only reason people come to Gir is to see lions and we were no exception. We had just two days to spare and decide to utilize it completely. We will be going on all four safaris. Whether we see lion or not but that is the only way to enjoy Gir forests!!
Some information about Gir
Gir National forest is the only place in the world where you see Asiatic Lions in wild!! And it is also only place where Lions roam freely in India. Forest department allows 3 safaris per day. They are between 6AM – 9AM, 9:30AM – 12:30PM and 3PM – 6PM. The timing varies a little in summer. A limit of 45 Jeeps per safari is imposed by forest department. There are 8 safari routes and each Jeep will be assigned one of them. There is no online booking facility for safari. Permits are given 24 hours before at forest department Office at Sasan Gir. Standing in queue for permits can be tedious and painful as Gir always is overcrowded with tourists. And then the Jeeps need to be hired. The hotels or resorts take care of permits if informed in advance. They charge an extra for their service.
For seeing Lions in captivity, one can go to Gir interpretation zone at Devalia. Lion sighting is guaranteed but it is very similar to Banneraghatta National Park in Bengaluru.
The two safaris were uneventful. In first safari, we just saw few sambar deers and peacocks. The driver and guide seemed to be incompetent for their job. I was outraged when I saw the Jeep driver smoking “beedi” in middle of the safari. Such people should be banished from the forests. The guide seemed to be lost and remained aloof throughout the safari. After safari, I clearly told the resort people that I would not like to see those two people again!!
My wife and daughter decide not to come for morning safari on next day. I shared the Jeep with an American couple. This time we get the best driver and guide. But unfortunately luck was not our side. We saw pug marks of a lion that passed ahead of us a few minutes ago. The best sight of the morning safari was a family of wild boar!!
The first lion sighting
I was bit frustrated by the end of second safari. Lions are less shy compared to tigers but the animal was elusive for me. It took me several years to sight a tiger but then there are many forests still where tigers are found. But to see lion, I have to come back to Gir!!
But things began to turn better in third safari. The first lion sighting was to happen. It was a huge male lion sleeping after a heavy meal!! To our luck it was sleeping very near to the road. The forest department people were not allowing all Jeeps to surround the lion. They made sure that only one vehicle is allowed at a time near the lion. It was surprising to see the lion sleeping unmindful of noises created by humans outside.
The second lion
And we saw the second lion after some time. A tracker informed about a lion sitting on top a hillock. The Jeep takes a detour from the safari route to go near the lion. Again, this lion was least bothered about human presence. What surprised me was that the tracker and guides getting down from the vehicle and walking. This was a common sight in Gir where guides get down from the vehicle to see the lion. Such things do not happen in tiger territory!!
And while coming back we again see the sleeping lion. The lion had now moved very close to the road and was getting ready for another “day”!!
Lions and more lions!!
It was the third day in Gir and also my last safari. The jungle was very silent with only noise coming from the Jeep. A lady in the Jeep asks the driver to stop the vehicle to take photograph of a spotted deer. And I see something yellow creature moving far away. A lion!! Driver also sees it at the same time and immediately pushes the accelerator. It was a male lion walking on the road. We follow it from behind at a respectful distance.
And then a second lion joins it!! I mistake it for a lioness but guide informs be that it was a young male without mane. But by now more Jeeps start coming in. The lions do not like it and drift away.
But still one of them walks on the road and we follow. The two jeeps behind us overtake from both sides and go very near to the lion. The lion shows its anger and comes very near to our vehicle. Seeing lion from an open Jeep at such a close distance was too much. Scolding other drivers for foolishness, our guide asks the driver to reverse the vehicle. The lion gets some space to move in and quickly joins the other one. And then they slip into the forest.
This was the greatest time in my Gujarat trip. I had never expected to have such an experience. The experience during last 5-10 minutes will never be forgotten!!
Few minutes later, we see a leopard hiding behind a bush. But the leopard never came out of the bush.
Unlike Africa (though I have not seen) where there are grasslands, Gir is a forest and hence lions sighting are not guaranteed. The best time to visit is the summer months when scarcity of water makes the animals to concentrate at few water holes. The park is closed during monsoons.
There are plenty of hotels and resorts in Sasan Gir. One can choose any depending on his budget. Sinh Sadan forest lodge maintained by Government is the best choice and also the most economical one. But booking procedure is complicated.