Sasan Gir, the land of the wild and the free, the savage and the beautiful, where the endless dry and arid grasslands are rife with game, – lions prowling, the magnificent lions with their imposing mane and a stunning variety of some of the magnificent specimens of wildlife found anywhere else on earth. It is at this place that we headed for as part of our wildlife safari tour from the Indian Institute of Travel & Tourism Management, New Delhi.
The tour comprised of ten students who would be the future wildlife tourism experts of India along with a tour coordinator from the Institute. As we embarked upon our Gir Lion Safari, we were all starry eyed and pumped up for one of the biggest wildlife experiences of our lives.
We reached Sasan Gir at the break of dawn after a tiresome journey involving both rail and coach travel. We checked in at the magnificent Gir Lodge which is run by the Taj Group. The Gir Lodge is ideally situated at the edge of the world renowned Gir forest. After refreshing ourselves, we had our brunch and surprisingly it started raining. We were told by the bell boy that it hadn’t rained for almost a year and that we were indeed lucky.
When the showers come to this land, it puts on a show no entertainer can ever recreate. The trees wore a fresh, washed look, the animals new coats and the earth took on the distinctive smell of fresh rain. Truly wizardry at work!
After lazing around in the balcony for almost an hour, we decided to go out into the wilderness of Gir. As our coach proceeded towards the sanctuary, an overwhelming sense of peace engulfed us. At times it felt like we were in a very fortunate place, far from the din and bustle of metropolitan India. Here we were slowly and gradually embracing the evergreen forest cover.
Midway we saw a herd of deer grazing in the grassland. And much to our delight, the herd came close to the marshy area bordering the road.
Our guide instructed us not to make any noise as the deers might get distracted and flee from the scene. We made no noise all right, but I must tell you that there was frenzied clicking of cameras, which would serve as great take-away-home memory.
One full day lay ahead of us and our Tour Guide had planned a trip to the heart of the jungle. It is said that the real beauty of Gir forest unfolds if one goes deep inside the dry arid forest.
Besides lions, other animals found are the rare and elusive Leopard, Jungle Cat and Rusty Spotted Cat. Among the prey species are the Cheetal, Sambhar, Four Horned Antelope, Wild Boar and Hare. Gir also is home to Peacocks and Parakeets. With more than 200 species of avia-fauna, Gir is a bird watcher’s delight. The dazzling lakes and rivulets enhance the aesthetic beauty of Gir. We were especially fascinated by the sheer immensity of the Indian Buffalo.
Not far from the dirty road, our driver pulled up – “Lion” ! he said pointing to his right suddenly. The animal sprang forward with lightening speed and the next instant it had a “dik-dik”, the smallest member of the antelope family, hanging limp in its powerful jaws. The encounter was brief, dramatic, savage and yet strangely beautiful rather than cruel. This is the place where the place where the real action took place in a three dimensional and unedited splendor just in front of our eyes.
As darkness enveloped the sky our driver suggested us to return to the Lodge. We reluctantly headed back to the resort with my buddy Amit who was aping a few numbers from U2’s “Joshua Tree” album. From the lawn inside our Lodge, we looked across the herd of buffaloes and further ahead we could hear the haunting call of the wild. We were tired but at the same time were nostalgic as we sat beside a log fire reminiscing the day’s adventure.
After a good night’s sleep, we refreshed ourselves and had a light breakfast. We were ready for our journey to the core area of the forest. We were told that Gir was a mosaic of woods, grasslands, swamps and streams with unparalleled diversity of flora and fauna. We were shown a salt lick on the banks of a rivulet where a herd of Deer had come to lick the salt to quench their thirst. That day the word “Eden” took on a new meaning. There was silence everywhere and not a soul could be seen. It was hauntingly wild and beautiful.
Silhouetted against the rising sun, a hot air balloon rose into the sky on its aerial safari. As we drove around drinking in the sights and sounds of the forest, we came to realize that Sasan Gir is more than a tourist attraction. It is one of the few places where nature dictates the code of life.
Gir authorities and resort owners recognize this fact and you find appeals to visitors not to crowd or disturb animals. In fact, conservation authorities in an impromptu session informed us of the ways and means in which they are redefining wildlife conservation in Gir Forest. According to Y.S.Sharma, an Investigating Officer of the Ministry of Tourism – “Tourism is important to the economy, but in Gir or for that matter in any of India’s Wildlife Reserves and Parks, the animals have the right of way”. And indeed they do.
The District Administration, the academics, the technocrats and the elected representatives have all taken an active interest in helping to make the Gir conservation project successful. Coordinating Committees for protection, detection, investigation and follow-up have been set up involving all the law enforcement agencies both from the state and central government. Meetings are held periodically, information exchanged and strategies worked out and implemented jointly. The project has successfully checked illegal trade of animals as well.
Meanwhile, during the course of our discussions with the Forest Officer, from a distance we could see a group of wildlife photographers arrive on a Gypsy. They had gone early in the morning deep inside Gir to have a glimpse of the rare and elusive Lions. The leader of the group – Nicholas from WWF India was ecstatic for he has had his feel with the camera capturing these elusive Lions of Gir forest.
By the time it was late afternoon, we decided to take some rest near a sparkling rivulet. Meanwhile, two lionesses had crept up to the left of the coach and since we all had our heads turned to the right, staring at the male, they stood barely a meter away looking into the front left window. Once the male settled down, my friend Sachin turned around and found himself staring into the mouth of one of the lionesses, which happened to be yawning. Scary stuff indeed!
A little ahead, we came across another lioness with the most adorable cubs. They were rolling and jumping about and generally enjoying the carefree days of their lives before they start thinking about going out hunting their own food.
Back at the Lodge, we discovered that two other groups had also encountered the same lioness and were raving about their magnificent manes.
All that trail walking and outback touring was great fun indeed and Ananda our cook was basting a butterfly-boned leg of a lamb on the barbecue, with his secret marinade as we climbed the lawn. Thrilled by our adventure we planned some action that night and approached the Taj management for a mid night bash. All of us had to drape in white. Liquor flowed freely and the table brimmed with goodies. Tribal dancers performed a dance to the percussion beat of native Gujarat. A starlit dinner was exactly what the doctor ordered to finish off a truly memorable Gir Safari. Memories of Gir will linger on for a lifetime.
Traveler’s Fact File: Nearest Airports are located at Rajkot at a distance of 150 Kms, Ahmedabad at 381 Kms and Diu which is all of 104 Kms from Gir Forest. The nearest international airport is Mumbai which is well served by routine British Airways flights.
The nearest Railway Station is Sasan Gir just a few kilometers away and Junagadh which is a mere 65 Kms away.
Accommodation: The Gir Lodge has 19 Standard non-AC rooms, 8 Superior AC Rooms and 2 luxurious Suites. All rooms have attached bathrooms with running hot and cold water. The restaurant serves delicious Indian and Continental cuisine from 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For further information on Gir National Park please feel free to contact