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Gir National Park

Initially when I started my expedition with a miniature pocket-candy – a 5 megapixel camera, only the big cat would allure me to visit jungles, until I actually started understanding and cherishing the wildlife in toto. The fascination of seeing a Lion (particularly the Male one, with glistening mane and persona) was only after I saw Lion King - the animation movie, and yes, funnily enough, after I realized there is even another big cat besides our own royal bengal tiger! 

We headed for Junagarh by Saurashtra Mail during our extended diwali weekend. We drove about 60 kms to our abode for the next 3 days “Gir Birding Lodge” in Sasan. An exquisite property sharing the same boundary wall with the Gir National Park and situated next to the Gate No. 2 check post.







Gir is one of the largest tracks of dry deciduous forest. The park has a vast landscape covering hills, plateaus, valleys and is drained by seven rivers and a waterbody called Kamleshwar dam which makes the topography of the forest picturesque.









I guess it’s not hard to spot a lion resting or sleeping at Gir National Park, but to find them with a kill, or drinking water needs some patience and lots of luck!

Unlike Tigers, lions are family animals and 2 male brothers can stay together, share lionesses and territories.

MA Wynter-Blyth, a famous naturalist pointed this fact. He said, “The lion is much bolder, more fearless of man and less cunning than the tiger and so is much more easily shot. This explains the disappearance of the noble animals from all its other Indian haunts whilst the tiger manages to maintain its numbers.”

The ideal way to look for a lion is through pug-marks and alarm calls. There are no Lion shows like Bandhavgarh or Kanha, but the Rescue team of the Gir forest does an early round to locate the lions / groups and check if there is any medical/emergency need.





We spent two days at Gir National Park in Gujarat - the last abode of the Lions in India – and had three lion sightings on the first day itself. Wonder how? Well, I guess it had something to do with the park being less packed with less of noise during the morning safari at 6:30 AM. We got ready for our first session in the forest. The sky was jet black and it still felt midnight at 6:30 AM with the temperature as low as 10 degree Celsius. Ours was the first jeep to enter the forest. This was just right as we could spend more quality time undisturbed photography of wildlife not alarmed by the noise made by tourist vehicles.










 

 


 

As we ventured deeper into the forest carpeted with golden wild grass and jade bushes all around, we could feel our pulse beating faster; we kept camera at the ready.




The first female we spotted in our safari was fast asleep at quiet a distance; with no more movement there, our guide suggested we move on for the lookout of others and soon we were able to locate the two personas just a leap or two away. We felt the first chill of the trip up our spines. 

 






 
We could not afford to miss spotting a few of Sambar, Spotted Deer, Chowsingha (Four-horned Antelope), Chinkara, Nilgai, Langur and a Jackal on route 2,6.







 




Gir boasts of numerous bird species like White Necked Stork, Paradise Flycatcher, Black headed Cuckoo Shrike, Bonneli's Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Painted Storks, Pied Woodpecker, Woodpeckers Flamingo etc. And as someone rightly said, that if there were no lions at Gir, it would have been the country’s biggest bird sanctuary! We spotted many of such rare species of birds along our way back.

















 Gir is also home to a number reptiles like Marsh Crocodiles, Monitor Lizards, Pythons and a wide variety of snakes. No, we did not spot any. But hey, we don’t regret, after all we saw what we came to Gir for – the lion king!

Contented with having spent enough time with the lions (wouldn’t mind spending some more but then we have to adhere to park timings), we went back to the hotel to rest and get ready for the next day.


Around 7:30 PM the next evening, while having a good time over coffee and phaphra, we heard our security guard of the resort yelling at the security guard standing at the check post of the forest next to our resort gate, “એક ચિત્તા છે ! પાછા પગલું !” (There is a leopard! step back!). We came running to the main gate and all we could see was the tail of the leopard. The security guard at the check post told us later that night that leopard is a shy animal as far as human beings are concerned unlike lions.  It came out of the wild, crossed the tar road ahead of resort and quickly slinked away into the thickets without giving us anytime to track it down.


The exceptional side to Gir is that it houses the local tribals – Maldharis- cattle grazers who live upon cattles and milk, Sorathi Rabaris and Siddi’s who look like Negros and speak Gujarati and are believed to have come to Gujarat in medieval times from African countries. Ideally, Maldharis and Lions stay together in the same domicile - the Gir forest.


However, please be aware that there is strict following of a route. For eg. if you are allotted route No. 2, you have to be there and follow the same till the exit. Gir allows 30 Jeeps per safari, which is lesser, but across 3 timings 90 jeeps are okay. But in the peak season like summer, this would become a key challenge from tourists’ perspective in peak season like summer.


So, overall 3 days in Gir alone should be a great fun for sure. But if you act like a staunch tourist wanting to cover Diu, Somnath, Veraval, Junagadh, Gir etc. in all the 3 days, then, my recommendation is don’t insult and bother Gir all the way – please visit the zoo or circus nearby to see the Lion!









 

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