Going to Gujarat and not catching a glimpse of Asiatic Lions, the trip always stays incomplete !! They are one of a gem found only in Gir !!
Having had excellent luck in trying to catch a glimpse of Tiger, we were not so sure if we needed to halt at Gir for one day or two days.
Nevertheless, we booked one night and decided to do two safaris. Online booking for the safari has to be done here - http://girlion.in/. The site has two options to visit, Devalia Safari Park and Gir Jungle trail.
Devalia park is ten km away from Gir, and it is an observation center, so there will be a sure sighting of Lion. So, the master plan and my friend had was to do two safaris in the jungle trail, and if at all we are unlucky, head to Devalia, take pics of the lion and post it as mission accomplished: PQuick Info: Safari is Rs.800/- odd.
Upon reaching there per Jeep, the cost is Rs.1500/-. Per camera, the charge is Rs.300/-. Take the ID card you produced while booking along with you.
The bus from Una (we were heading from Diu) reached around 11 in the morning. Standing at the gates of the park, we both gasped as, throughout the way, it was dry thorny bushes filled land, Sasan as such was dusty, the gates looked like that of the zoo was no forest kind of atmosphere at all.
Once we showed the booking printout, the officers allotted the guide and the zone, and then we got onto the Jeep. The beauty of Gir forest is you can hire an entire jeep just for you. No nagging people along!
The air was dry, and it being winter, the trees had more or less shed their leaves. Peahens and deers passed by, but of course, my mind was all on the lion. We passed through a cowherd from the Maldhari tribe. They don't understand Hindi.
Maldhari community co-exists along with the Gir forest, meaning they live within the forest range and the lions and leopards.
Our driver Yasim added, "they and the lions have a treaty; they let the lion take a cow once in a while, and in turn, the lion does not disturb the village people."
The Jeep moved further while both the guide and the driver were watchfully looking out. We came near a waterhole plus a checkpoint, and the man at the checkpoint grinned at us. "You just missed the lion!" Yeah, of course! That is what usually happens. She just had water from the hole and moved into the bushes, and it seems he happily played the video he had shot.
Our guide immediately went 'meh like a goat repeatedly, and the lion roared! There! Some improvement! We heard it! After continuous mehhing and waiting, nothing happened. It roared and settled in.
Quick Tip: Tip the guide to show you have more interest in wildlife and not be taken for granted.
The beauty of Gir is the lions are very, very protected here. Almost every lion is closely inspected by the trackers and attended to when needed. So the safari guides and drivers are updated with sightings in a zone, if any by the trackers.
Our first sighting was, however, the Jackal. It was a killer one that stood for a while, and I was wondering if at all we are prey. It was a pack of three and were scampering on either side of the Jeep as to which way they should proceed.
I am done with Jackal, deers, plenty of peacock and peahen, langurs and some nilgais too!
Forest was teeming with so many animals. And then our guide got a call about a pride sighting. We moved towards the area to try our luck.
And thankfully, thankfully there!
A little away from the track, the mother lioness was watching as the jeeps approached. She was pretty cool with the Jeep and people; also, she was in a sleepy mode. It was a very unreal sighting. There wasn't a majestic walk, or the sudden emerging of the king of the jungle as such, nor fighting over the meal but a peaceful family eating their food and a tired mom has done with her job of feeding for the day.
A calm, serene scene of the lions amidst a quiet forest. Not how I wanted to see it. A young male also walked in to join the meal. After few snaps and done watching it, the driver insisted on moving on as it was getting late.
One has to be lucky to see a mother with five cubs and enough time to stand by and shoot. But something was still missing. Nevertheless, we thanked our guide and driver, and that is when he screeched on the brakes!
A leopard darted super fast right in front of our Jeep. It was huge and heavy!
The earth shook underneath, and my heart was now in my throat. I could not take my eyes from him and the majestic beauty that just thumped around and turned to look. It was too quick and too surreal a moment that I couldn't take any picture. By the time it soaked in and I settled down in my seat, my friend was as bewildered as me, and our excitement knew no bounds. Our very first safari, and it was so very rewarding already.
Quick Tip: Take the early morning safaris for better sightings. Our next safari was the early morning 6 am one. It was still dark, and we quickly drank hot tea, hoping it would help us with the biting cold, didn't help much.
The forest was dark, and I was wondering what can one sight in it! Our driver stopped at a place where the lion pride crossed yesterday, and we were eagerly waiting for the same to happen! There was a paw mark, and nothing else happened.
Lion would have thought not to blink on our face early in the morning, maybe. We deviated a little into another path, and our guide's sharp eyes spotted a leopard! Gir, I love you! He ducked so much that I could hardly make out where he is. He ran back and forth and hid for nearly half an hour strategically among the dried leaves, perfect camouflage.
The poor herd of deer walked happily, munching on leaves, not knowing they would turn into a meal. I was surprised to see how they never noticed and how the leopard patiently waited for another half hour even after they came so close.
And then, in a blink of an eye, a rustling of leaves, the high shrill barking of deers, some ran towards our Jeep in panic, I could hardly figure out where the leopard was now, and then he again darted past our Jeep in full speed with his breakfast. For the next hour, we saw him happily eating it.
Let me tell you how lucky we are, cos very little time I get to show off when it comes to my luck in safaris. While the leopard was camouflaged, two jeeps passed by; they thought we are nut heads to wait, and they moved on - losers, missed hunting of leopard!!
While it was peacefully eating its meal, a jeep with big DSLR people came, and they were not in a good place to take pictures.. buhahaha, I got an incredible view!
And and... In the very next turn, we saw its brother sitting on a creek!!
Can you believe that!!
Another jeep came in, and we showed them the leopard they could not even make out where it is!! While our eyes were now trained by our guide and driver to spot quickly.
Here is the picture of the brother...
He was not happy, and they had a fight, it seems.
Our Gir safari was a very satisfying one. The forest is rich! If not lion, you will get to see leopards. After passing by peacocks and monkeys and deers, we bid goodbye to Gir and started towards our next destination Somnath. By the way, if you have plenty of time to kill, walk down to Sasan Gir railway station. It is like something out of Malgudi Days.
We caught a train to Veraval from there, just my friend sitting in the station hearing a peacock's shrill at a distance and me.
Such a blissful place.
Quick Tip: Ask for Yasim and Bashir, super sharp eyes and skills they have to track the animals.