Gir had long been pending on my bucket list and this spring when an extended weekend – owning to Holi (an Indian festival of colors) and Easter – presented an opportunity, we set off for the heartland of the Asiatic lions and the savannah styled sanctuary of black bucks in Velavadar. Starting from Mumbai late in the evening, we covered the 800 Kilometers drive to Sasan Gir through Rajkot in less than fifteen hours. We had booked our accommodation in Maneland Jungle Lodge and after a little rest and a quick lunch we headed for Sinh-Sadan, where the action was set to begin.
Sinh- Sadan in Sasan Gir is the reception centre from where the safari starts. Our guide told us that in summer, the morning safaris are the best to spot lions when the temperature is much cooler and there are movements especially near the waterholes, but during the day or the afternoon safari, as our case was, spotting lions may become difficult owning to little or no activities because of high temperatures. Even though we were warned, my heart kept beating in anticipation of an encounter with the majestic creatures.
Gir is the largest dry deciduous forest of western India. The Jungle was parched and devoid of any canopy and in absence of which the sun beat mercilessly sending the temperatures, which we later found,to the alarming limits of 43 degrees. The dusty path meandered through the jungle and we went around places where our guide expected to show us some interesting inhabitants.
First came an owl to welcome us in the jungle. Then we saw several birds including plum headed parakeets, eagle owls Indian peafowl and herds of spotted deer and which kept their distances from us. The safari went on for a very long time until we started to feel that it would end without presenting us a chance to see what we were most keen to see.
Atlast, at the fag end of our safari, when we had almost lost all our hopes, we came to a place where we could managed to spot the outlines of a lioness, strolling through jungle. We waited there for some time and soon it walked towards us and was closely followed by the others of her pride. There were almost eleven of them, all looking quite gentle and harmless after their afternoon siesta.
One of the cubs even got a little curious and came very close to us to say hello, although under adult supervision. They were now almost within ten meters from us revealing themselves in style.
It was almost time to leave the park, but we hanged around for some more time. Unlike most people, who appear to be more interesting in social media than they are in real life, these lions were quite opposite and retained our excitement till the very end. Witnessing the Asiatic lions in the last stretch of their natural habitat was indeed a transcending experience and contented, we advanced towards the exit gate.
A happening night in the hotel
We were pretty tired after the previous overnight drive and wanted to retire after an early dinner. The vegetarian food of Maneland Jungle Lodge was simple yet tasty. Incidentally, it was also a full moon night and the hotel, which is situated at a secluded corner of the buffer zone of the park, looked wonderful basking in the silver light. We were jazzing around in the hotel campus, when we were informed by an attendant about some surprise visitors. We hurried and were amazed to discover that an entire pride of lions had appeared just outside the boundary wall! The owner later told us that though lions visiting the lodge is infrequent, but leopards are very common. It may be sheer luck that those elusive lions which tested our patience during the safari, revealed themselves again at the hotel, but in case you are visiting Gir, you now know where to head for your accommodation!
Hitting the road again
The next day we had a lazy breakfast and decided to call off the visit to Devalia Park and headed straight for Velavadar. We had hardly covered 25 Kilometers since Gir, when we ended up landing in a desolated place on road to drive on but a stretch of dirt track. I had my heart in my mouth negotiating this stretch of dirt tracks and barren fields for more than ten kilometers until our dear friend Mr. GPS bailed us out of this predicament.
The Velavadar National Park
We reached Velavadar shortly after lunch. The Blackbuck National park in Velavadar is the only grassland of the country which has been declared as a National Park. Blackbucks, blue bulls, wolves, hyenas and several species of birds have make this their home. We went to the forest guest house for some rest and around 4 o’clock went out in our car for a safari around the grassland.
The way through the Blackbuck National Park.
We saw several of them grazing, resting, or playfully running around in the grassland. In case if you are thinking that blackbucks are just another species of antelopes and are not something that would interest you, I would ask you to hold on! Untill you have seen them in their full-fledged action it would be very erroneous to conclude that they are just another species of antelopes.
As we went round the grassland, we came across a distant cousin of the Gir lions sitting quietly. It was a jungle cat who did not anticipate us and softly melted in the grass when we approached it. The day ended shooting several nilgais (blue bull) who are also abundant in the park and came pretty close to us.
The Morning Safari
The Morning safari was special, as we caught the blackbucks in action. This time we decided to walk and after some time came upon a waterhole, where an entire herd had gathered to drink. This waterhole is situated at one corner of the grassland, while the track ran through the grassland separating the waterhole from the rest of the grassland . As we approached the waterhole, these otherwise shy creatures started running across the track to get away from us. Not only did they just run, but also displayed remarkable agility in terms of leaps! The larger bucks jumped almost six feet from the ground in order to cross the track while the doe were neither far behind in executing their skills.
Anyone who would witness these spectacular show would realize that these blackbucks are special. Excessive hunting had reduced their numbers to mere 200 in the seventies but now that they have found a home for themselves and are protected they are again a happy community of 4000 plus.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. What do you think of stepping out?
For more pictures visit : https://heritagehiker.wordpress.com/picture-gallery-3/parks-of-gujarat/