Life is all about experiences, and travelling to different places is one sure way to gain them.
One such experience that I was looking forward to, was Sasan Gir. One of India’s oldest sanctuaries and home to the majestic Asiatic lion. Gir National Park and Sanctuary, covers an area of 1412 sq km in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat and this dry and deciduous forest is teeming with flora and fauna, year round. But as luck would have it, something that was so close by always went further down on my bucket list while I took long and short trips to various other destinations.
Then, one weekend we worked up the spirit for an impromptu visit. We began our journey from Rajkot at late evening. We had decided to drive down from Rajkot to Gir as the roads are quite well maintained. What’s more, it would give us a chance to enjoy not only the scenic beauty of the countryside but also the architecture of the quaint towns of Gondal and Jetpur along the way. We reached our hotel and after a quick dinner retired to bed as we had an early morning safari booked.
It was still quite dark and chilly when we reached the Sinh Sadan for our safari. This is the starting point for all Jungle Trails. As we had already booked our tickets online, the wait was only around 30 minutes. Soon we were allocated a jeep and a guide. Our guide though quite young, started regaling us with stories about his past safaris. As we neared the starting point, we saw no more than handful jeeps waiting in line to get the permit signed. We were told that this ensures that the trails are not overcrowded and the serenity of the place is maintained. As the gates closed behind us, it seemed as if we had entered a magical land. The only sound was the silence. The forest was waking up from its deep slumber after a four-month hiatus when the park is closed to visitors. We had unknowingly booked one of the best days for the visit. The air was clean and pure and the smell of the forest mixed with the soil and the morning mist was like a soothing balm to our urbanite souls.
Our guide laid down some Dos and Don’ts, with the most important being – at no point in time should we step down from the jeep nor touch or pick anything from the forest. As our jeep moved into the forest, we saw the mist languidly rising from the ground and the visibility becoming clearer. The occasional chirping and fluttering in the trees made us swivel our heads to catch the glimpse of the winged creatures.
Just few minutes into the trail, we heard a distinct sound. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guide and the driver instantly alert, slowing down the jeep and scanning the surroundings. Before I could question, there was a blur and a dash not 10 feet from the jeep. I am sure that we all collectively stopped breathing for that friction of a second. We saw a massive shape standing obscured by trees and all we could see was the outline. Our guide whispered quietly that it was a leopard and called it a very lucky sighting as they are very rarely seen in the open. We lingered on for a few more minutes taking in the beauty of that creature as it shifted its position but did not linger much. Once away from the site, the guide explained that the sound we heard was the “distress call” of the deer, alerting its companions about the presence of a predator.
We continued driving at a leisurely pace and saw herd of deer standing beneath trees and the moment was picture perfect. We wanted to delay the moment and even got miffed when the guide urged us to click the pictures quickly. He explained that the deer population is quite large and we were bound to come across them again but if we lingered, we might lose the chance of a glimpse of the majestic lion.
The lions usually made their way back to their lair around dawn and stayed put till dusk. This bit of information mollified me and we began the journey forward. Halfway into the trail, we met another jeep coming from the opposite direction and the drivers exchanged a quick status on any recent sightings. It was almost dawn and we were now on the last leg of our journey when we saw two jeeps in the distance at a standstill. As we approached we were told that it’s a family of lions and were advised to keep very quiet. As our jeep inched forward we saw two lionesses playing with their cubs.
The young one oblivious to the gaping strangers tottered around its mother on wobbly legs. The others were stretched out under the tree not willing to give up their pride by shying away from our cameras. Seeing them from such a close range was a dream come true. Respecting their privacy, the forest officials asked the drivers to move on ahead, which they respectfully agreed. Too soon the remaining trail ended and we found ourselves at the outpost for our official departure from the sanctuary. As our jeep rolled out to civilization, I took a nostalgic look back and saw the gates closing on the riot of green on the ground while the sun began its ascent in the sky sprinkling the clouds with its orange hue.
We returned to the hotel and had a scrumptious late breakfast followed by a short drive admiring the mango orchards that line both side of the highway. This region is known throughout the world for the delicious variety of mangoes known as “Kesar”. We returned to the hotel for a quick lunch and were ready to say goodbye to the ethereal beauty of Sasan Gir but it seemed that Gir still wanted the last word.
As we rounded the corner that touches the highway, right on the edge of the path stood a deer with giant antlers; one of the biggest I have ever seen, nibbling on a shrub. The late afternoon sun shimmered on its smooth and golden skin seeming to create a halo around it. It looked right through us and I took it as a farewell and an invitation both rolled into one. The feeling of oneness with the nature will surely prevail till we visit again.
When to visit
Gir Sanctuary is open from mid-October to mid-June but closed during the monsoon months. Personally, I feel that after monsoon is the best time to visit as the forest is lush green and teeming with wildlife.
Checking with the Gir Online Permit Booking System before planning the trip is advisable to know the exact dates of closing and opening.
Where to stay
There are many different types of accommodations available. They range from budget hotel to luxurious ones. Some places worth checking out are:
Air: Keshod airport (90 kms)
Rail: Though Sasan has a railway station it is easier to take a train to Junagadh and then proceed to the Sanctuary by bus or taxi.
Road: Rajkot is 170 kms away and Junagadh is 80 kms away.
Places of interest nearby:
Jetpur: A well renowned place for block printing and dyeing. A must visit for textile enthusiasts and shoppers.
Somnath Temple: The Shiva temple is thought to be the most famous and antique Hindu religious shrine of India.
Girnar Hills: These group of hills are famous as pilgrimage spot for Hindus and Jains.
Junagadh: This ancient city has many eye-catching monuments, which reminds of its great history. One of them is the ancient fort, said to be built by Chandragupta of the Mauryan Empire around 320 BC. Hence the name Junagadh, meaning “ancient fort.”
Chorwad: The beach is a beautiful example of nature at its best. Along with walking on the rocky shores, you can also enjoy boat riding, horse riding, fishing etc.
Kamleshwar Dam: A very scenic place with a subtle backdrop of the sky and clear blue water. Really good for photography.