Day 5 (28/11/2019) – Gir National Forest and Diu
Gir National forest is the only abode of the Asiatic Lions and there are 523 of them as per 2015 census living in a 22,000 sq km area across eight districts. At least 200 of these are living in unprotected areas outside the sanctuary because they don’t have their own areas to rule within the sanctuary. There are about 450 leopards also here but they are not sighted normally.
There are two kinds of safaris – Gir Jungle Trail, a 3 hours Jeep Safari, and Devalia half hour Bus/ Gypsy safari. Gir Jeep safari is in an open jeep in a vast area to spot animals in their natural habitation whereas Devalia bus safari is in a small area where some of the rogue animals that created havoc in the neighbouring villages are kept in a fenced area (a sort of punishment area) and are fed (not in natural habitation). So, for people who were disappointed in not spotting any lion in the Gir jungle trail, Devalia is a sort of consolation safari where you can definitely see many of them.
Permit booking for the Safaris:
Book both safaris only through GSLCS (Gujarat State ????) https://girlion.gujarat.gov.in/Index.aspx
Forest department issue 100% of permits online in advance of 4 months. NO SPOT BOOKING is available and so DON’T GET DISAPPOINTED by going there straight without prior booking. The rules are being followed very strictly and so there is no room for bribe, broker, private parties etc., Online permit booking is based on per jeep basis. You have to pay only the permit charge per Jeep of Rs 800 (for any no of person upto 6) and get the permit by email. On the day of safari, additionally you have to pay the Jeep Charge of Rs 1700, Guide charge of Rs 400, and camera charge of Rs 200 if any. One Jeep can accommodate a maximum 6 adults and 1 child. Age between 3 to 12 years is considered as child and more than 12 years as adult. If number of adults are less, then more children can be added. You have to give the ID card details of every person at the time of online booking. You can not do any modification to the booking, If you have to add any other person later to the same booking, you have to cancel the existing booking (cancellation charges apply) and do a fresh booking only.
There are 3 timings for Jeep Safari on each day – 6:45 to 9:45 AM, 8:30 to 11:30 AM; and 3 to 6 PM. For each trip only 50 jeeps at the maximum are allowed. It’s a 6+2 (driver and guide) open jeep without any protection at all!
Devalia bus safari booking also should be done from the above site and it is chargeable on a per person basis.
The travel time between the entry points of the two safaris is about 20 minutes and so you have to book the timing accordingly.
Gir Jungle Safari
At the time of Safari:
On the day of Safari, you have to report half an early to the starting point “Sinh Sadan”. There is ample parking facility for visitors’ vehicles. First you have to submit the online permit and the ID cards of each person for verification along with the payment for Jeep (Rs 1700), Guide (Rs 400), and camera (Rs 200) if any (you can take mobile freely). After ID verification and payment, you will be allotted an approved Jeep along with a driver and a Guide. IF you don’t know Hindi, you can request for an English speaking Guide. Then you have to go with the guide to another counter to get a route allotted. There are totally 13 routes and you will be allotted any route randomly (you cannot influence for any route). We were allotted Route no 12. There is no route as good route and lions can come in any route depending upon your luck. Further the routes are not completely independent and they are overlapped. For example, a part of the ongoing route of one route can be a part of the return trip for another route and vice versa. There are route sign boards at every junction. You are not be allowed to take any plastic items and only metallic water bottles are allowed. If you don’t have one, you can get one by paying some caution deposit (and your guide has to sign for it) and you can get back on return. You may want to avoid all these hassles and take metallic water bottles.
Even the forest rangers who roam around singly in bikes are allowed only lathis (no guns) and that too they are allowed to use only on defense in case of emergency. If such is the case, you can imagine what kind of protection the Jeep travelers will have. ABSOLUTELY NONE! We expected that some sort of protection will be there for emergency and so this was an unexpected shock and started shivering already but having booked for this and coming thus far we had to face the reality anyway. Well, that is also what people wanted to experience here! The message by the guide that “Lions are not man eaters” was a consolation to start with but he also added “there are about 450 leopards also here and they are man eaters!”
If you are going in the 6:45 AM safari, please put on heavy cloths because it will be very chill in the morning hours. Also wear only light coloured cloths because the animals don’t like dark colours like Red.
The Jeeps were standing in queue for the gate to open and come 6:45 sharp, the gates opened and every jeep rushed for the first sight. There were about 5 jeeps full of young rangers from various places of the country came for training purpose. We started without any rush. The early morning sun rays, water streams crossing the road, birds catching the fishes were all enchanting scenes to start with. Our young guide was very good and friendly explaining the forest and the lion behavior on the way. Before start, he didn’t commit for sighting a lion but said “there is a good chance in this hour”. He said out of 50 jeeps only 3-4 might sight lions. On the way, we saw peacocks, deer, a Blue bull – also called as Nilgai etc., but everyone was keenly looking for the sighting of our friend.
Just like that, all of a sudden we spotted one in front of us in about 50 feet, might have just come from the bushes sideways and entered the road. Wow, what a sight it was! Our hearts stopped beating and some slight shiver was there in us with an absolute pin drop silence. It was doing its morning walk and the driver started following it very closely in about 15 feet distance. At times it turned back and noted us but didn’t care (respect) us. It was also roaring every now and then. The guide was telling that it is called “territory marking”. The lion population has increased and so the area of Kingdom for each is a problem. They have to do this to pronounce and retain their area of kingdom. Here, the lion, by roaring informs the other lions that it is her area and no other lion is allowed inside. It also go to the side and smells some areas to check the trespassing of other lions. Also, it urinates to indicate the marking of its area. So, the lion was doing a majestic morning walk with all these acts and we were just following for about 10 minutes. Soon 2 more jeeps followed and one idiot with good acceleration sound overtook us to go in front. Maybe it got irritated by the sound, it went into the side bushes. We switched off the engine and waited since the lion was still in our sight at about 20 feet distance.
And then…. the unexpected and the most enjoyable animal experience of our life time happened. The lion after waiting for some time in the bushes, again started moving towards us straight looking into our eyes! My son and my wife were sitting on the lion side and my son got terrified. He asked the driver to start moving saying “Chalo, Chalo”. The guide said “NO, just keep calm and sit still”. Everyone was shivering and sweating. The lion came straight to my wife and son side of the jeep at 2 feet distance and started moving to the front to lead us again in its morning walk. Woops, we sighed! But by this time the other jeep was in front and one more at the back. The lion’s walk with roar and our following was repeated again for another 10 minutes and then it side tracked into another road at a cross junction, may be that is her area. Unfortunately that road didn’t fall in our route (actually that was our return route) and we were not allowed to deviate from our route and so we waited till it disappeared from our sight and continued our safari.
Everyone started breathing normally and OMG, what an amazing experience it was! The guide told that it was his best experience in job and you can imagine how lucky we were! Though I was having only a normal scare, my body was trembling for 15 minutes is a fact, maybe the morning chillness, maybe the fear, I don’t know. After that we were on cloud nine and the next few hours of talking point was nothing but our encounter with the lion.
There are two designed areas within the sanctuary separated by a public road and it was amazing to see people were performing their normal life in 2 wheelers like going to schools etc., It only shows how lions are harmless until you disturb them and they don’t have any issue to live together with humans.
We then crossed the public road to enter the 2nd zone which also had the security check. There was a railway line also passing through the national park and the trains are allowed to go only at a designated speed. We then went to Kamaleshwar lake where we were given toilet breaks. It’s a vast lake that provides ample water for the entire national park. There is a watchtower from where you can have a bird’s eye view of the entire area. We then proceeded with the safari and saw more deer and a Sambar deer.
At the end, we got a feeling that a message was delivered by the lion that “I’m not so fearful as you think but on the other hand very friendly as long as you don’t harm me, so don’t fear me”. It’s true that at the end, we earned an affectionate animal friend!
Devaliya Bus Safari
After completing the Sasan Gir Jeep safari at 10 AM, we had already booked another safari, Devaliya Bus Safari, starting from some other place, called Gir Interpretation Zone (GIZ) at 20 minutes’ drive. It was a mini bus safari for just half an hour scheduled at 10:30. There is a vast open area where the animals were roaming freely. We saw about 5 jackals fighting for an animal prey that might have been just killed. A lion and a lioness were sleeping lazily under the shadow of a tree in the open area. We waited for a few minutes but there was no symptom of them waking up. The interesting part of Devalia park is a compounded area with a moat around it where plenty of lions and leopards are kept. This is sort of a punishment area for the rogue animals which created havoc for cattles and humans in the surrounding villages. They are not in natural habitation here but are fed. This is a sort of consoling safari for people who didn’t spot any lion during the Gir Jungle safari because you can anyway spot plenty of them here.
The area of the bus safari starting point has a small restaurant, souvenir shop, amphitheater etc., We had some best homely poories and other stuff as brunch there.
By 12 noon, we started for our next destination, Diu. On the way, we bought some Gir Agri products like Jaggery and mango fruit pulp. My wife was very impressed with the Jaggery and even ordered more after reaching Chennai. Around Gir, the roadside was full of shops selling Gir Agri products.
On the way, stopped at Hotel Jalaram, a food court and a chain of hotels at Pransli for a tea break. Reached Hotel Apar at Diu by 3:45 PM where we booked our room. The hotel was good. By 5 PM we started for sightseeing round. We went to Diu fort and then to beach where there were plenty of water sports. Diu, as a union territory looks another Pondicherry with clean roads and a long beach. If you go with kids you can enjoy a lot in the beach otherwise, there is nothing there for 50+. There are good hotels in Diu, and one in front of our Hotel Apar itself was good.
Originally we planned from Gir to Bhavnagar and night stay at Bhavnagar to visit Nishkalank Mahadev Temple. It’s a group of shiv lingams which will be covered with sea water normally and will be uncovered when sea water recede during particular timings everyday. The timing at which the lingas will emerge out will be predicted properly with low tide and high tide timings in several websites. On our day, the low tide timing was at 1:31 PM with 1.65 m (5.41 ft) height. Our driver called up his friend at Bhavnagar and misguided us that the dharshan was not possible that day due to sea water slush. With low tide at 5.41 feet, I thought it is not possible to walk at that height of sea water and reach the temple and so we changed our plan to Diu but the fact is dharshan IS possible on ALL 365 days and only the timing changes. The temple is at a raised platform and so you can go at any low tide levels. We came to know this only after reaching Chennai and felt sad in missing that important temple. If you go from Gir to Bhavnagar, you can plan for Palitana also on the way which is a cluster of 863 marble-carved Jain temples in Shatrunjaya hill.
See you in Day 6…