I love animals, barring the creepy crawlies in the world. Not that I have anything against them, but I would rather stick to larger species in the mega life forms. It was my love for animals that had taken us for a wildlife safari on our honeymoon to Kruger National Park in South Africa – that was over three years ago. It was time for another wildlife trip!
Ankur isn’t too fond of the four legged beings. In fact, he is a little scared of our pet cocker spaniel – Taurus. It didn’t seem fair to ask him to accompany me for the wildlife trip to Gir National Park, where the summer temperatures are over 40 degrees Celsius. This trip was a father – daughter trip. I think my love for animals stems from my Dad’s curiosity for the animal world.
Up up and away…
We booked our tickets from Mumbai to Rajkot almost a month in advance and arranged for a taxi to take us from Rajkot to Sasan Gir – the national park and only home to the Asiatic lions. It’s a one hour flight from Mumbai to Rajkot and then a 3 hour car ride to Sasan Gir.
Early Bird get the Permit!
The Gir National Park is a protected forest reserve. One needs a permit from the forest department to enter the boundaries. You can apply for a permit in person (after you get there, which typically involves a 2 hour waiting time and still does not guarantee the permit) or apply online about 3 odd weeks in advance. Every safari needs a separate permit – we obtained our permits for 3 safaris via the online method a month in advance. Further details about the permit and safaris are available on the website of the Gir National Park. Once the permit is in place, you are a step closer to meeting the’ King of the Jungle’. The vehicle and guide for the safari are arranged on the spot – 30 minutes before your safari.
- Cost for the permit – INR 400 per permit (which allows upto 6 people)
- Cost for renting the vehicle per safari – INR 1200
- Guide charges – INR 200
- Camera charges – INR 200
- Tip – your choice!
It is summer – the forest is dry. The rivers and lakes are parched and waiting for the heavens to open up – so are the animals. But summers does not mean that the ‘cats’ and the deer will go without water! There are plenty of manmade watering holes created (and well maintained) by the Forest Department, which is where the sightings are the best.
For sighting the cats and other animals, March to May are the best months. This is not the season for the weaklings though – temperatures are over 40 degree Celsius in the afternoon in peak summers. To get a feel of the lush green forest, November to February are the best months. However, these months not offer the best sighting opportunities. The park is closed during the rainy season/monsoon – from mid June to mid October.
Nothing beats Taj hospitality…
We stayed in the Gateway Hotel, which is a Taj Group property. Hospitality was top notch – Taj standards. They pamper you, spoil you and make you feel as comfortable as being at home. The food was excellent – plenty of vegetarian choices with a couple of non-vegetarian dishes. I am sure I have put on at least a couple of kilograms eating over the extended weekend and have turned into a more attractive prey for the lions! The property has a great location as well – adjacent to the Government run guest house (Sinh Sadan), which is also the starting point for the safari, with the Hiran river flowing behind the lawns.
There are a couple of other tented safari camps, with air conditioners and a couple of luxury resorts including The Fern.
We did three safaris and sighted a total of eight lions, five leopards, plenty of spotted deer, sambars and other mammals.
Our first safari was in the evening (4 pm to 6:30 pm). The Forest Department allocates one of seven routes to you for your safari. We were given route 5. Over the last couple of days, people had not sighted any lions on this route. So, we decided that we would spend our time birding and let sighting the lion be a secondary objective.
It was a good day for birding – a cloud cover eased the sun and let me take a few good pictures, including one of a dancing peacock. We were pretty happy with all the birds and deer that we had seen. And we were happier when we saw a solitary male lion resting under a tree!
We also did a walk in the morning to sight a few birds and saw a couple of pied kingfisher, tickell’s blue catcher, wood pecker to name a few.
Our second safari was the next day morning (6 am to 8:30 am). This was supposed to be the best time to sight the animals. And it was indeed the best time! We started our safari and saw three leopards – two cubs and an adult soaking in the sun. We had met people in the resort who had done over 6 safaris and not sighted a single leopard… and we were staring at three of them. Lucky day!
The good luck charm continued….a kilometer ahead we saw three juvenile male lions – two in the bushes and one on road. These were really close – less than 20 feet!
I wasn’t too happy with the leopard shot taken earlier – the animals were a little distant. How I wished to have a better picture of the graceful cat. Behold….my wish was granted! A leopard walked across the dirt road, turned around, posed for ten seconds and then dashed off.
What a day!!!
Our third safari was in the evening again (4pm to 6:30pm). It was Saturday afternoon and the place was packed with people. We had another good day – sighted two female lions and two cubs who quenching their thirst at a watering hole.
At the next watering hole, there was a solitary leopard eyeing us intently as he lapped up the cool water. Another fruitful safari!
Thank You Lord!
The Shiva temple in Somnath holds a special place in Hindu religion. Dad figured out that Somnath was 55 km away from Sasan Gir and off we went to thank the Lord. We crossed the fishing village of Veraval – the ship building was impressive and so was the jetty that housed over 2000 fishing boats!
We reached Somnath in just over an hour. A very well maintained temple, clean and by the sea. It was a soul calming experience to sit by the sea in the temple premises and feel the breeze.
A short trip to Gir has kindled my desire to plan a trip to Masai Mara in Kenya. I will need to put in some effort in convincing Ankur… keeping my fingers crossed!
As always… send me an e-mail if you need any further details. Glad to help!
Let the travellers’ tribe grow!