28
May
2014
0

India: Gir National Park – the only home of the Asiatic lions

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!

Gir Forest National Park: Spotted deer

Gir Forest National Park: Spotted deer

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.

Graffiti - Driving through Rajkot

Graffiti – Driving through Rajkot

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.

Safari costs:

  • 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!
Gir Forest National Park: All set for the safari

Gir Forest National Park: All set for the safari

It’s Summertime

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.

Gir Forest National Park: Summer is the best time for sighting

Gir Forest National Park: Summer is the best time for sighting

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.

Dad enjoying his tea after an evening safari

Dad enjoying his tea after an evening safari

There are a couple of other tented safari camps, with air conditioners and a couple of luxury resorts including The Fern.

Close Encounters…

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.

Gir Forest National Park: Spotted Owl

Gir Forest National Park: Spotted Owl

Gir Forest National Park: Dancing peacock

Gir Forest National Park: Dancing peacock

Gir Forest National Park:Common Iora

Gir Forest National Park:Common Iora

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!

First sighting of the Asiatic lion - he just would not look straight... camera shy!

Gir Forest National Park: First sighting of the Asiatic lion – he just would not look straight… camera shy!

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!

Gir Forest National Park: Leopard cub soaking in the Sun

Gir Forest National Park: Leopard cub soaking in the Sun

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!

Gir Forest National Park: Posing in all his glory

Gir Forest National Park: Posing in all his glory

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.

Gir Forest National Park: Upclose and personal!

Gir Forest National Park: Upclose and personal!

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.

Gir Forest National Park: I need a drink... of water!  

Gir Forest National Park: I need a drink… of water!

Gir Forest National Park: Family time

Gir Forest National Park: Family time

At the next watering hole, there was a solitary leopard eyeing us intently as he lapped up the cool water. Another fruitful safari!

Gir National Park: Watering hole...

Gir Forest National Park: Watering hole…

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!

Ship building at Veraval (the man to the left of the ship will give you a sense of the size)

Ship building at Veraval (the man to the left of the ship will give you a sense of the size)

Fishing boats

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.

Somnath Temple

Somnath Temple

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!

You may also like

Where should you go in November?
Goa: Monsoon Magic
Ganpati Bappa, Morya
Planning a trip to Nainital

17 Responses

  1. You too had a wonderful time it seems. And I thought that I was just too lucky during my visit. Can't beat the Leopard shot you got. Just loved it. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing.

    I can never forget that whatever passion I developed for birds, it all started one fine day in Gir. I dedicate my passion of birding to Gir. If today I have tracked and clicked around 200 different types of birds, it's just because Gir brought that interest in me.

    1. 🙂 oh I bet, it surely is ! And I will definitely plan a visit there one day.
      As of now, birds have taken the priority for me and India itself has more than a 1000 species, want to cover all possible regions in India first and then move elsewhere.
      Going to Bharatpur and Ranthambore in the coming week, hope to increase my list from 200 to 300 soon.

      Thanks for the heads-up.

    2. I used to carry the most basic camera and lens until very recently. Even during my Gir visit, I was using Canon 1100D and 55-250 and it served my purpose pretty well. Until of course birding took priority and I had to upgrade.
      Now I use Canon 70D and Canon 400 mm (sometimes couple it with 1.4 X TC to make it 560 mm)

    3. We use the 60d but have the 18-135 lens only. Need to upgrade the lens for birding. Have you been to Coorg? That's what got me interested in birding.
      Also, Bhigwan is a great place to see flamingos… Lots of them!
      Have posted blogs on both these places. Do let me know if you need any further information.
      Again, highly recommend Bhigwan!

    4. Not exactly Coorg, I went to Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary Thattekad and then to Munnar. It was a trip worth every moment. I spotted more than 100 species there and could click more than 80. You can see my post on the same. I will also see the Coorg post of yours.
      60D is a decent camera however for birds in flight, it might pose some challenge. If you are getting serious about birding then I'm sure by now you know that anything less than 400 mm is a challenge as well.
      Bhigwan is in my list for quite some time, will couple it will Satara. Let's See when I can make it.

  2. Sneha Valecha

    Hey Sonia, did you to Gir Jungle Trail and Devalia Safari Park both? on the website it says for Devalia Safari Park viewing will be by Bus.. kindly guide!!

    We are planning to go in Feb; hope the weather will be decent and we get to see the animals and birds 😀

    1. Hi Sneha! We went only to Gir and spent two nights there. We did a total of three safaris and had some awesome sightings. The Gir safari is in a open jeep, which should pre book by visiting the online site…else it is a painful process.
      We did not go to Devalia; the safari does happen in a bus. It is more like an open zoo. Considering our sightings were so good, we did not find it worth visiting Devalia.
      We went in May …the best time for sighting as the cats come out to drink water…but also really really hot! Feb will have better weather….sightings are always a game of luck…so good luck!
      Happy to help if you want to any tips!

      1. Sneha Valecha

        Hey Sonia, thanks a lot! I did go through the website and booked my safari – Gir Jungle Trail.. it costed INR 1000 (since its weekend). But how did you manage to book 3 safaris? Are there any specific bookings that we need to make? Or does the Jungle Trail give you options once you reach there?

        Thanks 🙂

Leave a Reply