Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In the last abode of Asiatic lions : Sasan Gir National Park

Ever since I got into the bad company Shivang and his elk, I am travelling only for wildlife. It is hard to stay off the jungles for more than a month. Year 2012 had been a fantastic year for tiger sighting. So after successfully meeting the demand of my ten year old daughter to see Bamera and Machli, we decided to start the year 2013 with a bit of Khusboo Gujarat Ki at LRK and Gir to fulfill her new demand to see a lion. Thus we landed at Gir, the last abode of Asiatic lions on a pleasant morning in end January 2013.

Rules of lion sighting are pretty much the same as that of tiger. The tracking routine is identical to the point of following pug marks and listening to the alarm calls of deer and langur. Courtesy the visuals flowed out of Gir, the image that conjured up in our mind that lions are as aplenty as street dogs, got blown away like a solitary drop of water in the Gujarat summer. Lion sighting turned out to be as tough as tiger sighting. We got to know that it took Amitabh five safaris to get the desired commercial shoot for the Khusboo Gujarat Ki campaign. Despite the adverse conditions, we were happy to get our first lion sighting in the first safari itself. It was not a photographic sighting as the male lion was sleeping inside bushes. Even at 5pm, it was too early for it to take a walk. Lions sleep more than tigers do. They also do not need water as much as tigers do.

Armed with the knowledge of where sighting are happening, we managed to get the desired route for our morning safari next day. It was route 6 for us that morning. As the safari progressed, we could easily felt that this is a happening route as the journey got punctuated with frequent alarm calls of deer and langurs. As we waited with bated breathe the message of a mating pair of lions being sighted somewhere ahead on our route flew in. Without wasting time, we dashed off, only to spare few minutes for a photo opportunity provided by a couple of mottled wood owls en-route. Soon we reached the spot by a waterhole where the pair of lions were resting. Couples of vehicles were already there. Chance of a lifetime was waiting. It was just a matter of time. As impatient tourist started to move away, we sat out quietly under a belligerent sun. About fifteen minutes into our waiting, the lioness stood up and the lion followed. Then they mated. After the post mating aggression both settled down for another spell of lull. Soon the lone gypsy who waited with us and witnessed this moment had left. They had enough, not us. My guide was willing to wait. We were rewarded with another mating sequence. This half an hour of spectacle made our trip.  Patience always pays with wildlife. Couple of years ago at Bandhavgarh, I missed mating of Bamera (aka Sashi) and Kankati (aka Vijaya) by a whisker. Luck was with me this time.

When you had such a moment in a trip, you do not get disappointed even when the next safari goes blank. The last safari on route 7 was in fact a damp squib. Yet we had a fabulous first trip of Gir with a final score of 2 out of 3. Now it is time to gear up for some tiger action in the summer. Ranthmbhore calling again!

Travelling info on Gir: The park is located at Sasan in coastal Gujrat. Nearest rail head is Veraval which is about 40km. Nearest airport is at Rajkot (65km). Veraval is also the town for visiting Somnath temple which is just 7 km from the town. An overnight train connects Veraval with Ahmedabad. I paid around 1200 as taxi fare one way from Veraval station to Sasan. The best place to stay is Sinh Sadan guest house of forest deptt. This is not luxury class, but decent - a place with palatial big rooms (500 for non AC, 1500 for AC), a huge green campus and also houses the safari booking office. Irrespective of where you stay, you will have to come to this place to pick up your permit. Food is not good here, so stay at Sinh Sadan and have food in the market that exists outside its campus. Avoid travelling to Gir around diwali holidays. At less than Rs.2000/- per trip, Gir offers the cheapest wildlife safaris of India.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Delhi to Ranthambhore by road

I have been toying with the idea of driving down to Ranthambhore for some time. But the easy availability and comfort of train had prevented me from taking this 450km journey. Driving down also means two additional days. Hence train had always been the preferred route for Delhi photographers. Finally I found companions this time who were willing to drive down. Thus my longest road trip from Delhi becomes a reality in May 2013. I had earlier driven down to Ajmer which also is 400+. I enquired with fellow friends who regularly drives down to Ranthambhore and was advised to take the familiar Delhi – Jaipur – Dausa – Sawai Madhopur route. My research on the net also yielded similar results. But I found an alternate route which I had planned to use on return after enquiring about it at Ranthambhore. In fact the alternate route turned out to be a fabulous route. This is how both the route are :

My starting and end point for the trip is Kaushambi, opposite Anand Vihar ISBT in East Delhi. The general zero point for trips put of Delhi at Dhaula Kuan is about 20km from my home. We started at 0530 in the morning to beat the rush at Guragaon and Manesar toll gate.

Route 1: Delhi – Jaipur – Dausa – Sawai Madhopur

Kaushambi – Gurgaon : 36 km
We used Kaushambi – NH24 – Sarai kale Khan – Barapulla Nallah elevated road – Moti Bagh – Vasant Vihar – Gurgaon. Beat the rush by starting early. You should aim to cross Manesar before 7am. Toll : Rs.21/-

Gurgaon to Jaipur : 247 km
Continue on NH8 via toll gates at Manesar (27rs), Shahjanpur (107rs) and Manoharpura (51rs). Though the road condition is good, there are at least 15 flyovers under construction resulting in slow diversions and hold up on these sections. This can easily add upto 1 hr to your travelling time. Total Toll is Rs. 185/-

Jaipur to Dausa: 50km
Leaving NH8, continue to Jaipur city by following road signs. Once you reach intersection for Amer, continue straight (or slight left). The right goes to Jaipur via Amer. Couple of KM down the line you will reach a flyover which has two carriage way. Take the leftmost carriageway for Dausa. The right one goes into the city. Almost immediately at the end of the flyover turn left to find the road for Dausa. This is the Jaipur – Agra NH11. There is a toll palza. Private cars are toll free at this plaza. To avail this use the leftmost gate. Soon you enter a tunnel and gets out to an excellent four lane highway. You will have to pay toll at Rajadhok. Leave the highway at Dausa by turning right. Toll: Rs.50/-

Dausa to Lalsot: 35km
Once you leave NH11 and enter Dausa continue straight, cross a zig-zag flyover and then turn right al the end of the flyover. Once you leave the town, you will find true country side. The condition of road upto Lalsot is decent. About 10km of this stretch is bumpy and potholed. Keep your speed low to avoid potholes that appear out of nowhere. No toll on this section.

Lalsot to Sawai Madhopur: 75km
Maneuvering Lalsot town is a nightmare. The 1 km stretch has literally no road with potholes as big as small ponds. To compound it, the stretch is jam packed with buses, jeeps, tractors, etc. Can’t think of how one would drive in monsoon. The town seems to exists on this 1km. Once you manage to leave the town, you are back on a fabulous stretch of tolled road. It passes through beautiful country side. We found two decent places to eat on this stretch. Toll: Rs.40/-
Traffic nightmare at Lalsot town

Finally on reaching Sawai Madhopur, cross the flyover and take a left turn at the end of it to enter the Ranthambhore road. All hotels / resort are located on this 10km stretch. The journey took us almost 11 hr as we took healthy breaks en-route amounting to almost 3 hrs owing to breakfast, lunch and a puncture repair. We also drove leisurely only occasionally touching 100kmph.
Total distance: 445km
Total Toll: 296

On return we deiced to use the following route.

Route 2: Sawai Madhopur – Dausa – Sikandara – Rajgarh – Alwar – Bhiwadi – Dharuhera - Delhi

Sawai Madhopur to Dausa : 110 km
We started very late around 9am planning only one break journey. On return from Sawai Madhopur to Dausa, route description is same as onward journey. On reaching Dausa, drive upto the point where you turned right (at the end of a flyover). Now turn right to get onto the Agra road. Continue straight through it to come onto the Jaipur-Agra NH11. Almost close to the highway was a barrier preventing heavier vehicles entry. They have to take a detour to get onto the highway. But we followed other smaller vehicles and went through the barrier to get onto the highway. Toll: Rs.40/-

True countryside
Dausa to Sikandara : 26km
Tolled highway with excellent condition of road. On reaching Sikandara you pay a toll which is very high for using it for only 26km. Toll : Rs.50/-

Sikandara to Alwar : 71km
Now you are on a single carriageway state highway. But the road condition is as good as the Jaipur-Agra highway. This is a tolled road. Traffic is very low. Sikandara to Rajgarh is 35km. Toll: Rs.50/-

Alwar to Bhiwadi to Dharuhera : 95km
On reaching Alwar turn right to get onto the bypass to avoid city traffic. Continue on this till you reach the circle with Ashok Leyland insignia. Turn right here. Now you are onto the Alwar –Bhiwadi tolled state highway via Tijara. It is an excellent 4 lane highway. There are occasional dhaba type eateries on this stretch. In case you are hungry then you should fill your tank in any of these. There is no decent restaurant. Toll: Rs.55/-

Dharuhera to Gurgaon : 50km
This is where we faced traffic for the first time on return. Two flyovers under construction, diversions and Manesar toll gate ensured heavy jam. Fortunately traffic was moving and we got away with about 40 min of additional time as compared to our onward journey. Toll: Rs.27/-

Gurgaon to Kaushambi: 36km
It was around 3pm when we had reached the toll plaza. There was long queue at each gate. Yet we were out within 10 min. Despite all the bad publicity. I was impressed with speed of toll processing. Toll: Rs.21/-

The return journey took us about 7 ½   hrs despite of additional 1 hour from Dharuhera to Kaushambi. It was one break journey and we drove leisurely around 80-90 kmph. This route turned out to be at least 55km shorter – only 388km as compared 445km. The total toll was also lower – Rs.246 as compared to Rs.296. To add to it we beat all the traffic hold up, diversions on Dharuhera – Jaipur stretch constructions. On the entire Dausa to Dhrauhera stretch there was hardly any traffic and road condition was out of the world. I failed to understand why people are not talking about this route. One reason may be the tolled state highways have been constructed / completed recently. I highly recommend using this route.
Total distance: 388km
Total Toll: 243

(Note: Journey described herein was undertaken in May 2013)