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.