A walk with the Jungle King

Posted by: Purvi Mistry on

A walk with the Jungle King

- Purvi Mistry

 

Alex of Madagascar, the documentaries on the lions of South Africa aired on Discovery, NGC and Animal Planet made me very curious indeed to see the Jungle King up close and personal. Not much is written or spoken about the Jungle King in the circle of tiger lovers. Even my sister was not so keen on wanting to see the Asiatic lion. Keeping my passion for the "Panthera Tigris" (royal Bengal tiger) on the back burner, I planned to make a visit to Asia's only National Park for the Asiatic lions (Panthera Leo Persica) in the month of December 08. My friends needed no persuasion and everyone willingly agreed to visit the Gir Forest National Park while some of our other friends were headed to Ranthambore at the same time. Prakash had told me long back when we met in Kanha NP that whenever we planned for Gir he would be there by hook or crook and he stood by his words. He made a long journey from Delhi to Ahmedabad by train and then to Rajkot by bus and waited up another few hours for us to reach Rajkot from Mumbai.

 

The research and planning for Gir NP began 3 months before our actual journey date. Infact I had begun my research on Gir simultaneously with my research on my upcoming trip to Rajasthan (Diwali of 2008). Gir was to happen just 4 weeks post my trip to Rajasthan and I was equally excited for both. This just proved that I had a restless travel bug in my feet. I had not yet embarked on one journey and I was already planning for the next one! Courtesy recession and the subsequent lull in work helped me devote many hours in office to my research on Gir NP. I hit upon many sites via Google promising exciting accommodations in Gir, I was able to access some amazing photos of Gir via Wikipedia and other blogs and my reliable guide - Outlook Traveler's publication - 64 Wildlife Holidays in India just cemented my decision to make Gir our 2nd wildlife destination (1st was Kanha NP) for the year end of 2008. I also spoke to a few of our other friends with similar interests and was assured that lion sighting was a surety. However, I was also given the impression that the accommodations would be just average and the park authorities were not so dedicated to preservation of the park and its habitants. Nevertheless, I had mixed expectations and decided to take a chance. I came across the "Gir Birding Lodge" via www.girnationalpark.com and put an online enquiry for stay options and jungle safaris. They were prompt in reverting and offered us a good deal for stay, meals, park rounds and station transfers.

Simultaneously while negotiating with them, Mitesh got our railway tickets booked well in advance. Thus, everything was booked and confirmed almost 21/2 months in advance and we had a long countdown ahead of us. Just 11/2 weeks before we were due to leave we got the sad news that Tanvi would not be able to make it due to her college exams being pre poned and we frantically began looking for a replacement. As luck would have it, we could find no one. Luckily after much discussion with the college authorities the exams were pushed back to the original schedule and Tanvi could make it. We also had an end moment entry - Kumar, Mamta's cousin. He got his tickets in tatkal and was very lucky to have had them confirmed on the day we left.

 

Gir Forest National Park also known as "Sasan Gir" or "Gir Van" is the sole home of the pure Asiatic lions. Around 258 sq km is the core area (no tourists allowed) and 1153 sq km is dedicated to the sanctuary (open to tourists). Thus, the entire Gir Forest spans over 1141 sq km. It is located 65 km to the south east of Junagadh and 160 km from Rajkot. Geographically it falls in the state of Gujarat. It was in the early 1900's that the forest area of Gir and its lions were declared as "protected" by the then Nawab of Junagadh. The April 2005 census recorded the lion count at 359 an increase of 32 compared to 2001. The lion breeding programme has successfully bred 180 lions in captivity and has thus helped maintain a healthy population. However, I also read that since all of these lions have been bred from the same gene pool, there is always the danger of all of them being wiped out at once by a single epidemic. Gir also abounds in other carnivores such as leopards, jungle cats, striped hyenas, jackals, mongoose and civet cats. The main herbivores of Gir are spotted deer, sambar deer, nilgai or the blue bull and wild boar. Marsh crocodiles are also seen in the Kamaleshwar Lake and the sighting of the pythons and other snakes is very rare. It is a haven for the bird watchers with a variety of over 300 species to choose from.

 

Gir has a tropical monsoon climate and has extreme temperatures in summer and winters. Monsoons are rather irregular leading to a drought scenario at many times. Late November and early March is the ideal time to visit the park as the weather is very pleasant. Gir is a very dry teak wood forest and thus, the tree cover reduces greatly post monsoons. The ground is very dry, brown and rusty and covered with dried leaves. The trees are rather bare and thus, sighting in Gir is very easy.

GIR NP is easily accessible from Mumbai. There are regular trains that run from Mumbai Central to Rajkot and the 160 km drive from Rajkot to Sasan Gir takes about 3 hours. The roads are in good condition but have no scenic views to offer. We took the Saurashtra Mail from Mumbai Central that starts at 20.25 and reaches Rajkot at 10.13 the next day. It is a good time as in you can finish your day's work, pick up dinner (the train does not have a pantry car) and board the train for a good night's sleep. The train was on time and we were met at Rajkot station by Kalyanbhai who was to ferry us to Sasan Gir in his Innova. En route we stopped for some typical "Gujarati nashto" (Gujarati breakfast) of "gatiya" (thick noodle like preparation of gram flour) with chillies and papaya chutney (known as sambariyu in Gujarati), jalebi and dhoklas. It was fresh and yummy though not served in the most hygienic of conditions. The dhoklas were very soft and fluffy. Tea was an interesting affair with cups over double saucers (we are still wondering why the 2 saucers). The drive was short and pleasant and we reached the Gir Birding Lodge at about 1400 hours. The resort staff was eagerly waiting for us and we were quickly whisked off to our rooms. Kalyanbhai went back to Rajkot stating that he would be back early morning after 2 days to take us to Somnath, Jetpur and back to Rajkot. I met the manager Mr. Pradeep who pleasantly surprised us by saying that our first park round was scheduled for 15.30 the same day! We quickly dumped our bags, had a yummy lunch and set off for our first park round without a bath or change of clothes (no time!). We didn't even have the time to take a look around the resort, were just able to appreciate how well appointed the rooms were. The 6 of us - 3 girls (Mamta, Purvi, and Tanvi) and 3 boys (Mitesh, Prakash and Kumar) were given 2 rooms named "Pitta" and "Flycatcher" respectively. We had to put off the exploring for later.

 

Gir Birding Lodge is situated right next to Gate No. 2 of the forest. Infact, it shares the same wall with the forest. We just got out of the resort gates, took a U turn and entered the jungle for our first park round.

Every time I enter a jungle I get a feeling of déjà vu. I know that every turn, every road has something new to offer. My eyes just can't take in enough. My neck literally swivels around fast from left to right trying to soak it all up. We had a good guide and he briefed us about the jungle, the lion count, their general behavior, and the other flora and fauna of the jungle. The lion is relatively calm compared to the tiger and there have been extremely rare incidents of the lion attacking the tourists. Poaching is also a rare phenomenon and the local authorities are indeed doing their jobs. However, there was a recent incident of big time poaching but the miscreants were caught and are currently behind bars. Prevention of poaching works not just in mere favor of environment preservation but also supports the livelihood of the villagers. The more protected and abundant the jungle is, the more tourists come in and hence, more assured are the earnings. There are 54 villages of the "Maldhari" tribes (herdsmen with their buffaloes) who still reside within the park premises. They are practically unafraid of the lion. The lions feed on their livestock and he is thus, content to have the tribe around. However, there have been incidents like cattle poisoning in the past. The authorities have not been very successful in relocating all of the tribal villages outside the park premises. This is a rather unique jungle in the sense that there is a mini train that runs through a part of the jungle 3 times in a day.

Moreover, you have to pass from Sasangir on your way to Somnath thus; it is rather busy road with trucks and tourist vehicles plying during all hours of the day. There is short cut that also runs through part of the jungle which connects a few nearby villages. Every so often we would pass by trucks, milk vans, and ST buses plying through the entry route to the forest. One road would then branch into the forest and the other would take you away from the forest towards the next village.

 

The first animal to greet you on your entry to the jungle is undoubtedly the spotted deer.

Our guide also pointed out the "changeable hawk eagle" to us.

None of us being avid birders, we are at a complete loss when it comes to spotting and identifying birds. One hour of driving around and we had spotted only deer and varied birds. A little while later we came across other tourists peering into the trees. The forest guard was also present. Our guide then told us that there was a lion in the bushes and hence the group of people hanging around. Unlike Kanha and Bandhavgarh, the tracking of lions is done on foot and not elephant back. The trackers were sitting on the forest ground just a few feet away from the lion with only a stick in their hand for protection. Our driver backed up our gypsy and we too could see the male cub lounging in the cool shade of the trees.

However, the cub chose that moment to walk off to get away from the chaos around him. By then, we had been asked to move ahead by the forest guard and hence could not ogle at it any more. But were we lucky, the cub's mother was on the other side of the road into the bushes just a few feet ahead. We halted our gypsy and had our first look at a lioness. She seemed calm and content and sure of herself. The lion trackers kept chattering away with the forest guard whose name was Manu bhai and the lioness was least bothered. She was majestic. Her skin was the colour of dried grass yet it had a golden gleam and she was so well camouflaged that if left to us, we would not have been able to spot her. Photography from the gypsy was just not working out; there was too much tree cover. However, the guard was gracious and let one of us get down on the ground to take a photo. Tanvi seized the opportunity and scrambled down!

We were simply ecstatic that we had our first sighting in the very first park round. Such is not the case when we go tiger spotting. Happy and content and raring for more we returned tiredly to our resort at sun down. Once again the resort staff was waiting for us. They had set up a table holding glasses of fresh "nimbu paani" for us and wet towels. They were just too perfectly tuned in to our needs. We took the evening to relax and unpack. We had a tasty dinner and retired early for the night so that we could be up at the crack of dawn the next day to spot more lions, especially the big bearded ones!

 

Early came the next morning and we were up at the crack of dawn, had a cup of tea and biscuits and headed off to track more lions. By this time, our resort had 2 new guests - 2 guys with BIG cameras and the works. We nicknamed them the "bazookas" due to the sheer size of their zoom and wide angle lenses. We found out later that they were photographers by hobby from Bangalore and not professionals. They were the 2 lone occupants of their gypsy.

 

Our guide this first morning was African looking and it was very strange to watch this black guy talk in my native tongue - Gujarati. It was calm and peaceful and we made further acquaintance with the jungle. We met up with the sambar deer strolling around in early morning light. He was so heavenly looking with fog and sun rays around him.

It was much different than it's counterpart who lives in Kanha and Bandhavgarh. This one was taller and heavily built.

The sky was very different and it simply fascinated me and Prakash. It was a clear blue palette with a few haphazard strokes of white on it.

Tanvi enjoyed photographing the green bee eater, kingfisher and the spotted deer while I enjoyed photographing the sky and the jungle.


Gir does not have many open spaces which are popularly known as meadows.

Back to the resort with no luck we decided to rest awhile and gear up for the afternoon park round. But uneasy lays the person who has a camera in his / her hand. Off we went clicking "Orkut" photos (as we now popularly call our casual photos) and exploring the resort property. The resort is located in a large mango orchard right next to Gate No. 2 of the forest. The cottages are located at the periphery of the orchard and as far as your eyesight can go you see nothing but mango trees and beautiful birds and butterflies flitting by.

A soothing breeze blows throughout the day and makes you feel so much at peace with the world. The only thing missing was a hammock, otherwise it was the perfect setting to lie down and make patterns in the sky. We had 2 super deluxe cottages each named after a bird - "pitta" & "flycatcher". Both of them were similarly designed with a comfortable double bed made of solid wood and 2 extra beds already fitted in an L shape at the other corner.

There was a tall solid wooden rack to stack your bags and other paraphernalia. On the verandah were 2 folding chairs of solid wood and canvas and a table.

There were flower and fruit plants on both sides of the walkway to the cottage. Varied bird houses and pottery items were placed around the property.

All in all it was such a comfortable environ that you could just laze around all day and gaze at the butterflies in the day time and the clear starry sky in the night time.

 

Come 15:15, we were in our gypsies eager to be in the jungle once again. The "bazookas" stole our driver from us and we had a new driver Rahim for the evening. He was a descendant of the Schumacher clan who had hair that was first blond then had turned almost red (maybe rebelling at the use of the dye). He wouldn't talk nor respond to our questions. He stuck to his job - driving the gypsy at superfast speeds in the jungle (maybe to ensure that we did not doze off or maybe he was just too scared to face the wildlife in reality). This evening we were headed off to the Kamaleshwar dam and lake which is located within the forest boundaries. The lake spans 30 sq km and is the abode of more than 300 marsh crocodiles.

The lake is formed by the Kamaleshwar dam that supplies water to the nearby village of Veraval. The moment we spotted the lake we were struck by the clear blue and extremely calm water surface and the vast expanse of the brilliantly lit sky over head. The road to the observation tower, which lay at the opposite end, was rather perilous. We drove right at the edge of the dam wall onto road which was just dirt and stones. One wrong turn of the steering and you would surely be crocodile bait. Rahim expertly maneuvered the gypsy over the uneven terrain and we reached the observation tower and the jetty like half bridge. The road over the dam wall was first uneven and then bounded on 1 side by the sheer drop of the dam wall into the forest and the lake with its stony bank on the other end. It was a pictorial representation of the popular Hindi saying - "ek taraf khai to ek taraf kua", modified in this situation to "ek taraf khai to ek taraf crocodile". We reached the observation tower and jetty unscathed and scrambled down to stretch ourselves. Out came the tripod and we posed taking photos on auto mode.

The lake was so serene that you could just keep looking at it. From atop the observation tower you could see a decent stretch of the forest cover and a Maldhari village smack in the middle of it.

Break over we got back into the gypsy to once again roam the jungle and get lucky with the lion. The "bazookas" decided to give the lake a miss and carried on with their drive through the jungle. On and off we would cross path and one or the other would overtake each other. We were calmly driving down when all of a sudden our guide got all restless and noisy. There could be only one reason for this happening - spotting a lion. However, it turned out to be a leopard! Unbelievable! I usually sit at the rear end of the gypsy and it takes me time to catch a view of what's happening in the front, especially if all the others in the front are pretending to be giraffes. The leopard had crossed our path (I missed this part) and was on the left side of our gypsy off the road and a little into the undergrowth. Tanvi was frantically aiming her camera on the right wanting to capture the leopard when I actually held her head and swiveled it to the left asking her to climb up the seat immediately. The moment was too frantic and people in our gypsy were simply ecstatic. Our gypsy got all noisy and the leopard was alarmed. Nevertheless, it ran a little into the undergrowth, halted, gave us a backward glance and bounded deeper into the jungle.

All this happened over just a few seconds. Our guide got off enthusiastically, borrowed our camera and ran where the leopard had gone in to get a photo for us. However this beast is like quick silver, here one second and off the next. In the 2 years that I have started visiting the jungles (so far covered Bandhavgarh and Kanha, twice each), I have never been lucky to even glimpse the leopard's tail or a pugmark. I always thought it was a phantom beast. However, here I was getting real lucky for the first time (and maybe the last?). I was awestruck by the way it moved. Absolute stealth and silent, agile and fluid! He was like a weightless beast gliding by. It was indeed great luck for those who were visiting the forest for the first time. Leopard spotting is the most rare moment and to get a photo of it even rarer! We actually did a victory dance in the gypsy once the leopard had scampered away. Boy oh boy we went berserk with excitement. Human tendency - the more you get the more you want! We wanted a photo of it and we wanted it to stay still for a few more seconds frozen in time. This would have been possible only if we all were a bit more still and quiet! I hope history repeats itself sometime in the near future.

 

We came back to the resort overflowing with joy and spared no effort to make the "bazookas" jealous of our sighting. They had crossed the very same path where we saw the leopard just a few minutes before us! Patience pays off! That night we partied hard. Gujarat is a dry state and hence, we had gone fully prepared.

 

Third and last morning in Gir and we really had our hopes high. And I must say we were just not to be disappointed. We heard frantic alarm calls of the sambar deer and parked our gypsy at the edge of the road, settling down for a wait which we didn't know would end when? But we were sure that we would have a very happy ending. An extremely enthusiastic tourist in the gypsy ahead (a big fat Gujarati man) could barely contain his excitement. In an extremely loud voice he made known the fact that the lioness had crossed his path and walked off into the bushes. He was as loud as we were quite. We were trying hard to listen to the deer so that we could fix a location for the lion. The fresh pug marks were also very visible on the dry and dusty path.

The deer was occasionally interrupted by the roaring of the lioness. We told the guide, Jagdish and the driver, Rahim to stay put. We were just not willing to budge till we saw this beast. The other gypsies who had already seen the lioness drove away leaving behind us and one more gypsy with a young couple in it. The guy was incessantly smoking away in the forest (why didn't the guide tell him not to do so!). His wife was flashily dressed up in a canary yellow jacket. They were so out of place in the jungle. Their gypsy was parked about 25 feet away from us and their guide was the black Gujarati talking guy who was with us the other day. Both the gypsies were parked facing south, thus, the other gypsy stared at our gypsy's butt from 25 ft away. Jagdish, Mitesh and Tanvi got off to take a stroll. They had barely moved 5 feet when Jagdish glimpsed the lioness come out on the path behind the other gypsy and screamt for all to climb into the gypsy. Tanvi and Mitesh seemed to be running in slow motion towards us. Slow reactor that Rahim was he took his time to start up, put the car into gear and turn it around a 360 degree before we could rush forward to meet the lioness up front. The other gypsy had no time and space to turn around their gypsy. I was real worried that the lioness would simply cross the path and walk off into the undergrowth on the other side. However, it decided to flaunt its stuff and started taking a slow stroll on the road.

Rahim revved up our gypsy and we reached the other gypsy in just a few seconds. The other gypsy kept backing up to follow the lioness and we followed them. There was just 1 gypsy separating us from the lioness.

Arrogant that she was, she did not give us a backward glance. It is difficult to maneuver a car in reverse over roads that are bumpy and winding. Nevertheless the other driver did it deftly and both the gypsies were able to view and photograph the lioness.

She walked towards the bushes at one curve and sprayed her scent, came back onto the road and kept on walking in her majestic manner.

Finally she went into the bushes and we had to brake. No the reason for braking was not because she was not visible anymore. The reason was a big truck blocking our path. A truck in the jungle? Thank the Maldharis for this! The truck regularly comes in to pick up the cow dung accumulated by the tribe. Sheer frustration bubbled to the surface and it felt like we were back in the city with big vehicles blocking our path, honking and giving each other no space to move ahead. This was the last thing we expected to happen in the jungle which we believed was restless and noisy only when a wild animal was on the prowl. Absolute chaos reigned with us and the other gypsy (in the reverse position) struggling to move ahead and the other gypsies (who had by now got the news of the lioness sighting, thank the cell phone companies for full coverage in the jungle) trying to move ahead and get a glimpse of the lioness. It was horrible, the way the peaceful sighting was so completely shattered. Finally we were out of the chaos. We moved ahead discussing the lioness and the truck. We spotted the nilgai (popularly known as the blue bull) family complete with a male, female and kids. On the face of it the male appears to be docile however they are said to be very ferocious. There was a lone male sitting on a small hillock busily chomping away.

Approximately 12 kms away from the main gates of the Gir NP is the Gir Interpretation Zone at Devaliya.

An area of 4 sq km has been fenced off to resemble the exact jungle; it is a replica of the jungle complete in all respects albeit within fences. There are approx 8 lions within this area in addition to the other animals such as mongoose, nilgai, spotted deer, sambar deer and jackal. A 20 seater mini bus run by the authorities takes you for a 30 minutes drive into this area where you are assured a sighting of the lion. This helps to lift the spirits of the disappointed tourists who do not get to see the lion in the open jungle. Post our morning park round, we too visited Devaliya. 2 fortified gates provide entry into the fenced area. You enter through the first gate, stop till the back gate is closed and the front one is opened and move in. Just like the jungle, we were met by the spotted deer and nilgai. We glimpsed a jackal for the first time that had a small kill in its mouth and was scampering away. Mitesh mistook it for a dog at first. Our driver drove us to a shaded area and there in the cool of the massive trees lay 2 adult lionesses completely oblivious to their surroundings.

They afforded us an amazing view of their length, tail, pudgy paws, sleepy eyes, tiny ears and their whiskers. They were so at peace - power restrained. Being mid morning and the sun right on our head, we were told that this was their snooze time.

We had our fill looking at them and clicked many photos and moved on. We were eagerly looking forward to the evening round as it was to be our last park round for this trip. Going by my personal prior experience, the last round always turns out to be the best and the sightings are one of a kind each time. I was not to be proved otherwise this time either. Our route was once again the one that passed through Kamaleshwar Lake. Our guide for this evening was Bhiku and we had a new driver. We complained about Rahim to our manager and he was quick and efficient to have him replaced. Rahim would only keep driving single mindedly at high speeds paying no heed to our need to see the jungle and enjoy it. The new driver was so amazing that the first time he slowed down and brought the gypsy to a halt we did not know the reason. Later, we saw that we were within touching distance of the sambar deer that was standing at the edge of the road. It was amazing to see the sambar deer so up close and stare into its eyes and be stared back. Bhiku was calm and patient even when I and Mamta pestered him to no end. We told him that we were not leaving the jungle till me met up with the bearded great one and he sportingly asked us if we want to meet one of them or two of them to which we said even one would suffice but to our amazement he assured us that we would meet two of them. What the heck, we decided to take him at face value.

 

Once again we took the road towards the dam and lake when Mamta and Kumar started protesting that it was a waste of time, there were no crocodiles to be seen! Well Bhiku just smiled and said we would follow the assigned route come what may. This time the path to the lake was blocked by partridges more popularly known in Hindi as "teetar".

The lady in the canary yellow jacket from the earlier day was driving her own Zen this evening in the jungle. Park authorities permit the driving of a petrol vehicle within the park premises along with a forest guide. I am not too crazy about having my own car in the jungle because I feel too cooped up and I think a gypsy is the ideal vehicle for good sightings. Let someone else do the driving while I enjoy the sighting! The next few moments were very chaotic! I don't remember who spotted the crocodile first was it Kumar (who himself was complaining about the non existence of the crocodile) or was it Bhiku or was it someone else. Nevertheless, just as it happened in the case of the leopard, our gypsy was abuzz with excitement. Kumar was up on his seat and fluttered his hands so wide and announced the crocodile's presence in such a loud tone that the birds who were roosting in the bushes at the lake's edge, flew out in fear and caused such a commotion that the crocodile splashed further into the water letting us glimpse only his back. Finally everyone quieted down and we could finally photograph the crocodile although from a long distance.

Kumar got an earful from all of us for demonstrating his excitement. A little further we spotted another crocodile. Done with this tea meet, we moved on to hunt for the great bearded one. While passing by some other gypsies, the other drivers relayed the sighting of the lions to our driver. Off we went like a canon let loose. Finally we reached the spot that was crowded and guess who was around? Manubhai!

He was like a monitor of an unruly class room full of brats trying to instill some order and quell down the excitement and sound levels. There was a 7 year old lion sitting in the bushes totally unconcerned about the pressing crowds around him. We had a good view of him through our naked eye but again the light conditions were not ideal for photography. It was dark already due to the dense vegetation and nearing sunset there was hardly any sunlight filtering down to the ground. Nevertheless Tanvi tried her best.

The gypsies were cleared from the immediate path of the lion as they were expected to cross the road and make a spectacle of themselves for the tourists. Smart Manubhai quietly went away to allow the tourists to have a good view. God bless him for that. The moment he was off, the drivers started lining up their gypsies to take a look one after the other. We stopped by for a considerable length of time because Bhiku said his brother was not far and would be here soon. We couldn't believe our ears. Was he really going to live up to his assurance of spotting not 1 but 2 bearded ones? Wow! That would be the ultimate. We watched with bated breath when the brother actually came walking through the bushes. It was such a filmy scenario. Classic! The confident gait, the no nonsense manner, the attitude - hey you, here I come! The moment the other lion who was sitting in the clearing sensed his brother coming, he rolled over on to his back for a scratching just like a dog pup would.

They actually cuddled each other and rolled on top of each other playfully making such a cute scene for all around.

We were so engrossed and in love with them right then! Cuddling over, they started walking off from the undergrowth towards the road, one following the other. One of them stopped by to have a poop and oh my god his shit stank BIG time!

Business over, it came to the edge of the road wanting to cut across, but our gypsy left it no space to move. Since we were backing, the rear end of the gypsy was to the lion and I was right at the back in my favorite corner. Had I had put out my hand I could have touched its mane. It came close to banging into our gypsy and for a second it got actually confused just like a normal human being - oh shit, where do I go now? His head shook left to right and you could see his mane flowing silkily. Breath takingly beautiful! He backed into the bushes and started following his brother off the road.

Once again they rolled over on to each other and fooled around and then started walking away majestically. We had no choice but to let them go. It was sunset and 6.15 pm and we had to out of the park by 6.30 pm or the guide and driver would not just be fined but their licenses would also be suspended for a month. We were dumb struck and so over joyed. My belief of the last round being the best was again proved true. We let out a cry of victory and zoomed out of the jungle chattering.

 

For the first time I was left slack jawed with disbelief. I didn't expect these ferocious beasts to behave so tenderly. This called for a celebration and yes we had one! The night was long and spirits were high. The excitement spilled over to the next morning and we woke up so late that we cancelled our trip to the Somnath temple and headed straight for Rajkot via Jetpur (famous for its bandhani). Shopping over it was lunch time and Prakash and Mamta expressed their desire to have some typical Gujarati food. A few of us managed to gorge on - bajri no rotlo (Thick rotis made of millet flour), baigan nu saak (a brinjal preparation), alu bhaji (potato preparation), makhan (clarified white butter), chaas, lassi, and kachumber (salad). Appetites sated we reached much in time for our evening train to Mumbai. We shopped for some famous "Rajkot pedas" and settled down to wait for our train. We reached Mumbai early next morning just when Prakash boarded his train to Delhi.

We have so many great memories of this trip that just a small remembrance brings a smile on our face. We will not forget the yummy cheese omelets that we stuffed for breakfast or the delicious chicken that was cooked every evening or the piping soup that was served before every meal or the ghee laden mini chapattis served hot with every meal. The resort staff catered to all our food requirements so well that by special request they even made us "gulab jamuns" and "methi subji".

 

We had not just another glimpse of wildlife but also relished the material comforts of a pleasant stay. Every time I see a mango tree at my farmhouse I think back to the mango orchards in which lay our resort. I long once again to hear the alarm calls and the roar of the jungle king..........Long live the King!

Useful Links:

 

Gir Birding Lodge:

www.girnationalpark.com

Contact for Reservations: Mr. Anil Bhagia - anilbhagia@northwestsafaries.com & north_west@eth.net (NORTH WEST SAFARIES 91-92, KAMDHENU  COMPLEX, OPP SAHJANAND COLLEGE, PANJRAPOLE CROSS ROADS, AMBAWADI, AHMEDABAD - 380015
PH : 079 - 26302019 - 26308031, FAX : 079 - 26300962, MOBILE : 098240 72075)

Railway:

Mumbai Central - Rajkot

9005 Saurashtra Mail (20.25 - 10.13)

Rajkot - Mumbai Central

9006 Saurashtra Mail (17.40 - 7.15)

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/purvimistry/GirNP#

Contact me: mistry_purvi@yahoo.com OR purvimistry@gmail.com (Orkut & Facebook)