All is well than ends well, lastly we settled with a nice accommodation at Annapurna, at Sasan opposite to the reception of Sinh Sadan and permit office of Forest Department with an FRH, inside it. Let me inform, there are many good resorts around Gir within 5-7 km which are very well maintained with artificial natural looking wilderness and also well managed with professional hospitality. However, they are good to pre-planned travelers with advance booking of entry permits. In case you are there any time even with minimum crowd, you may have to be in queue since very early in the morning, say by 3 am, to be able to grab the permit, for the morning visit which is the only time with fair chances to spot the predators.
Only 30 permits are issued once at 7 am and another at 3 pm half of which are already booked on-line hence, only 15 each session, available for current booking. To clear more, on current booking, only 15 vehicles are allowed to enter the park carrying maximum 6 passengers in each on one permit, one or two kids are allowed anyway. Private, own vehicles are also allowed with permit and mandatory guides, is within the maximum limit of 15 permits. Some resorts facilitate with their own gypsies but on the same above mandatory terms and with guides, provided by the Forest department. Also important to note, if your members are more than six, say 7-12 then two permits will be allotted but to two different persons in queue, strictly. During peak seasons the numbers of permits are increased to 25 on current bookings and the entry fee is increased from Rs. 400/- to Rs. 600/- per permit for maximum 6 persons. Gypsies charge Rs. 1,200/- for a three hour ride and Rs. 100/- per camera besides Rs. 200/- for mandatory guide.
Forms are allotted 30 minutes prior to issuing the permits strictly to the first 15 persons waiting in the queue on steel chairs fixed for waiting enthusiasts personally, by a senior forest official one by one, enquiring the number of persons with them, perhaps to accommodate two or more groups with less members, together in one gypsy, endeavoring zealous effort to allow a few more to grab the opportunity. In case of plans to share the permit with others, don’t forget to mention the number of members on the provided form. One person with valid ID shall fill the details on the form which is later strictly checked at the time of issuing the permit and during entry to the park.
The noble campaign by Mr. Bachhan, is a true success informed by locals because the influx has increased multifold only after the appealing campaign by the legendary brand ambassador. This is true in most other parts in Gujrat later, experienced by me while visiting further.
Hitesh Bhai, a real host to residents of Hotel Annapurna, acted more than paid in terms of money. A big thanks buddy! An ideal in reality, worth the phrase, “Atithi Dev Bhava”, an age old concept and ideology of real INDIA, for his contribution through hospitability, accrues respect for GUJRAT to great extent. I wish we were as good to strangers as Hitesh Bhai and his team. A very basic hotel (in terms of infrastructure), is acting as catalyst, in promotion of awareness and belongingness towards naturalism, hand to hand for tourism department. Hope, other hoteliers do the same in the vicinity.
After shifting to our room, I met Hitesh Bhai to manage for a permit for the morning visit or include us with some other groups if possible, He with his abetted efforts, despite of his busy schedule dealing with customers, helped me out with the best he could do by grouping us with two more groups, one of whom was staying in the same hotel with his parents and the other an NRI lady from UK. Now the tedious job of standing in the queue since 2 am was decided to be done in shifts. I preferred to start at 2 am followed by Mr. Joshi a chap from Mumbai, working with TCS and then the NRI Lady for two hours each till 6 am. Decided, we shifted to our rooms. At 2 am I found a few people already standing outside the main gate, the tea stalls were open serving hot chaah, as they call for tea. With a full cup of chaah and a fag, I joined the queue, counting the heads prior to me, found myself standing 16th in the countdown. Hitesh Bhai informed that the permits are issued on four separate routes to avoid much chaos and suggested to prefer Route No. 2 which will be allotted to the persons waiting on 2nd 6th 10th & 14th position in the queue, which is relatively a drier zone and bear fair chances to see the Sinh and also Leopards sometimes.
Using my analogies to grab route No.2, thoughts crippled in my extra intelligent mind that it would be better if I settle myself to the 18th position by showing generosity, allowing late comers stand ahead of me. Soon, before materializing my intelligent pondering, it came to our notice that only 15 passes will be allotted today onwards. Standing at 16th position was therefore, a futile effort. One can imagine the height of irritability and perturbation in such situation, at 2 in the night in the jungle with no other jobs to do than wait eagerly to enter the confined territory with due regards to its inhabitants, on mercy of the designated administrators. Praying of some miracle, I didn’t leave the queue and neither done by anyone else standing behind me with similar prayers might be.
Time passed with two more cup of tea and few fags besides chatting with the fellow enthusiasts, at around 4 am, Mr. Joshi arrived with a big courteous and obligatory smile, to replace me. I asked him to confirm about the bad news of curtailing the number of permits which he admitted was true but in a very assured voice, said no worry you are standing on 15th position hence, within the limit. Was it a counting mistake, which I did more than 15 times or was it our good-luck! I was actually standing on the 15th position.
At 6.30 am we were all at the reception, the permits are issued at 7 am, people in queue are allowed entering the main gate at 6 am, one by one with no chance of dribbling under strict supervision of the very committed forest guards hence, forget about any jump in your position. Once, seated on the steel chairs, at 7 am a forest ranger, issued forms which later is deposited duly filled with exact number of members, M/F/C, age, cameras and address of one lead member alongwith a valid ID proof and submitted back in the same order. After depositing the permit fee and camera fee, a receipt mentioning vehicle details is allotted. The vehicle charges are collected separately and another fee of Rs. 200/- also collected separately for providing guide. Later your Guide will guide you the rest.
We were allotted Route No. 3, on enquiring our guide of the better route he diligently assured that sighting the animals is only by chance and not a guarantee in any routes. He further added that only last evening, an elderly couple on his way from Junagardh in an auto, sighted a pair of Lions haltingly crossing the road near Devaliya, 5 km from Sasan. Exclamatorily, I asked, hey at what time, he replied, at or around 6.30 pm. A loud thumping in my heart, my wife almost screamed “we were on that route, almost at the same time” further exaggerated by confirming to have seen an elderly couple traveling in an auto near there. God knows if that was true, but I nearly missed the miraculous incident/accident despite of so vigil eye. I don’t know, but I was pretty annoyed to be so shaky that I missed the golden opportunity of confronting the unusual sight.
Hurriedly, adorned with the Sasan-Gir’s T-Shirt and the Cap with logo of Gir, bought from the outlet inside the premise, we were set to go inside the park. With two more groups, our efforts were proportionately distributed and the expense too. Hanging my extra zoom Nikon, I was like ready to grab every bit of the sightings much before entering the territory. The others keeping their cool were enjoying the nature besides enjoying my nature-crazy childish attitude. Soon, I was in discipline when the driver and the guide gestured about the imperceptible sight of a yellow object in motion far inside the dense bushes and shrubs on our left. Without, wasting a moment I clicked my camera in all directions when suddenly I could notice a giant Leopard behind a herd of peacocks deep inside the jungle moving lazily, in no haste. My extra zoom camera needed extraaaaaaa zoom to reach closer to the shy beast. With a very-very shaky state in digital zoom mode, I tried my best of photography skill to capture it as close as possible. The worst thing was that it was not visible through naked eyes because of the camouflages, low-light and also its distant location. After a few seconds, the big cat was invisible from the camera frame too.
How many of you have sighted a big cat in wild? Will all of you agree that sighting it for the first time is a nerve-breaking, shaky, crazy, ecstatic, intoxicating, heavenly, euphoric, blissful and rapturous…….., short of words to explain, state of mind and body! All eyes still, hoping another sight of the shy animal petrified motionlessly for another few seconds. No chance, assured by the whispers of the guide. Everyone on board was busy browsing their cameras, for the best clip out of multiple shots taken in few seconds. Triumphantly, only my camera crowned the honor with one better close-up with a promise to share it with everyone later.
Soon, we sighted one more leopard crossing the road much closer, but that one was in haste and soon out of sight before, anyone could shoot it. The guide and driver were unanimous view of our better luck to spot two, too shy animals so easily in our first few minutes. I feel, they were right because back home, surprisingly we were informed that none have sighted any big cat that morning.
Deep inside the jungle with many eyes including two pairs of experts’ we could neither sight Sinh Saheb nor any sign of other predators except few common monkeys, antelopes, birds and huge teak trees. A tribal settlement deep inside the confined territory raised our brows, later we were satisfied that they are allowed to stay and even graze their cattle with a meaningful purpose of keeping a close vigil on poachers which they inform immediately on sighting. What if they are attacked by the wild beasts, answered, no instances so far however, in case of any loss to their cattle, they are adequately compensated. At 9 am we were allowed to take a break near a large water body with a small dam built on it, the only place where you can imprint your foot marks in the park. In few minutes, we were dropped back at Sinh Sadan.
A wish of sighting the King of Gir obviously ended in grim and unfulfilled wish remained honking in the back of our mind despite of more than 400 lions and an equal number of leopards. Hard luck, with one leopard in my camera buffer I was little restless for the first time after a jungle visit. In fact I was of the view that sighting Lions in Gir is almost guaranteed. A myth, Gir is no different than any other parks, sighting their residents are on there choice, nothing to do with your efforts, money spent, permits or your class, creed, status or position.
Population of Lions in Gir: courtesy Wikipedia
Year Count Male:Female:Cub
1968 177 –
1974 180 –
1979 261 76:100:85
1984 252 88:100:64
1990 284 82:100:67
1995 304 94:100:71
2000 327 –
2005 359 –
2010 411 97:162:152
Not to worry, to appease the un-satiated, vexed mind, the Gir Interpretation Zone at Devaliya 13 km from Sasan is an option with no entry bar at Rs. 75/- per person in their bus since 9 am to 11 am and 3 pm to 5 pm whereas, since 9 am to 5 pm non stop during extra rush. A guarantee to see the Lions in more or less similar wilderness, in captivation not visible though, confining the area to meet out the purpose of visitors joy and also conserving the beasts in near to their own territory and similar environ. Nevertheless, not as exciting but one can sight Sinh Saheb bearing same attitude and gestures even there, without much efforts. A 30 minutes bus ride inside the smaller territory is also joyful except if you have visited it after the actual tour in Sasan-Gir which reduces its charm by not looking as wild as the real wild of Sasan. We didn’t want to go back empty handed, hence reached Devaliya after Sasan’s visit and found it closed its being Wednesday.
Can’t help, a little disheartened initially, we planned to visit it the following day while making way to Somnath. Later, with ample time in hand, walked in the surroundings of Sasan with many more visitors enjoying the semi-deciduous forested area as deep inside as allowed. It is never bad sometime, to do something unplanned, with no specific reasons and then you enjoy every bit of it, as a gift in surprise. I and my wife are luckily like minded and thus enjoyed the target-less stroll hunting into the permissible depth on forested paths, sighting smaller but exciting inhabitants and many species of birds without hindering their tranquility and made the most worth out of it in each others company.
Next morning, we reached Devaliya, a large board easily identifiable, with a forest guard at the check post marking entry of every vehicle allows to penetrate through the narrow canopied jungle trail on motorable road to further 5-6 km inside upto the main large bounded Interpretation Zone. A reception in the lounge of its large building was full of disheartened hearts like me in want of glimpsing the extraordinary sight of the biggest cat. The entry tickets are allotted with bus and seat numbers conveniently, allowing visitors to start the ride. Soon we boarded the bus which started the journey by entering through the designated pre-defined route. The driver in slow pace provides as a guide to capture and shoot the animals all the way. Soon, we were greeted with a family of wild boar followed by a pair of Jackals sipping water at a stream, some antelopes, a black buck then the largest predator lying underneath a tree, beside a water body. The awaited sight of the king was so satisfying, that too from so close was very thrilling, fulfilling and satisfying experience. Two large lions, one bigger than the other, looked healthy and wild as per my perception. Though they were within a confined territory, the area of the interpretation zone is big enough for the creatures to hunt in wild with lesser efforts though. The excitement was no lesser than otherwise, providing ample scope to frame their innocent activities, in no haste. A close-up, a different angle view, a frame with the tree, another with the water body on their backdrop was a heavenly achievement. As per the strict guidelines, tourists are not allowed to alight from the bus anytime and there is a time limit of 30 minutes hence, the bus soon returned and dropped us at the parking with every passenger bearing big smile on their faces.
We were happy too, with a very relaxed mind headed towards Somnath, our next important destination, another 50 km and approximately one hour drive through Talala and Veraval.
The journey continues……