Gir is one of India’s top-end wildlife reserves and is the last remaining habitat of the rare and elusive Asiatic Lions that prowl in the haunting wilderness of the Gir Forest.
Gir Forest is well spread out over an area, which is all of 1421.1 Sq. Kms. and designated as a “Protected Area”. An area of 258.7 Sq.Kms. is designated as National Park and another 1153.4 Sq. Kms. as an exclusive Sanctuary. The Lion population has shown remarkable growth from only 177 Lions in 1968 to around 400 as of now.
Sasan Gir, the land of the wild and the free, the savage and the beautiful, where the endless dry and arid grasslands are rife with the game, – lions prowling, the magnificent lions with their imposing mane and a stunning variety of some of the magnificent specimens of wildlife found anywhere else on earth. It is at this place that we headed for as part of our wildlife safari tour from the Indian Institute of Travel & Tourism Management, New Delhi.
We reached Sasan Gir at the break of dawn after a tiresome journey involving both rail and coach travel. We checked in at the magnificent Fern Gir Lodge. The Fern Gir Lodge is ideally situated at the edge of the world-renowned Gir forest. After refreshing ourselves, we had our brunch and surprisingly it started raining. We were told by the bell boy that it hadn’t rained for almost a year and that we were indeed lucky.
When the showers come to this land, it puts on a show no entertainer can ever recreate. The trees wore a fresh, washed look, the animals’ new coats, and the earth took on the distinctive smell of fresh rain. Truly wizardry at work!
After lazing around on the balcony for almost an hour, we decided to go out into the wilderness of Gir. As our coach proceeded towards the sanctuary, an overwhelming sense of peace engulfed us. At times it felt like we were in a very fortunate place, far from the din and bustle of metropolitan India. Here we were slowly and gradually embracing the evergreen forest cover.
Midway we saw a herd of deer grazing in the grassland. And much to our delight, the herd came close to the marshy area bordering the road. Our guide instructed us not to make any noise as the deers might get distracted and flee from the scene. We made no noise all right, but I must tell you that there was frenzied clicking of cameras, which would serve as great take-away-home memory.
One full day lay ahead of us and our Tour Guide had planned a trip to the heart of the jungle. It is said that the real beauty of Gir forest unfolds if one goes deep inside the dry arid forest.
Besides lions, other animals found are the rare and elusive Leopard, Jungle Cat, and Rusty Spotted Cat. Among the prey species are the Cheetal, Sambhar, Four Horned Antelope, Wild Boar, and Hare. Gir also is home to Peacocks and Parakeets. With more than 200 species of avia-fauna, Gir is a bird watcher’s delight. The dazzling lakes and rivulets enhance the aesthetic beauty of Gir. We were especially fascinated by the sheer immensity of the Indian Buffalo.
Not far from the dirt road, our driver pulled up – “Lion” ! he said pointing to his right suddenly. The animal sprang forward with lightning speed and the next instant it had a “dik-dik”, the smallest member of the antelope family, hanging limp in its powerful jaws. The encounter was brief, dramatic, savage, and yet strangely beautiful rather than cruel. This is the place where the real action took place in a three-dimensional and unedited splendor just in front of our eyes.
As darkness enveloped the sky our driver suggested we return to the Lodge. We reluctantly headed back to the resort with my buddy Amit who was aping a few numbers from U2’s “Joshua Tree” album. From the lawn inside our Lodge, we looked across the herd of buffaloes and further ahead we could hear the haunting call of the wild. We were tired but at the same time were nostalgic as we sat beside a log fire reminiscing the day’s adventure.
After a good night’s sleep, we refreshed ourselves and had a light breakfast. We were ready for our journey to the core area of the forest. We were told that Gir was a mosaic of woods, grasslands, swamps, and streams with an unparalleled diversity of flora and fauna. We were shown a salt lick on the banks of a rivulet where a herd of Deer had come to lick the salt to quench their thirst.
That day the word “Eden” took on a new meaning. There was silence everywhere and not a soul could be seen. It was hauntingly wild and beautiful.
Gir authorities and resort owners recognize this fact and you find appeals to visitors not to crowd or disturb animals. In fact, conservation authorities in an impromptu session informed us of the ways and means in which they are redefining wildlife conservation in Gir Forest. According to Debasish Muduli, GM, Fern Gir Lodge – “Tourism is important to the economy, but in Gir or for that matter in any of India’s Wildlife Reserves and Parks, the animals have the right of way”. And indeed they do.
Meanwhile, during the course of our discussions with Mr.Muduli, from a distance, we could see a group of wildlife photographers arrive on a Gypsy. They had gone early in the morning deep inside Gir to have a glimpse of the rare and elusive Lions. The leader of the group – Nicholas from WWF India was ecstatic for he has had his feel with the camera capturing these elusive Lions of Gir forest.
By the time it was late afternoon, we decided to take some rest near a sparkling rivulet. Meanwhile, two lionesses had crept up to the left of the coach and since we all had our heads turned to the right, staring at the male, they stood barely a meter away looking into the front left window. Once the male settled down, my friend Sachin turned around and found himself staring into the mouth of one of the lionesses, which happened to be yawning. Scary stuff indeed!
A little ahead, we came across another lioness with the most adorable cubs. They were rolling and jumping about and generally enjoying the carefree days of their lives before they start thinking about going out hunting their own food.
Back at the Lodge, we discovered that two other groups had also encountered the same lioness and were raving about their magnificent manes.
All that trail walking and outback touring was great fun indeed and Ananda our cook was basting a butterfly-boned leg of a lamb on the barbecue, with his secret marinade as we climbed the lawn. Thrilled by our adventure we planned some action that night and approached the Fern Lodge management for a mid-night bash. All of us had to drape in white. Liquor flowed freely and the table brimming with goodies.
Tribal dancers performed a dance to the percussion beat of native Gujarat. A starlit dinner was exactly what the doctor ordered to finish off a truly memorable Gir Safari. Memories of Gir will linger on for a lifetime.
Traveler’s Fact File
The nearest airports are located at Rajkot at a distance of 150 km, Ahmedabad at 381 Kms and Diu which is all of 104 km from Gir Forest. The nearest international airport is Mumbai which is well served by numerous international airlines like British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Emirates, etc…
The nearest Railway Station is Sasan Gir just a few kilometers away and Junagadh which is a mere 65 km away.
The outstanding Fern Gir Forest Resort is one of the best options in terms of quality accommodation. This property has been awarded as The Best Jungle Resort of Gujarat at Golden Star Awards 2014 and Best 5 Star Resort of Gujarat by Tourism Awards Gujarat 2016.
Facilities are inclusive of – Wi-Fi Internet, two in-house restaurants for fine dining, an inspiring Spa, a swimming pool, and state-of-the-art conferencing facilities.
This outstanding resort set in picturesque natural surroundings has 40 marvelously appointed villas and suites. There are secret hideaway cottages and luxurious tents as well.