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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Gir National Park – Home of the Asiatic Lion!!

Of days gone by...this January during my solo all India motorcycle journey


     
Gir National Park, which is the only abode of the rare Asiatic lion is situated in the south west of the Saurashtra peninsula. The Gir forest, stretching over an expanse of 1,412 sq km, is one of the largest tracts of dry deciduous forests in the world.

 
The entire landscape is drained by seven perennial rivers. A large chunk of the forest land falls under what is known as the Deccan trap, one of the largest volcanic provinces in the world. Thanks to volcanic rocks, the area has black cotton soil and sandstone.


After relaxing a couple of days at Diu, I took sparsely populated country roads to reach Sasan Gir to begin my tour of the world of the rare Asiatic lion. Sasan Gir is a dusty and badly managed one-road stretch where most of the hotels and restaurants do business. The buses and the fish carts run chaos here. But, since I was here to enjoy the exotic wildlife here, I tried to forget my dusty surroundings and checked into the budget hotel “Rajashri Guest House’ that is opposite the Sinh Sadan Guest House, the forest department run tourism centre.


During my 3 day stay here, I took 3 morning and 2 evening safaris into different parts of the Gir Jungle. One can get their entry tickets, book their forest guides and book the jungle safaris at the reception desk in the Sinh Sadan Guest House. A lot of tourist guides here are of African origin and they share the buffer zone of the Gir forests with the lions and the other jungle denizens. As history goes, the Nawab of Junagadh ordered a lot of slaves from Africa during his merry days. Today, these folks are as much an Indian citizen as the rest of India and enjoy the privileges that the Indian citizenship offers. Having been in India for generations, these guys speak Hindi and Gujarati fluently, but still retain their native dialects and scripts. Recently, these folks of African origin
were made popular by the Bajaj Discover TV advertisement.


Each jungle safari offered me sights of different breathtaking beauties and thus added variety in spice. It was the very first morning safari (Route 5) and I was just 15 minutes into our drive when I spotted 2 male Asiatic lions (brothers) slowly ambling in front of the jeep and on the soft ground. As we know, most of the felines have sensitive paws and thus prefer to walk on the soft mud-covered jeep tracks. I stood transfixed in my jeep admiring this proud and powerful species. I was hoping to hear them roar, but it looked like these lion brothers in front of me were happy to take a leisurely morning stroll. Locals here told me that an adult lion’s roar can be heard till as far away as 9 kilometres from the lion. Now isn’t that some mighty roar!!



The Gir forest has an estimated 352 lions. But, the story here is that these 352 lions share the same gene pool as they were bred from less than 20 specimens. What this means is that a single epidemic, to which these lions are exposed could wipe out the species entirely!


I went to different parts of this jungle. Whether it be dry scrub land (Route 5), yellow grass land (Route 6) or the green terrain near Kamleshwar dam, Gir is extremely rich in wildlife and is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The bold pride of lions, a jackal basking in the early morning golden sun, a crested serpent eagle (female) guarding its nest, the very exquisite looking painted sand grouse, the national bird of India – the peacock, a scampering ruddy mongoose, scores of nilgai, sambar deer, spotted deer and other birds is what I got to see at this amazing place.


After my first morning trip where I spotted the lion brothers, I wasn’t able to sight any more of this rare beauty till my 5th and final jungle safari (Route 6). This happened to be the evening shift. It was late in the evening close to dusk hours when I spotted a lioness and her female cub. My forest guide told me that the female cub was no older than 2 years, but till date I doubt his judgement as I was awed at the sheer power that the female cub oozed even at such a young age.


The overall wildlife experience was fabulous for me, but the only thing that pinched my heart were the umpteen smoke belching small scale industries that have propped up around the boundaries. These small scale industries not only increase the air and water pollution levels, but also bring in a larger population. Hopefully, the government will prevent the Gir forest and the pride of Gujarat from any further degradation.

Following were the mammals I spotted during my 3 day stint here: Asiatic Lion, Asiatic Lioness and her cubs, Jackal, Ruddy Mongoose, Common Mongoose, Common Langaur, Nilgai (Bluebull), Spotted Deer (Chital), Sambar deer, and Wild Boar.

Following were the birds I spotted during my 3 day stint here: Shikra, Blue cheeked bee eater, Peacock, White-breasted kingfisher, Rose-ringed parakeet, Asian Robin, Spotted Owlet, Common Buzzard, Oriental Tree Pipit, Rufus tree pie, Red Vented Bulbul, Red Wattled Lapwing, Darter, Small Blue Kingfisher, Indian Pond Heron, White-Breasted Kingfisher, Crested Serpent Eagle (female), Purple Sunbird, Oriental White Eye, Common Tailor Bird, Yellow Legged Green Pigeon, Little Cormorant, Common Babbler, Black Ibis, Little Egret, Eurasian thick knee, Painted Sand grouse and Little brown dove.

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist’s lens, visit the album below.
my solo all-india motorcycle journey



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