Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer dryness
    I left the Gir National Forest area around 10 AM. After traveling about 40 kilometers on a single lane road, we entered a four-lane divided highway.  I was guaranteed a driver that spoke some English but was not surprised to find that his only language was local Gujarati of this Indian state.  Not only did he not speak English, he could not read it either, and all the road signs were in the English language.  The only communications we had during the whole 11-hour trip was my poking him to get his attention, pointing in this direction or that and saying Bhuj.  The trip was only supposed to take seven hours but because of miscommunications, it took four hours longer.  The road was excellent and well marked, but the landscape throughout the whole of Gujarat was much like that of Gir Forest, parched from lack of rain.

Hotel Oasis
It was dark when we arrived at Hotel Oasis. Although it was centrally located, the hotel was disgusting by my standards.  That night I shared my shabby room with peeling paint and at least one cockroach.  Unfortunately, it was too late to change hotels.

   Note: One of the sites I really like for picking a hotel is Trip Advisor, but although contributors are suppose to sign they have no connection to the hotel they are recommending, in both Ahmedabad and in Bhuj there were many recommendations by local residences.  This exactly why I read at least ten reviews before making my hotel choices in both cities and even then, I got it wrong the first time in both cities. 
Hotel Price 
Often times when my sleep schedule is upset or the travel has been stressful, I have the physical reaction of a cold or slight respiratory infection, and one had developed by morning.  That next morning, I transferred to the Prince Hotel, rated number one in Bhuj and spent two days resting before I ventured out to again.  The Prince Hotel was rather worn as well, with a bit of peeling paint, yet it was a 100 times nicer than Hotel Oasis.  My room rate included breakfast, but if I had it in my room, I was not only charged a service fee but also for the breakfast. 
Typical Indian dress displayed in the museum.


After two days, I ventured out to the local tourist office and the Museum.  Even with directions by the hotel staff to the auto-rickshaw driver, he still could not find his way.  He finally dropped me near my intended location, and I had to wander among adjacent streets from building to building until I found the tourist office.  Once there, I found two young workers who had the requisite skill of all Indian government employees; they could speak English.  Yet they had no knowledge of the area, no brochures, and no maps.  What they did have were government jobs. 
Two students standing in front of a museum applique display. 
   After my Bhuj Tourist Office visit, I wandered back down the street to the local museum.  It was quite interesting with not only the expected historical textile display but also wonderful archeological and local history sections.  Unfortunately, I did not spend as much time as I had wished, as this was school groups day and there were at least 120 elementary through high school kids there who were more fascinated with me than the artifacts they had some distance to see.  Kids are fun, but over 120 all in the same area is a little overwhelming.  There were so many, they were like swarming bees in every section of the museum.  Upon escaping the multitude of youngsters, I hired an auto-rickshaw to return to my hotel and found what I perceived on my way to the tourist office.  Bhuj was one of those typical down-in-the-heel impoverished Indian villages.  But a village that, while maintaining its shabbiness, had expanded because it was surrounded by wonderfully talented artisans whose hand-produced products were found only in this area of India.  
    Upon my return to the hotel, the desk clerk arranged for me to go on a northern tour the next day with a young guide who took me to textile makers, craft makers, and the Kutch. 
A village door

A village house

Another village house

A woman entering a house

This part of Gujarat is called Kutch, a word meaning tortoise in Sanskrit because it is a marshland.  A marshland, which during the monsoon season is covered with rain and the influx of salt water from the Arabian Sea. During the winter dry season, when the water recedes, much of the land is covered with a hard crust of salt, i.e. like a tortoise’s shell, the Kutch. 
One of the artisans' little village near the Kutch.
An atist finishing an applique
During the tour, I was taken to see artists in applique and patchwork, and Rogan: a hand painting technique mixing sunflower, linseed or castor oils with vivid colors of various minerals 
(interesting the area is covered in fields of Castor plants).   These malleable thickened pastes are stored in earthen pots to be applied on dyed cotton or silk cloths using either a wooden or metallic stylus in geometric or floral motifs.  

Painting Materals with Rogan paints

Finished Rogan material 
      We also visited a woodworker who made beautiful colorful kitchen cooking utensils and a metal

Hand making wooden utensils.
Beautiful wooden untensils

worker who, using no tools except a little hammer, made a lovely cat wind chime with little bells,

which I bought.
Hand making bells and chimes

Some bells

Then we went to the Kutch.

 Since Mr. Modi, the former Gujarati Governor,

has become Prime Minister of India, the Kutch

has been cleverly developed as a tourist


A temporary tourist tent village is placed on the

hard salt surface during the dry season and

rented out

to, in my opinion, gullible travelers who stay there for three to five nights, shopping at the pop-up

kiosks for local goods and going on to the vacant salt flats to experience the sundown.  Throughout

the crowd, impromptu musicians play local instruments’ and drums. It is also advertised that evening

entertainment happens within the tent village, but visitors who are not staying in the complex are

stopped at the gate, so I missed that part of the experience.  Since I was not captivated by the idea of

paying 225 US, for three days/two night at what was called the White Ram Resort experience, I

missed out on the inside village activities of Para Motoring, Bungee Trampoline, ATV rides, pool,

board games and Library.

A member of the Indian Military

Waiting for riders

Dancing on the KUTCH

In local dress on the KUTCH

The sun just before fading on the KUTCH

Typical tribal dress
     That evening in the lobby, of my hotel, I met Mr. A.A Wasir, a gracious, elderly gentleman who had what he called The Museum Quality Textiles. The next day upon my visit to Mr. Wasir’s, I was astounded to enter a large room harboring a vast collection of extremely valuable antique Indian textiles, floor to ceiling shelves on either side of the room of beautiful Indian fabrics.  Later, I learned that it was from Mr. Wasir’s collection around which the lovely petit Materials Museum at the HG hotel in Ahmedabad was designed. 
beautiful appliqué
Just one small shelve full of Indian fabrics
of the many, at Mr. Wasir's.

For your camel or family pet

Mr. Wasir holding a lovely handmade piece
handmade belts at Mr. Wasir's

     The next day, I flew from Bruj to Mumbai (Bombay), a city much different than ‘my old stamping ground Delhi’.  But That’s another story. 


                               PICTURES OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN OF THE KUTCH

 Although school is available to them, most of these children do not attend. After going for a short time, they give it up because they find a school schedule too rigid.  They would rather remain home, play, and show their family goods to any tourists that might arrive.

 Note the different clothing designs from the different village groups. I was told that although these households are very poor, the women have at least eight different outfits.

Rocking the baby in its crib


Thursday, May 19, 2016


The overnight train from Ahmedabad to Veravel arrived a little before six in the morning.   The driver stowed my suitcase in the back bin of the three-wheeled tuk tuk, as I settled into the back seat to be uncomfortably jostled about for the next 20 kilometers. Departing the main road, we turned left on to a mean looking dirt track, little more than a lane bordered by a parched deciduous scrub forest.  After a bumpy ride along a long white wall, we turned into the Savaj Resort and I was deposited at the office entrance.   
Reaort's charming little cabins that the government does not
let Savaj open for tourists

My room on stage right. 

Savaj Resort is rated no. 3 among BBs and Inns near Gir National Forest on Trip Advisor.  Even with a reservation, my arrival was a surprise to the staff. Not only was I was a western, not their usual clientele; but also a ‘woman’, traveling alone.  I was assigned a very nice room and sent off to lunch. The resort price includes three meals a day, of course all Indian food.  Except for breakfast, their choices being somewhat of a trial – I enjoyed a bit of granola with my yogurt – lunch and dinner were very good. 

My actual room - comfortable with TV, internet on the
porch and private bath.

Kitchen manager and his staff who were very helpful and that feed me well

When I went to the government travel office in Ahmedabad, they neglected to inform me that I had to have a reservation to get into Gir National Forest.  This was a problem. Here I had booked four nights at this resort and I was blocked from the very reason I had come here, to see the forest and hopefully an Asiatic lion or two.

The staff said there was no way I could obtain a reservation into Gir at this late date.  I felt there must be some way to get entry, and that these young men who ran Savaj Resort were thwarting me because of my Gender.  During a visit to Rajasthan, I had experienced the same attitude among the young men in that Indian state as well.  (Note: An Indian female friend  told me, she too was treated like second-class citizen when traveling alone during her Rajasthani travels).  I was also nickel and dimed when ever I was hiring a car or a rickshaw (I learned later, transportation rates were set so each of the two young hotel mangers received a cut of the price charged).

Fortunately, I became friends with two Indian/American couples, each a Mr. and Mrs. Patel, both of whom had moved to the States during the 1960s.  Yearly, they came to Savaj Resort to holiday with Mr. Mohan Patel one of their family, and also their boyhood friend and his wife, also a Petal, who had remained in Gujarat and became a successful businessman in his home state.  After their groups’ visit at Savaj, they would all travel to their Gujarati family homes and enjoy the winter in the warm Indian climate until the New Jersey weather where they lived in the States became warm again.

Mr. and Mrs. Patel

Mr and Mrs. Patel

( All the Patel families are just lovely people.  I am so delighted to have been able to spend time with them all). 
 After these gentlemen kindly interceded for me with the staff, all of a sudden I was told there might be a way to see the Asiatic Lions.  There are two sections to this 600 square mile park. One section may be entered on a walk-in basis, the Devaliya Park, while the other Gir National Forest is entered reservations only. A rickshaw was hired and off I went on the third morning of my stay. The manger, who sent me off, told me the wrong amount of money necessary for the park entrance fee, but I negotiated a deal in which the difference would be left at the resort for the park mangers. The cost for westerns was $40, and 150 rupees or about $2 for Indians.  Ah! Now to see the lions!  I boarded a 24-seater bus, and off we went cameras in hand.  While traveling around for at least 20 minutes, other than some deer, the only animals we saw were caged leopards, who growled at our passing.  Finally, we came upon three lionesses feeding off a carcass, obviously placed in that spot for the tourist trade.   The young lionesses ate first, while the older one waited until the others were finished.  Although, they are lovely animals, it was a paltry show for $40 bucks. 
Lion eating at Devaliya Park

Leopard at Devaliya Park

On our way back to Savaj, I had my driver stop at the entrance to Gir (main) section of the park.  Inside, I approached a nice young man in an office to find out how to get a reservation.  After all, this was the crème-de la-crème of the two parks and I believed I would have a better chance of seeing, ‘the lion king’ here than in the other park.  I was sent to the head administrator’s office, and after waiting a half hour was escorted into the office of the assistant administrator.  He said he would have a place for me on the 3PM to five tour and to be back here at 2:30.  He also explained that the cost to me would be $90. Of course upon my arrival back my permit was not ready.  The gentleman I had met earlier called up to the main office and said, ‘after all, you promised her’, and the permit soon arrived. 

I was finally seated in the back of a jeep that carried six passengers and off we went.
During the winter there is scant rain, some leaves were still hang limp on their weathered branches, tearfully weeping from lack of water. While others had given up and lay dead, strewn around the base of the weakened trees on the now gray cracked earth, devoid of nature’s nourishment to feed its normally beautiful appendages.  I was told that for three months of the year, in the summer, the monsoon rain turns the forest in to a verdant green, and it creates a canopy over the dark moist soil beneath its lush green branches. With foolish abandoned, now it was almost a graveyard of its summer eminence.
A road in Gir 

A view of what most of the Gir landscape
is like

A small settlement within the Gir National Forest
A mother and her cubs in Gir National Forest

As we rode up the hill on our right, we observed a small primitive Maldharis settlement, one of the few left in the confines of the Forest.  For almost two hours we wandered seeing a deer, four horned antelope, black bucks, a peacock, a mongoose, numerous birds, but no lions.  Finally near the end of our tour, we were taken to an area where again meat had been put out by the park staff, so a mother lion and her cubs could be seen feeding in the distance.  As we rode back to the park entrance rangers in another jeep stopped to tell us that a male lion was drinking at the water troft but even as we rushed, he was no longer there when we arrived.
etheral Gir Forest view

Obviously, I will never go to Gir National Forest again.  What a rip off.  Since my return home, I have learned that both Mumbai and Bangalore have ride through animal parks both of which have Asiatic Lions. Also, most lions sleep19 to 20 hours a day and do not come out until about 10 PM.  In 1900, there were only 20 lions left alive, victims of hunters and poachers.  A local ‘prince’ decided they were worth protecting, and because of his efforts there are now 500 lions, in the 600 square mile forest.  Unfortunately because of the increase in their numbers the six hundred square miles is not a large enough area to sustain the lions’ survival.  Currently, it is not unusual for a pride of lions to show up in a village and eat a cow or water buffalo, but never a local. The lions stay away from the villagers’ barking dogs, as they are the prey of the leopards. Rather, the lions live side by side with the villagers and never attack people, unless they or their young are threatened. 

Although I would again stay at Savaj Resort, (the rooms and grounds are very nice, and the staff really did try to make me comfortable),  my best advice to the traveler who must go to Gir National Forest, is find a nearby village where the lions are likely to visit, rent a room from a local, and hang out there until the lions arrive.  A more clever choice is to go on an African Safari.   African lions are the larger of the two species, but bottom line - a lion is a lion.  
 Lady walking through a local village

Drop In  Here! - a Savaj trash container found through out the resort.

I had arranged to leave for Bhuz the next morning, and the hoteliers guaranteed that the driver would be ‘English speaking.  Of course he was not. Non-the-less, I was on another adventure, off to see one of India’s main centers of handmade Indian Textile production, and the Kutch.