GIR NATIONAL FOREST
THE ROAD TO BHUJ
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.
|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 view of what most of the Gir landscape|
|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.
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.