SASAN: If one has to travel from Visavadar to Talala in Junagadh district by a regular highway, one would have to go through Bilkha and Mendarda to reach Talala,which is at least 130 km away. Instead, people just drive through the Gir sanctuary, which reduces the total distance to 52 km.
The option may save travellers time and fuel, but it adds to the air and noise pollution of the Gir sanctuary, besides increasing the inflow of uncontrolled visitors to the protected habitat of the Asiatic lion. Welcome to the Gir sanctuary which, apart from becoming a happy hunting ground for lion killers, has also turned into a virtual thoroughfare connecting Junagadh and Amreli.
At least 500 vehicles pass through the Una-Talala or Dhari-Una road in Gir everyday. And there is no curbing this traffic, even after darkness.
The shrines located in the sanctuary also add to the lions' troubles. The Kankai Mata temple, Banej, Pataleshwar Mahadev and Tulsishyam are some of the religious spots inside Gir which are thronged by visitors. People even spend nights inside the sanctuary on certain religious occasions.
Officials fear that these relaxations could lead to Gir going the Sariska way, where tigers began disappearing. Former principal conservator of forests and member of the National Wildlife board, GA Patel says, "Sariska has a busy highway passing through the sanctuary which could have played a major role in the poaching of tigers."
Patel adds there is no political will to curb the traffic. "We are fighting a losing battle. Something should be done to save the big cats. There is need for some drastic measures." Additional principal chief conservator of forest Pradeep Khanna says the issue has been taken up at different levels and on several occasions.
The Roads through GIR
Visavadar – Sasan
Jamwada – Kankai
Jamwada – Banej
Una – Talala (24 Hours)
Jamwada – Dhari
Babariya – Patra – Banej
Junagadh – Talala
Haripur – Hirenwel
Dhari – Una via Tulsishya (24 Hours)