Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sneak in as pilgrim, spend a night in Gir sanctuary

Times of India By: Himanshu Kaushik   Dt. 15-4-2007


TULSISHYAM: If just looking at lions from the protected environs of a jeep are not enough and you want more, go to this Junagarh district town in the heart of Gir forest as a pilgrim.


Get to spend a night in Gir forest and wake up to the chirping of forest birds the next morning. Definitely don't go to the forest department, simply take a state transport bus to Tulsishyam, known for its hot water springs and temple dedicated to Lord Krishna.


Officially, spending a night in the sanctuary is prohibited, but forest officials say nearly 200 people halt for the night at the various dharamshalas located in Tulsishyam. All the officials know is how many vehicles have entered the sanctuary and will be parked for the night at Tulsishyam. They cannot tell which passenger is a pilgrim or tourist.


Tulsishyam is the only religious place where there is permission to a night halt in the sanctuary. And for political reasons, this has not be restricted. As per the rules, only private vehicles with permission to enter the sanctuary to go to Tulsishyam are forced to exit before 9 pm.


A driver on a Gujarat State Transport bus from Himmatnagar to Tulsishyam says, "I halt at Tulsishyam daily. We sleep in the staff room provided to us and hardly keep tabs on the passengers."


"Somebody with ulterior motives can also enter the jungle in our buses and remain there, without anybody getting to know," says another bus driver. In the absence of any control, passengers are seen moving around freely in the sanctuary.


Tushar Shah, who stayed overnight in Tulsishyam, says, "I moved about in the jungle trying to spot some wild animals, but I did not spot a single forest guard." Another pilgrim, Kaushal Karsanbhai says he came on the Junagadh-Tulsishyam bus and spent a whole day in the sanctuary, but none of the beat guards bothered questioning him.

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