Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In the lion’s den

In the lion's den
Times of India by Himanshu Kaushik

What does it mean to breathe the same air as king of the jungle?

There is something magical about seeing a lion in the wild. The Asiatic lion, found only in Gujarat's Gir forest today, can inspire awe, fear and respect all rolled into one when you share the same turn with him. You understand why he is called the king of the jungle.

So, what does it take to visit the lion in his kingdom in Gir? Not much actually - just a car and a budget of about Rs 20,000 for a couple of nights if you want a bit of luxury. But you can do it on shoestring budget as well...

The Gir National Park in Junagadh is spread over 1,412 sq km of lush green forest with a river and streams crisscrossing here and there. The April 2005 census stated Gir has 359 lions, an increase of 32 since 2001. The forest area and the lions were declared protected in the early 1900s by the then Nawab of the princely state of Junagadh and has continued to this day.

The ideal time to visit the forest is between December and April. The park remains closed between June and October. Though the lions are elusive, you can see at least one on a safari with a morning trip being the best.

Although the lions are the main show, Gir also has another attractive predator -- the leopard. The park is home to one of the largest leopard populations in India. During the summer months, they can often be seen at night close to the lodges. With many of these hotels and lodges situated near the jungle, one can even hear the roar of the cats late at night. Other residents of the park are Sambar deer, Chital, Spotted Deer, Nilgai four-horned antelope, Chinkara gazelle, wild boar, jackals, and Hyenas and numerous bird species.

If one fails to see the lion in the wild, the other option available is 12 km from Sasan at Devalia, which has the interpretation zone within the precincts of the sanctuary. Spread over 4.12 sq km, the zone has a cross section of wildlife in Gir, including half-a-dozen lions. One cannot take one's car into Devalia with the official government bus being the only mode of transport.

If you are only looking to enjoy a drive through Gir, you can take the several roads which pass through the jungle, like the Sasan-Visawadar stretch. But you have to take care not to step out of the car and cover the nearly 30 km stretch in two hours.

Besides, Kankai Mata and Tulsishyam temples are two pilgrim centres located in the park which are worth visiting, the highlight of Tulsishyam is the 'hot springs'. Somnath temple is also about 50 km from Sasan.

Besides, The highest point in Gujarat — Mount Girnar — has for centuries been one of the most important pilgrim sites in the state with 866 Hindu and Jain temples spread over five summits.


ROAD | Gir National Park is 60 km from Junagadh, the most popular base. It is 360 km from Ahmedabad.

BY RAIL | One can travel by rail to Junagadh from Ahmedabad or Rajkot and take a 65-km road trip by bus or taxi to Sasan Gir

BY AIR | One can fly to Rajkot (from Mumbai) and then take a taxi to Sasan Gir.

PERMIT To enter the protected area, a permit can be obtained at the Sinh Sadan Orientation Centre between 7 am and 11am and between 3 pm and 5:30 pm.

BUDGET Rs 5,000 for two days if you choose a non-AC room. Average charges for non-AC rooms range from Rs 500 to 1800 .
If you want to stay in an air-conditioned room, one would need Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for a weekend trip. Charges for AC rooms start at Rs 3,500 per day
Several hotels offer package tours which include safari, food and lodging. A two nights package can cost around Rs 17,000.

ENTRY FEE FOR INDIANS | Rs 600 per vehicle with up to 6 occupants from Monday to Friday and Rs 700 on weekends and holidays.

ENTRY FEE FOR FOREIGNERS | US $ 40 (must be paid in rupees).
Rs 750 for jeep and guide for lion safari inside the sanctuary.

WHERE TO STAY There are some 110-odd air-conditioned rooms and equal number of non-AC rooms available in hotels around Gir.
Many new hotels are situated on the banks of the Hiran river and offer airconditioned hut-like structures.
CAMERA Rs 100 for a camera with over 7 megapixels

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