The sun hadn’t dawned bright, but it wasn’t dark. Early morning hours and four of us packed into our car, set out for the much awaited road trip covering Saurashtra. The entire route had been planned and by the end of it, well orchestrated. Having covered Dwarkadhish, Porbandar, Somnath and Diu, charting a total distance of 760 km already, we were all set to hit Sasan Gir and say hello to our next adventure.
Sasan Gir spelled excitement. As the destination approached closer, anticipation and hope got the better of me. Although I had heard stories of people getting lucky with lion spotting in Gir, I couldn’t help wonder if I’d be able to count myself among the lucky ones. Known the world over as the last home of the Asiatic lion, the stakes were high and I could feel the adrenaline rush right from the word go.
We crossed the Sanctuary Reserve area and made our way to the lodge amidst the dense jungles. The resorts were lined, one after the other and as each one passed, we were restless to stop by ours — The Gir Jungle Lodge. After a welcome bottle of chilled soft drink and initial formalities, we were escorted to our rooms. The place gave a touristy feel, lined with tents and standard rooms with open fields on the other side of the accommodation area. We freshened up, and later basked in the sun, seated in the balcony area overlooking the open rice fields.
Next, we geared up for the drive to the Gir Forest National Park. A couple of minutes’ wait at the counter, and we were set to wade past route no. 3 and into the wild. The safari started with the guide acquainting us with the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’, and re-assuring us of his sincere attempts in trying his best to spot us the jackpot — a lion-in this case. Much to our amusement, he was pretty much behaving like he was going to cuff the poor (pun intended) animal by his neck and magically make him appear before us, like a wizard (Rolling eyes)! Not particularly interested in stopping by for long hauls, we quickly went past the spotted deers, black bucks, sambars, and blue bulls. Our eyes were watchful and our ears sensitive to even the slightest movement in the dense jungles of the Gir Reserve. Having already been to Ranthambore and Sariska National Parks, it wasn’t our first drive through a wildlife park, yet we were hopeful as one is at the start of every journey, particularly if it involves the chance of a hands-on encounter with one of the world’s most fascinating predators.
From one to the next, the guide’s sagas of how lions are always spotted in pairs, to the time when it is most likely to spot one, kept us engaged and riveted. About fifteen minutes had passed by; we saw a pride of spotted deer cut across the trail we were following. A few minutes later, I heard my dad making sounds of hush and shush as the vehicle made its way through a bent curve. A second later, my dad who couldn’t help contain his excitement, started showing a thumbs up. My confusion turned into disbelief as I saw the mighty creature leading the trail on the track ahead of us. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that there it was, a pride of lions leading the trail — two female lionesses and two male cubs. Silence engulfed us, at that moment even the sound of the camera shutter sounded deafening.
The guard warned us not to make even the slightest sound. The vehicle was trailing behind the mighty beast, like a servant slowly following its master. The forest guards were on their motorbike ahead of our jeep, and the magnificent pride ahead of them- to me it seemed like a procession- led by an authoritative ruler. Scared as I was, I still couldn’t help admiring the magnificence of the creatures who ruled the jungle. Each time one of the lions turned their heads to take a look at the intruders invading their space, my heart skipped a beat. My only prayer was to come out of this experience — alive!!
The mother went and sat in the shade of the nearest tree. The driver halted the jeep, and we found our moment to capture the magnificent creature in all its glory. The sojourn continued for about 10 minutes until the forest guards signaled the driver to wade past the pride and make its way into the forest. And so the driver picked up speed and forayed into the trail ahead, almost as if the code of the jungle had been broken. The wilderness screeched disobedience, and the mother didn’t seem pleased. We caught the last glimpse of the pride making its way into the interiors of the jungle, with our jeep rushing past. Moments later, I found myself engulfed in the ecstasy of what I encountered seconds back. A storm of feelings were raging within me — ecstatic, grateful, relieved, overwhelmed, and above all, real lucky! My emotion of feeling blessed and lucky was reaffirmed some time later, when the guard reiterated that rarely does one find the entire pride, that too at such close quarters. They are generally found sleeping or spotted in some interior of the dense reserves, especially during this time of the day.
The guard started with another saga, this time about the probable reason around its appearance out of the blue — search for food and water. However, I prefer to believe that all my good karma had played a blessed role in making the ‘King (in this case the Queen) of the Jungle’ and its pride appear in our presence 😉 It was definitely a part of a larger universal plan. The remainder of the safari was spent taking a simple but engaging drive through the forest- with our major bucket list item ticked off with the sight of the lions-though we thoroughly enjoyed the sign languages and the murmurs that the drivers of other vehicles exchanged with ours about the secret whereabouts of the magnificent King of the Jungle. Each driver stopped and in the local language asked if we had spotted the lion.
As the safari drew to a close, those 10 minutes of the 2 hour drive flashed before my eyes, and I could feel the gaze of those eyes piercing through the dense expanses of the jungle. We took a few more snaps of the jungle and some with the driver and the guide, after which we concluded the last leg of the Saurashtra tour. A full circle of the forest was done. Though the journey had ended but the memories lingered on, this time with a loud roar!