Gir National Park – Home to the Asiatic Lion
Our Brush with the Big Cat
The King of the Jungle awaits you. If you are in India it would be almost sacrilege not to keep your date with him! Sasan Gir near Junagadh in Gujarat (India) is home to the Asiatic Lions found only here in its natural habitat. Otherwise, lions can be sighted in Africa. Gir National Park , though declared a sanctuary in 1965, the conservation efforts started in the early 1900s under the patronage of the then Nawab of Junagadh when the lion population had dwindled drastically! The lion is considered to be the king of the jungle and in Indian dialect (Hindi) a lion is called ‘sher or sinh’ while a tiger is called ‘bagh’.
A couple of days in Gir Sanctuary, which we spent here, are a bit too few to be able to appreciate the flora and fauna in its entirety and perhaps interact with the local herder Maldhari community or visit the Siddi settlement. As per folklore, the Siddis are tribals from Africa whose ancestors were part of the entourage of an African princess married to the Nawab of Junagadh. Another story insists that they were brought as slaves into India by the Portuguese 300 years earlier. We were lucky to witness the Siddis one evening exhibiting the Goma music and dance form with traditional strains of tribal culture of the African Bantu people.
We were staying at just the periphery of the sanctuary. All of a sudden the silence of the evening was shattered by a thunderous roar ripping through the darkness. Frightful? Yes, frightful and terrifying. The predator was out for a kill. Though the lion must have been some kms away it felt as if he was near our rooms. A great precursor to the safari the next morning!
Gir offers both the Gir Jungle Trail and the Devalia Park Safari. The Devalia Park Safari is in 4.12 sq km of fenced area where the tour is conducted in an enclosed bus. More like an open zoo, not too much excitement or adventure, I guess, besides you might feel distressed viewing the wild animals, born to roam free, in a restricted area.
True wildlife enthusiasts will certainly opt for the Gir Jungle Trail, which we did. One safari is for about three hours in the core forest area in an open jeep with an official guide. We went on both the morning and afternoon safaris. The deciduous forest here makes sightings easier. Out of the 500 odd lions of Gir we saw nine of them (lion, lioness, cubs) over four occasions. It was fun watching a pride of lions with cubs in a lazy mood. We also caught a thrilling glimpse of a lioness dragging a kill. But for us the pièce de résistance was the Alpha Male, the King of the Jungle, with a dark shaggy mane, sunlight reflecting off his tawny coat. He disdainfully strode away before we could ‘shoot’ him. As we were driving back a leopard streaked across vanishing in the flash of an eye.
Langurs, peacocks, blue bulls (nilgai), fox, herds of spotted deer (cheetal), sambar deer were some other animals we encountered, albeit from a distance. Also a few birds including the green bee eater.
A wildlifer’s dream is a rendezvous with the king of the beasts, his majesty, the lion in the jungle, in his native environment. One dream fulfilled amongst many others!