The sun hadn’t dawned bright, but it wasn’t dark. Early morning hours, four of us packed in 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 the spotting in Gir, I couldn’t help wonder if I’d be among them. 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 bottle of cold 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 dont’s, and re-assuring us of his sincere attempts in trying his best to spot the jackpot – lion in this case. Like he was going to cuff the poor (pun intended) animal by his neck and magically make him appear before us like a wizard. Not particularly interested in stopping by for long hauls, we quickly went past the spotted deers, black buck, sambars, and blue bull. 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, 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 the wild beast.
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 the curve bent. A second later and 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 a sound. The vehicle was trailing behind the mighty beast, like a servant obeyed its master. The forest guards on their motorbike ahead of our jeep, and the magnificent pride ahead of them, it was like a procession led by a ruler. Scared as I was, I couldn’t help admiring the magnificence of the creatures who ruled the jungle. Each time one of the heads turned to look on at the intruders of their space, my heart sank. 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 signalled 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 disobeyence, and the mother didn’t seem pleased. We caught the last glimpse of the pride making its way into the interiors with our jeep rushing past. Moments later, I found myself engulfed in the ecstasy of what I encountered seconds back. I was a storm of feelings – ecstatic, grateful, relieved, overwhelmed, and above all, feeling 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 that 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. Although in my heart I was convinced that nature had played its role in being instrumental to His mighty visit in our presence. It was a part of a larger universal plan. The remaining safari was only a drive through the forests, our major agenda having been achieved, though we enjoyed the sign languages and the murmurs that the drivers of other vehicles shared with ours about the secret whereabouts of the King of the jungle. Each driver stopped and in their local language asked if we had spotted the lion. Once it has been spotted, no one is allowed to share information regarding its whereabouts.
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. Last couple of snaps with the driver and the guide, and we were officially done with our last leg of the Saurashtra tour. A full circle, the journey had indeed ended but the memories lingered on, this time with a