Sunday, February 15, 2015

Last home of the Asiatic lions

So yet another late night post, but too lazy to draft something new right now hence bringing in one from the drafts. Had originally written this experience for Shadows Galore as I was never sure of starting my blog. So here's a special piece.

After having a grueling session of Counter-Strike, four of us went for some snacks nearby. Cursing ourselves for not able to organize a single tour in our 4 years of engineering, we were very determined to correct the statement. Within moments we decided to visit the pride of Gujarat, Asiatic Lions of Sasan Gir. We decided to leave by 8 in the morning but we left at 11 courtesy Harnish Doshi. We reached Gir at 3 after a lunch at Junagadh. Searched and compromised on a low-cost hotel courtesy Vasu Ukani. We visited Devaliya wildlife sanctuary, which is an enclosed area of around 20+ sq. km where they make you travel by bus, and you can see a glimpse of what is inside the Gir forest.

Later that evening after relaxing at the hotel a bit and dinner, we left for a village nearby, the locals having connections with one of us we decided to visit the forest at night on foot with a high probability of spotting a Lion a few meters away! We reached the farm and the darkness and feeling of being inside a Jungle with over 400 Lions is shudder inducing. We could see a Zillion stars up in the sky with artificial light missing, could hear the noise of the jungle and felt like we were camera team from Animal Planet! We stayed put for a few hours and waited to hear the Lion’s roar so we could start walking in its direction but unfortunately the report from the sources indicated absence of Lion in the surrounding. Still for an experience we walked our way into the jungle to a spot where Lions are observed usually. The darkness made it impossible to step precisely on raw roads; the walk was scary with the possibility of being attacked by a Leopard or being caught by forest officials and end up in newspaper being tagged poachers (the whole affair being illegal and strictly punishable). My personal advice to you would be not to come into honey trap of night visits/tours by any guide or hotel personnel, as it is a money making business with fine being up to 50,000. We could not spot Lions anywhere at night and started our returning journey to our hotel, the raw and isolated road along with the ghost stories going on inside the car made it another scary environment.

Yes it was freezing cold even after all that we had on us

The next plan was the (legal) emulated safari at dawn, but achieving the permission for it was an uphill task, with the forest department providing only 15 permissions in the morning. So for the 6:30 safari we had to be in queue for achieving the permission at 4:00! A few of us went to Sinh sadan to get the permission and remained successful at it. Soon we were waiting for the gates of the forest to open at 6:30. We felt frosty with sub-zero temperatures and nipping wind being felt in the back of open gypsy (preferable for the safari). Couple of hundred meters in, we spotted 2 trackers (forest officials who track lions) and one of them hitchhiked with us. He gave us the gratifying news of a male lion being close to us, as they had heard the roar just a few minutes ago. We headed for the roar, the tracker made the vehicle stopped by an artificial water pond and soon spotted the paws. He made noises of deer, and as a repercussion the great king of the jungle roared. It is indefinable! That moment clears all your ambiguity about who the real king of the jungle is! Listening at the roar the guide surprised us telling that according to him the Lion was about a km in the jungle, the trackers now united decided to do their job and started heading towards the lion on foot, to remind you it was pitch black! Couple of minutes later one of the tracker screamed out “Aa rio” meaning, here it is! At the closest he stood only a couple of feet from the king. We could hear the roaring at intervals and the guide suggested we move on, as the roars were quietening he said the Lion won’t return. So we moved on deeper into the forest leaving the trackers behind, slowly the sunrays began to protrude through the darkness. We spotted rain-deer, deer, wild boars and peacocks but there was no satisfaction until we saw the lion, and to defy our luck we could see three of them together! They were gorgeous, relaxing in the cool environment after hunting in the dark.

The forest officials made sure discipline was maintained by the visitors, all vehicles were given turns to watch the king for couple of moments. From the breathtaking sight we moved on to Kamleshwar dam which had little water thanks to the scarce monsoon in Saurashtra, but the rising sun posed perfectly in order to create a pleasurable portrait. We had a 10 minute halt at the dam and after a session of photography moved on back into the town and the memorable safari came to an end.

It’s a place you must visit in your lifetime! The Gir national park is open from mid-October to mid-June. I insist you pre-book your journey, hotel and safari as early as a month before travel to avoid long wait in queue for the entry permission. 

"Yaha khushboo hai mel milap ki, patte pedo ki, Sheero ki, yaha khushboo hai Gujarat ki
Agar aap sher dil hai to rahiye sheero k saath me...kuch din to guzariye Gujarat me!"
-Amitabh Bachchan

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gokarna, the land of Bob Marley followers

Continued from Goa trip
Oops it's been a while
On returning to the campus I was too tired and slept without planning for anything but the tatkal ticket back to Mumbai!
Got up just in time for the tatkal bookings but I have always been lucky with my bad luck!!
So with nothing to do, we booked tickets for Gokarna and left campus in no time to reach Karmali station to catch our train for Gokarna.
Well not all things go the way you have planned, on reaching the station we discovered the train for which we had booked our ticket was never going to reach Karmali station and the journey was from Madgaon station instead which is like an hour away!
Yes..we were screwed!
Finally we managed to change trains and were on a train that did not have a scheduled stop at Gokarna but would stop 15 kms past Gokarna. As luck would have it the train started getting late which proved to be a boon as it made an unscheduled stop at Gokarna! :D Finally something to cheer about..
Oh yea the train journey was beautiful as it passed through the Konkan range, a sight definitely worth experiencing.
So we had made it to Kudle beach approx 4 hours later than desired, it was dark by the time we got there and the only thing we could spot on the beach were dimly lit food joints and high people.
Neither of us had checked what to do in Gokarna and apparently there was no internet connection on cell phones there, which made us feel like banging our head. So we had landed in hippie land with absolutely no idea of what to do or what was it famous for. However it did not take us long to identify the reggae music being played on every goddamn device and the heavy following of Bob Marley and the things he was infamous for i.e., weed!

So there we were in a tiny beach village of Karnataka where foreign tourists were much more than local ones and the main boost to local economy was beer and weed! I was flabbergasted by the sheer usage of the two items specially the latter one "publicly"!
So people roaming around the beautiful Kudle beach were HIGHer than heaven, nevertheless it was fun watching them trying to balance themselves while helping others! A memorable night it was.
We started the search of a hut/room by inquiring at different restaurants soon we learnt our luck was still nowhere in sight and that all accommodations were full for the night!!
We settled down at a food joint where the guy took an hour to serve, finally around 11 we were mentally prepared to sleep on the beach <3 but we had thought of checking accommodation at Om beach before retiring for the day. Off we were at 11 in the night on a 20 minute night trek with the path being lightened by the torch of our barely charged phones.

Surprised yet again by the solitude on the famous beach, we had a short halt there before making our way back to the populace Kudle beach. It took me a while to convince J to go back to Kudle, told him about my SCUBA experience on the way after which he has vowed to do it, soon.
SCUBA experience post coming soon.
And after the return trek we reached Kudle and after a heated discussion found a place to sleep for the night. Low on planning as we were, we had no sleeping bag and no sheet to spread or cover ourselves.
The stars were countless and beautiful, I stared for over an hour before sleeping, saw a shooting star as well all accompanied by the sounds of powerful waves crashing on the beach.
Woken up by the rooster crowing after a chilling night, I woke J up. He said we had got visitors at night, those with 4 legs and they were sniffing around, yes stray dogs.
The experience of sleeping on the beach was absolutely worth it..! Must do at least once, I insist.
As the rays of the sun began hitting the blue water far off in the sea we started jogging on the beach to get rid of the cold.
Had some breakfast at a restaurant and met a couple of people who were still on cloud 9!
We had to catch a train late morning hence couldn't get a lot of time to explore the place and realized on returning that we had missed the famous Gokarna beach.

That was all from my unplanned Goa trip with J. Have promised a few more and looking forward to it with him.
Keep your emotions flowing with comments