Monday, February 25, 2008

Poachers kill spotted dear in Gir forest.

Posted online: Sunday , February 24, 2008 at 01:16:44
Updated: Sunday , February 24, 2008 at 01:36:13

Junagadh, February23 In less than a year, Gir forest is again under serious threat from poachers. A series of incidents of poaching and attacking forest guards inside the sanctuary have surfaced now. On Friday evening, three poachers had killed one spotted dear and attacked two forest guards in the Jawantri area under the Jamwala forest range in Gir west forest division, of whom one was seriously wounded. After the incident, the three tried to flee from the spot, but by Saturday noon, two of them surrendered before the Talala police.
When contacted, deputy conservator of forest (Gir-west) B P Pati confirmed the incident, saying, “Two forest guards heard the sound of gunfire during routine patrolling. They immediately rushed towards the direction of the sound and saw three locals moving around with countrymade guns.”

According to Pati, the forest guards tried to overpower the poachers, but in the process one guard, identified as Bhavesh Bakotra (30) was seriously injured, while another guard identified as A P Dokal was threatened at gunpoint. Later, the three poachers escaped from the scene.

Pati said Dokal immediately informed his superiors about the incident with his cellphone. Forest officials rushed to the spot soon after and hospitalised the injured forest guard, whose condition was reported to be critical at the time of admission. He is now out of danger, though.

Meanwhile, according to a confirmed report, two out of three poachers have surrendered before the Talala police. The duo has been identified as Kalu Jumma Dafer, a resident of Jawantri village, and Abdul Dafer, a resident of Sangodra village. It is significant that Sangodra and Jawantri are both located on the periphery of Gir forest. The police have arrested both the accused.

Bakotra has lodged complaints against the three with the Talala police under Sections 307 (attempt of murder) 186 (preventing government official from performing official duty) and 332 (physically assaulting on-duty government official), of the Indian Penal Code. The three have also been booked under various provision of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 rule 9, 2 and 51.

According to Pati, the killing of wild animals in the forest area is a serious offence, liable to punishment with imprisonment between three to seven years and fine or both.

According to police and forest sources, both Kalu and Abdul have admitted that they have killed a spotted dear, though the carcass is yet to be recovered. A manhunt has also been launched to nab the third poacher while police authorities have grilled the two and their further interrogation is awaited.

"Locals from the Dafer (a Scheduled Tribe) community are involved in this crime. Many from this community are habitual poachers of herbivores, particularly deer or blue-bull. The community members generally takes shelter in an isolated area far from human habitat. They are spread throughout Gujarat, but their prime profession is to provide protection to standing crops in the agricultural area," said sources.

Leopard caught from Junagadh sheep pen.

Posted online: Monday , February 25, 2008 at 12:54:35
Updated: Monday , February 25, 2008 at 01:14:10

Junagadh, February 24 A Leopard took shelter in the sheep-pen of a shepherd in Fareda village, some 20 kms from Una town in Junagadh district, on Friday. It stayed there the whole night, preyed on a goat, before being caged and shifted to the forest area, the next morning.
According to reports, a leopard, which was roaming in the village around midnight, entered Bhana Parmar’s house and preyed on a goat in the adjoining shed. Hearing some commotion Parmar went inside the pen and saw the big cat preying on a goat. He somehow gathered courage and closed the door of the room.

He then immediately informed the forest officials.

In the morning, foresters from the Babaria range reached the spot and managed to trap the animal. It was shifted to a safer place in the Gir forest later. However, before the big cat was safely caught, Parmar and his family had to spend a sleepless night what with a leopard lurking in their premises.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, three lions reportedly preyed on a donkey in Aambecha village near Malia town of Junagadh district. Sources said that the lions killed a donkey belonging to one Bhanabhai, a potter. Forest sources said that owners of the dead animals, in both cases, would be compensated.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

No plan to relocate Asiatic lions of Gujarat: Forest Conservator.

Junagadh, Gujarat, Feb 16: There have been no plans to relocate the famous Asiatic lions at the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, as speculated by a section of wildlife activists and the media, state Forest Conservator Chief Pradeep Khanna has said.

Mr Khanna was commenting on the speculations in media and wildlife circuit that the State Government has planned to transfer the lions to Madhya Pradesh.

Mr Khanna also visited forest of Girnar and reviewed the steps taken to ensure that the incidents of poaching do not take place in this world famous sanctuary.

The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, had worked out a plan in early nineties to transfer some of the lions to the Palpur Kuno Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh to insulate lions against outbreak of epidemics, enemy attack or any natural calamity which, it was feared, could wipe out their entire lion population.

Adjoining Barda forest range has also been cited as a possible relocation site for many years.

The Gujarat government has been, however, opposing relocation of the lions to Madhya Pradesh or anywhere outside the state by saying that the lions are an exclusive heritage of the state and part of its cultural identity.

--- UNI

Lioness gives birth ot 5 cubs at Rajkot zoo.

The Rajkot Zoo became richer with the arrival of three lion cubs on Tuesday evening. Born to 'Masti', aged three and a half years, all three cubs are in healthy condition. With the birht of these cubs, Rajkot zoo becomes another zoo having some population of Asiatic Lions in Gujarat. In Junagadh zoo, there are about 40 lions, while the number has reached to 11 at Rajkot zoo.

While talking to TOI, Dr. M G Maradia, zoo superintendent at Aji dam informed, 'We had brought male lion 'Viral' form Junagadh zoo on a breeding loan. Viral, 10, has a wild origin since it was caught form Gir forest. The cubs will also have wild jeans in them due to their father's origin. We had to bring in the lion from Junagadh following the rules that prohibit in-breeding- breeding in the same family.'

Viral was brought from junagadh zoo in September 2007 and after a gestation period of 108 days, Masti gave birth to the cubs. The mother is taking good care of the cubs and is feeding them properly, eliminating possibilities of infanticide in this case as it is usual phenomenon in wild animals to kill their offspring. Dr. Maradia added that generally a female lion gives birth to around 2 to 4 cubs at a time and the average weight of a new-born cub is between 800 and 1200 gms.

Meanwhile, sources in zoo said Masti's sister 'Moj' is also expecting and is expected to deliver in mid-March.

Lioness dies at Rajkot zoo.

Rajkot | Monday, Feb 4 2008 IST

A 15-year-old lioness died at Aji Dam zoo here today following prolonged illness.

The lioness, Rajvanti, was suffering from Paritonitia disease, zoo superintendent M G Maradia said.

Rajvanti was brought here in 2003 from Shakar Baug zoo at Junagadh.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Star-crossed lions' love triangle at Bristol Zoo

By Tom Chivers and agencies
Last Updated: 2:30pm GMT 13/02/2008

A lovelorn lioness whose partner can no longer satisfy her needs has sought solace in the arms - or perhaps claws - of a younger lover.

Lovers Chandra (left) and Moti in happier times
Moti, an Asiatic lioness resident at Bristol Zoo, is the mother of three cubs by Chandra, her fourteen-year-old mate. However, Chandra has been diagnosed as having a low sperm count, meaning that he will be unable to carry out his masculine duties.

Staff at the zoo want Moti to have more children, as the Asiatic lion is highly endangered, with just 350 left in the wild - all of them in the Gir Forest Sanctuary in northern India. To that end, they have brought in a younger leonine Lothario in the shape of Kamal, who at a mere 13 is something of a toy-boy to the fourteen-year-old lioness.

To avoid ugly scenes of bitterness and recrimination, Chandra will be moved to Cotswold Wildlife Park to provide comfort to a female lion whose partner died in November.

John Partridge, the senior curator of animals at the zoo, said: "Asiatic lions are critically endangered, so it is great news to be getting a new male lion.

"The prospect of lion cubs is fantastic for Bristol Zoo as well as for the breeding programme as a whole.

"Chandra is an attractive animal and has quite a character - we shall miss him, as I'm sure many of our visitors will. But we invited an expert from Berlin to visit to find out why Chandra and Moti had stopped breeding.

"He found that Chandra has a very low sperm count - it seems that we have been very lucky to have had any cubs from them at all.

"Genetically, Moti is very valuable to the European breeding programme.

"The male from Twycross is a proven breeding male and so we are hoping for at least one litter of cubs in the future."

Chandra and Moti’s first cub was born in Bristol Zoo in March 1998, but tragically it only survived a few days. Two more - Indi and Dacca - were born in August of that year, while a third, Aiesha, arrived in 2001.

All three have since grown up and moved to other European zoos.

In an effort to protect the Asiatic lion from extinction, Bristol Zoo Gardens is engaging in a worldwide conservation breeding programme.


Gene pools to help conserve Asiatic lions.

14 Feb 2008, 0204 hrs IST,Himanshu Kaushik,TNN

GANDHINAGAR: In a bid to strengthen its case of not shifting Gir’s Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh, the state government has initiated a move to create three gene pools to conserve the genetic diversity of this endangered wild cat.

Pradeep Khanna, additional principal chief conservator of forest, said that creating these gene pools was a part of a long-term planning to save the Asiatic lions. One gene pool each will be formed in Rampara Virdi, about 40 km from Rajkot, in Sakkarbaugh Zoo of Junagadh and Hingolgadh in Jasdan taluka of Rajkot district.

"There are two ways of conservation - one, within the environment and second, bringing the animal out of the environment and conserving the genetic diversity. The gene pool will have 10 to 20 animals per pool," said Khanna.

These pools will help in conserving lions outside the protected environment. The move has also been necessitated considering the fact that if the entire population of Asiatic lions is confined to just one area, they would be highly vulnerable to any kind of biological, climactic or man-made catastrophe. A major disaster within the Gir could wipe out the entire subspecies at a stroke.

Likewise, a disease outbreak could decimate the lion population. Measures are also being taken to correct a little known biological imbalance concerning the Asiatic lion.

They said that around 50 wild cats would be shifted to these gene pools. This would again ease the burden on Gir sanctuary, which has around 359-odd lions. The capacity of Gir was just 250-270-odd lions and with these three gene pools, it would definitely reduce the burden. Officials said that the gene pools would also be a breeding ground for the Asiatic lions and there is a possibility that 10-12 pairs of animals would be kept in these gene pools.

The Central government is already pressing hard for shifting the lions from Gir to Kuno-Palpur sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

Requesting anonymity, forest department officials said that the decision to create gene pools was taken by the department to counter Centre’s move to shift the lions from Gujarat.


Friday, February 8, 2008

This 'honey tree' feeds a village

8 Feb 2008, 0050 hrs IST,Hitarth Pandya,TNN

DINBARI (Valsad): If you find villagers sitting by the roadside on the Valsad-Nasik state highway with carefully arranged old beer bottles, don't expect them to serve some local brew. They are selling the Dinbari honey, named after their village, which is more famous in the region than any brew.

The villagers are also a case study in the age of global warming why man should protect environment. The Dinbari honey is collected from beehives on just one tree. And, this one silk cotton tree supports an entire co-operative of 95 members. The Shri Jai Hanuman Van Sahkari Mandli Limited was formally registered in 2003.

This 'sweet revolution' is slowly ushering in change in Dinbari. Instead of splurging money on mahuda liquor, the villagers are now thinking of saving. With the money from the co-operative, they have bought large vessels, chairs, loudspeakers and a generator, which they rent out. The co-operative today has a balance of Rs 40,000.

"We get between 75 and 150 bottles of honey every year," says Sakharam Avtar, former sarpanch of Dinbari. "We sell it for Rs 110 a bottle. The bees come to the hives just once in a year and we take good care of the tree." The villagers use beer bottles because a bottle of 750 ml can hold roughly one kg of honey. The honey is so popular that it is sold off in just a couple of hours of hitting the market.

The villagers normally extract the honey on a moonless night and get rid of the bees by smoking them out. Magan Soma Avtar, who heads the society, says: "The beehives came up on the tree about 10 years ago. For five years, we distributed the honey equally among the residents. But, then the elders decided to form a society. Our lives have improved since then." Even the local forest officials have not been able to explain how and why the bees chose just one tree to make their home.


NGOs mull steps to curb poaching

Hitarth Pandya | TNN

Surat: Environment watchdogs admit that there have been no sustained efforts on part of forest officials to stop bird poaching rampant in South Gujarat. Most activists believe that there is lack of awareness among villagers, who play crucial role in communication link. Villagers in these wetlands say that they are not aware about legal repercussions of poaching.
According to Goldy Gandhi of Surat Nature Club, “In the past, we have tried to keep a couple of volunteers at weircum-causeway, but it proved to be an expensive affair in terms of time. Further, by the time we locate poachers at one end of the river and reach the other end, poachers have already escaped. Now, we have taken a different way to stop their activities. We first organize snake shows in villages to attract local villagers and once they are taken into confidence, we use them as part of our information network.”
Poachers, on the other hand, have no clue about such activities. “We are concerned about our business and we never trust anyone. We don’t even speak to strangers who pose as clients simply because they could be spying,” says a poacher in Nani Kakrad. Another fisherman from Andhra Pradesh who has settled in a small hutment in Variyav in Surat said, “Nobody comes here. It is a known fact that Bihari migrants kill birds, but we don’t see anyone preventing them from doing so.” Interestingly, TOI team found a bunch of Egret feathers making it evident that the bird was killed.
Darshan Desai of Prayas, an NGO, says, “Generally, poaching takes place in winter when migratory birds arrive in unprotected wetlands scattered over thousands of kilometres. NGOs have no legal power to stop any person from poaching, as preventing the person would mean stopping a person physically. Manning the wetlands is very difficult. Therefore, it requires a well-designed and organised campaign to identify and safeguard key wetlands in winters. It should be a joint effort of the government and the NGOs.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Asia: Where the lion is king, poachers encroach and fears grow.



GIR, India--At the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary here, the king of the jungle is no longer safe.

For decades, the expanse of habitat had been a haven for lions. But alarm bells began ringing again following a spate of poaching cases that started early last year.

Gujarat state in western India is the only region outside of Africa where wild lions still roam freely.

Asiatic lions, which are smaller than their African cousins, were on the brink of extinction just a century ago. Thanks to conservation and other efforts, their numbers now exceed 350.

In March 2007, the carcasses of three Asiatic lions were found in a forested area near the border of the Indian wildlife reserve. Local residents, who are used to hearing the chirping of wild birds and seeing the occasional peacock and deer, were shocked.

M.H. Solanki, 53, who patrols the area, rushed to the site with other game keepers. They were stunned by what they found. The pelts were lying in the dust and the animals' bones had been removed.

Team members also found many small holes in the ground, indicating that traps had been set.

"I have been working here for over 30 years, but I have never heard of any poaching," Solanki said.

Two similar cases occurred in late April, resulting in five more carcasses.

Asiatic lions used to be found as far away as the Middle East as well as in India's eastern areas. Hunting by the elite and wealthy Westerners became such a serious problem that by the late 19th century, the lions could not be found anywhere except for the area in and around Gir.

At the beginning of the last century, the nawab of Gir banned the hunting of wild lions. In 1965, 18 years after India gained its independence from Britain, the Gujarat state government designated an area of 1,421 square kilometers as a wildlife sanctuary. As a result of those protection efforts, the number of wild lions leapt from less than 20 in 1913 to 359 in 2005.

After the poaching case in March of last year, police arrested more than 30 people, many of them members of an ethnic minority group in Madhya Pradesh state, central India, that is known to hunt tigers.

Police believe the group began targeting lions because tigers are becoming harder to find.

In the case of tigers, their coats are much sought-after. Their bones are also sold as raw material for Chinese herbal medicines. Police said they suspect that the bones of tigers are being smuggled to China.

According to Wildlife SOS, a nongovernmental organization based in New Delhi, a dealer will pay a hunter between 10,000 and 15,000 rupees (about 30,000 to 45,000 yen) for each dead tiger. A smuggler, having stripped the animal of its pelt, parts and bones, can expect to earn between 6 million and 7 million rupees per head.

Poaching and encroaching agricultural development in their natural habitat have caused the tiger population to plummet.

According to Indian government statistics, the country had 3,642 tigers between 2001 and 2002. But by 2007, it was estimated there were only about 1,500 tigers left.

With the plunge in tiger numbers, officials stepped up their protection efforts. As a result, the poachers decided to travel great distances and switch to hunting lions even though there are even fewer of them, sources said.

Alarmed at what is happening, the Gujarat state government has implemented strong steps to deter poachers. For example, it decided to increase the number of game wardens in the sanctuary by 170 from 500. Eighty-five of them started working last September.

The guards form a team of several people to watch over about 1,000 hectares of forest to keep a lookout for suspicious people.

In the Nima district in the western part of the sanctuary, three guards of one team patrol different areas.

"We are paying more attention after the poaching incidents," said J.B. Sadiya, 50, a guard with 30 years' experience in the field.

All-night patrols were increased from once every three or four days to every other day.

A pride of five lions lives in the Nima district. Twelve other lions are known to visit there. The guards can distinguish all 17 lions and can track them by their footprints and droppings.

Because the sanctuary is not fenced, poachers can enter it freely. For this reason, the state government decided to pay rewards to local residents who cooperate in the battle against poachers.

If residents catch a poacher, the government will pay 200,000 rupees. If they provide useful information on poaching operations, it will offer 50,000 rupees.

Not everybody is happy with the protection measures for lions because of a growing number of attacks on domestic livestock by them.

In mid-October, three lions appeared around midnight in the village of Bhalchel, close to the border with the sanctuary, and killed three cows. The incident brought to 10 the number of domestic animals killed by lions in the village in 2007 alone. Farm stock is easy prey for lions.

"Since lions are protected animals, all I can do is just to chase them away with this tool," villager Balu Bhai, 35, said with a resigned look on his face as he displayed an ax.

On Oct. 19, five lions were found dead in another village. The animals apparently died when they came into contact with electric fences installed to protect domestic animals. Four villagers were arrested on suspicion of violating the law on the protection of wildlife.

According to the Gujarat state government, around 1,000 domestic animals are killed by lions every year. As villages expand, the number of domestic animals left to graze in areas around the sanctuary has increased, resulting in a surge of lion attacks in recent years.

Officials also noted that wild animals increasingly are venturing out of the sanctuary. Now, an 18-strong pride has taken up residence in a forest scores of kilometers away near the Arabia Sea coastline.

Experts have recommended having more than one wildlife sanctuary for lions. They say efforts to protect the wild animals in one sanctuary have reached their limit. They also note that an epidemic or a natural disaster could wipe out the entire population of animals if there is only one sanctuary.

In 1994, a disease claimed the lives of about 1,000 lions in a national park in Tanzania. After that, a government research institute on wild animals proposed to transfer some of the Asiatic lions in the Gir sanctuary to the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh state.

The same proposal was made again after the series of poaching incidents last year. But the Gujarat state government is opposed to the idea.

"Lions are a symbol of our state," says Navendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state.

The state government relies on tourism in the form of safari tours, in which lions play a big part, for revenue.

"The idea of transferring some of the animals never got off the ground because of political reasons," said Usham S. Singh, a research coordinator of Wildlife SOS. "The government should first transfer a few lions, say less than 10, to see how they adapt to breeding in the new habitat. If all goes well, more lions should be gradually transferred."(IHT/Asahi: January 24,2008)


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Wildlife NGO alleges poachers-officials nexus

Tuesday February 5 2008 00:00 IST

GUWAHATI: With cases of poaching in Assam's sanctuaries and national parks on the rise, a wildlife NGO on Monday alleged a nexus between poachers and some forest department personnel and also demanded a CBI probe into the matter.

"A large share of wildlife parts sold in the international market every year comes from the forest department stock due to manipulations and corrupt practices of some of their officials," Nature's Beckon director Soumyadeep Datta said.

"The information we received from Assam's principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) under RTI Act, establishes the fact that wildlife parts somehow or the other reach international traders," he claimed. Chief conservator of forest, M C Malakar, allegedly sent a delayed reply to the environment activists.

Datta quoted Malakar as saying that he could not "Furnish the information within the stipulated time as data was not available in this office and had to be collected from different offices of the state".

"If the chief wildlife warden of Assam has no account of the total number of rhino horns, elephant tusks, tiger and leopard pelts in his office then how will he monitor and stop poaching?" Datta questioned.

He also demanded that the government order a CBI inquiry on the stock of wild parts in custody of the forest department and on poaching of rhinos, elephants, tigers and leopards.


CBI probe into wildlife trade demanded

By A Staff Reporter


Hinting that the stock of wildlife body parts such as tiger skin, rhino horn, ivory, etc., under the custody of the State Forest Department could well have found their way to the illegal international racket in wildlife trade, Nature’s Beckon, an environmental NGO, today called for a CBI probe into the matter. Addressing a press conference, Soumyadeep Datta, director, Nature’s Beckon, said that as per information obtained by it from the Forest Department through application of the RTI Act, the number of rhino horns, elephant tusks, tiger skins and leopard skins under custody of the Forest Department (either seized or recovered from natural death cases) were 1,498, 1,334, 6 and 3 respectively.

According to Datta, the Forest Department’s stock of body parts, particularly tiger and leopard skins, was too small considering that the department had been collecting those since at least 1972.

“We suspect that a large share of wildlife body parts sold in the international market comes from the Forest Department stock due to the nexus of some dishonest officials of the department with illegal wildlife traders, and we urge Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to institute a CBI inquiry to clear up the matter,” Datta said.

When contacted, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), MC Malakar said that the bodies of dead tigers or leopards were never skinned and always disposed as a whole.

“The practice with the department is to dispose the carcasses without skinning. The department keeps with it only the seized skins, and there have been few seizures of tiger and leopard skins,” he said.

Malakar also revealed that the department was planning to destroy all the animal body parts including rhino horn, ivory, skins, etc., under its custody. “We are taking up the matter with the ministry concerned so that all the body parts at our disposal are destroyed,” he said.

Rhino horn, ivory, and tiger and leopard skin are much-sought-after items in the nefarious trade in animal body parts, especially in South East Asia. With the North-East sharing borders with several South East Asian countries, it has become a target area for poachers and international smugglers. Last year, 18 rhinos of Kaziranga National Park were killed by poachers.


Gujarat, intimate and eccentric India.

The Sunday TimesFebruary 3, 2008
Richard Green

So far largely untroubled by tourism, Gujarat is India at its intimate and eccentric best

The Maharajah of Wankaner likes chatting with his guests. Tonight, he’s come down from the main palace and is delightedly sharing his whisky and nostalgia for the Raj. Even his guest palace has a gravel drive, an immense garden folly and a wonderful art-deco swimming pool. These days, it’s a heritage hotel, homely in style, with 12 vast rooms; and today, I’m the only visitor.

Gujarat is reminding me of my first trips to India 20 years ago, when everything was so fascinatingly “other”. Rajasthan and Kerala may have become slick and hassley, and, dare I say, almost predictable, but Gujarat – still largely ignored by tourists – is India at its intimate and eccentric best.

I’d started in the mythical-sounding Great Rann of Kutch – actually desert that floods annually, which is home to the most traditional of tribespeople. They build their huts on man-made mounds, but after that their lives get a little less practical. To enhance their beauty and show off family wealth, the women wear stupendous hand-embroidered blouses and startling jewellery: nose rings with the same circumference as coffee mugs, and earrings that weigh up to 2oz apiece.

As I strolled into a remote village, a young mother snatched her crying baby from the courtyard and flashed me a look as though I’d just wetbiked through its paddling pool. The mite was terrified of my outlandish skin colour and scary blue eyes, according to my guide. No tour buses here, then.

The headman, somewhat embarrassed, sheltered me in his circular mud hut. It was bare except for folded bedding and a collection of plates on a wraparound mantelpiece. The plates were status symbols again, for festivals and weddings. He puffed with pride when he saw I’d spotted them, so, out of politeness, I asked how many he had. He was completely taken aback and clearly hadn’t the faintest idea – so I turned to his wife. Before I could speak, she laughed, saying, “Twenty-three.” I didn’t ask who did the washing-up.

The tribal people came through the 2001 earthquake Great Rann relatively unscathed. They live near the epicentre, but their huts buckled relatively harmlessly. To the south, the city of Bhuj fared less well. The quake struck on January 26, 2001, and killed an estimated 15,000. My guide is Vimal Shukla, who was in the city that day. I asked him how it felt.

“Sitting in the car, I was hearing the noise first, then quickly slipped off my shoe,” he said. “I don’t know why I did that now. The ground was moving a lot. It was like standing between two train carriages where the metal floors slide against each other, the train going top speed. Very frightening.”

Stroll by the lake and gaze over the city at sunset, and Bhuj’s skyline is rather beautiful, but walk into the old city and cracks appear – literally. Many buildings were destroyed. The local maharajah’s Prag Mahal (New Palace) survived, although it now sports a lightning-fork-shaped gash across its bell tower, several collapsed roofs and has screes of masonry lapping its walls.

I risked entering anyway. The Durbar Hall was magnificent: hammy as a Hammer horror house, with cobwebs between the stuffed deer’s antlers, chipped plates in the dressers and vast chandeliers, teetering as though about to avalanche their crystal. Two lime-green parrots screeched in through a broken window, as though they had been thrown in, and panicked. So did I.

The quake made it unsafe, but the dust was already decades deep and, like many other properties in Gujarat – even far from the earthquake area – the trickle of tourists is still too small for the hotel developers.

An exception is at the Gir National Park, where there is a luxury tented settlement. It’s run by Camps of India, the company responsible for some of the iconic camps in Rajasthan. The draw is the last 359 wild Asiatic lions on earth. They used to roam free from Greece to the banks of the Ganges, but are now holed up in 100 square miles of Gujarati forest.

I was all set for several hours of expectant whispering, but the sawn-off safari 4WD was far too noisy for that – several body panels were hanging on like loose teeth and the driver seemed overawed by the machine. Over the roar of his comedy clutch, the park ranger and my guide conversed very loudly in Gujarati.

My timing wasn’t great either. I’d arrived just after the monsoon, when the grass is tall and water plentiful, so even if I weren’t on the noisiest safari in the world, my lion-spotting chances were slim. Still, it was a beautiful misty morning.

Suddenly, the teenage ranger flung himself to the floor. He must have seen something. Or perhaps the din wasn’t enough for him and he was reaching for a bag of flutes. But no, he’d just dropped his mobile phone.

Further on, the 4WD drew to another cacophonous halt, like a one-man band in a slow faint. To my astonishment, there was a lioness. She sat, sphinx-like, in a clearing about 100ft away, ears pricked and staring our way.

Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than African ones, and tawnier too, with more modest manes, but this lion thrilled me more than any I’d seen in Africa. I didn’t even know India had wild lions until a few weeks ago.

AFTER BUMPING around the desert and the park, it was refreshing to reach the sea. Gujarat has almost 1,000 miles of coastline, and a newly opened luxury camp at Mandvi has 1½ miles of sand and 750 acres of bush all to itself.

The 10 tents are fitted with air conditioning and plumbed-in bathrooms, and there’s a simple restaurant down by the beach. It’s the only hotel for many miles and there’s nothing to do but swim, relax and watch the dhows glide over the Arabian Sea, right on cue for sunset snaps.

Although not for sunset schnapps – did I mention the state-wide prohibition? Foreigners can get a free alcohol permit, which means you can drink in your room, or you can drive over the border to the former Portuguese microstate of Diu. It’s a laid-back little island with a Goan torpor: palm trees, beaches and whitewashed church facades, only one decent hotel and plenty of bars.

Back to the dhow silhouettes, though – the local shipyard is a few miles from the luxury tents, up a tidal inlet that was once central to the southerly Silk Road, and I went to have a look.

A man with baggy white trousers and impossibly thick forearms was teasing his thick moustache and commandeering the shade. He was Salim, ship’s captain, and a shoo-in as any panto pirate. He showed me inside the skeleton hull, all huge timbers. The 150ft dhow had been damaged by fire off the Somali coast and he was overseeing a team of rebuilders. A new boat takes two to three years to build, and will sail 750-ton cargoes of onions to the Gulf. Salim looked glum as he told me he’d be landlocked for another 18 months, then barked some orders at his men, which perked him up a treat.

It is trade, not tourists, that has made Gujarat rich. Visiting foreigners are just a bonus, and, unlike in more tourist-dependent Rajasthan, there’s little begging or hassle from shopkeepers.

Except at Palitana, that is. At this Jain pilgrimage site, 3,500 steps lead to a complex of hilltop temples – more than 1,000 of them – and 500 coolies swarm around the first step, hoping to carry you to the top in a sedan chair. They are basic models, though – just an old fold-up chair lashed between two bamboo poles, and they are really for the large or the lazy. There were rumours of an impending cable car, but any labour-saving device in India, whether blender or transportation system, doesn’t save your toil but someone else’s, and the Jains don’t have the heart to ruin the coolies’ livelihood.

Back in Wankaner, the evening draws to a close when the ageing maharajah rises to leave.

Stumbling slightly, and suddenly looking older than his 73 years, he shuffles back to his car. The guesthouse staff line up under the portico and stand to a ragtag attention. Then the car pulls away and His Highness fades into the moonlight, emblematic of tourism in Gujarat – teetering between the current heart-warming genuineness and the inevitable succession of a more modern, less eccentric experience.

Richard Green travelled as a guest of Pettitts and British Airways

Getting there: for Bhuj and the Rann of Kutch, Air India (020 8560 9996, flies nonstop from Heathrow to the capital of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, from about £500. Or fly to Mumbai and connect to one of Gujarat’s seven domestic airports: Expedia ( and Opodo ( have fares from about £550, from Heathrow with British Airways and then Jet Airways onwards. Where to stay: in the Rann of Kutch, the excellent, eco-aware, community-run Hodka ( has luxury mud-hut-style doubles from £36. The Beach Camp ( at Mandvi has air-conditioned double tents for £76, half-board.

To stay at the Oasis Guest House in Wankaner costs £60 per night for a double room, full-board. Mention to the staff that you’d like to meet the maharajah, and he’ll probably join you for dinner.

Gir National Park: if travelling independently, an entry permit and a three-hour 4WD safari with a guide costs £20. Sasan Gir town is by the park entrance. The Lion Safari Camp ( has double air-conditioned tents for £75, full-board.

When to go: the best time to visit is from October to March, when daytime temperatures are in the high 20s.

Tour operators: Pettitts (01892 515966, can tailor-make itineraries throughout Gujarat and India. A 15-day tour costs from £2,700pp, visiting Bhuj, Ahmedabad, Gir National Park and Gondal. This includes all flights, B&B accommodation in heritage-style properties, full-board at the national park, and a guide and driver throughout. Or try Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000, or TransIndus (020 8566 2729,