Monday, January 17, 2011

Gir popularity soars, 33% rise in inflow of foreign tourists.

AHMEDABAD: The financial health of Asiatic lion conservation plan is improving by the day. Not just domestic, the number of foreign tourists too has registered a jump of 33 per cent in 2010.
Forest officials said that from October to December 2010, Gir Wildlife Sanctuary had 2,432 foreign tourists as against 1,827 in 2009 during the same period. This is an increase of 33 per cent. In the first three months, ever since the sanctuary opened, around 70 per cent of the income has been collected by the department. It had a revenue of 2.1 crore last year. But, in the three months from October, the revenue of Gir and Devaliya went over Rs 1.45 crore, which is about 70 per cent of the last year's collection.
Not just foreign nationals, but total tourist figure has seen a jump of 96 per cent in Gir National Park. In 2009, from October 1 to December 31, there were just 25,801 tourists who visited the sanctuary. But, during the same period in 2010, despite rain for four days and the sanctuary beginning operations only on October 15, the total number of visitors to the Gir sanctuary was 50,714.
The upward trend is attributed not just to Amitabh Bachachan's advertisements.The lion conservation issue of Gir received worldwide publicity because of the population estimation which was taken up in April 2010. It revealed that the forest in Saurashtra now houses only 411 lions.
"This year, the attention of media as well as experts was on Gir forest as the first population estimation took place after the 2007 poaching incident. This got due coverage and an awareness was also created," said a senior officer. Officials said there have been reports of 90 per cent sightings of lions during the safari.
Officials added that the revenue of Gir sanctuary and Devaliya has gone up considerably. According to them, in the last three months from October, the Gir sanctuary and Devaliya have pocketed Rs 1.44 crore, compared to the Rs 1 crore in the same period last year. Devaliya only saw a increase of 21 per cent as compared to last year. Officials said the domestic tourist flow other than Gujaratis has also increased by 41 per cent, said officials.

Ramesh cancels visit to Girnar ropeway site .

RAJKOT: Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh, who was to visit Sasan Gir Asiatic Lion Sanctuary and the site of proposed ropeway project at Girnar Mountains in Junagadh district, had cancelled the programme at the last moment, leaving many people disappointed.
Ramesh was to arrive at Sasan Gir on the night of January 14. On Saturday morning, the minister was to see the Asiatic lions at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and then visit the proposed site of Girnar Ropeway Project, which awaits clearance from his ministry and is delayed for various reasons. The project went for approval to the Union ministry of environment and forests after the 178.88 sq km area, including Mount Girnar in Girnar forest, was declared as wildlife sanctuary in 2008.
Conservationists say the proposed ropeway project will harm the nests of vultures, an endangered species, located on the mountains. "We have made several representations and also sent one lakh signatures to the Union environment ministry, asking that the project be given the nod. When we met Jairam Ramesh in Delhi, he assured us that he would visit the place, but has not been able to do so far. We urge him to either visit the site at the earliest or give nod to the project," said Junagadh BJP MLA Mahendra Masharu.

Gir Lions Attract More Tourists in the Last Quarter of 2010.

By: Rang7 Team January 7, 2011 
The Asiatic lions have just scored a high on popularity amongst tourist. The tourism flow to Gir Forest National Park, the sole home of the Asiatic lion species outside Africa has increased to 96 %. This includes the 33% increase in foreign tourist visiting the Gir Forest National Park from October to December 2010, when the park opened to tourist again, after being closed to tourist for the monsoon period.
In 2009, from 1st October to 31st December, about 25,801 tourists visited the sanctuary, while the number was increased to 50,714 from 15th October to 31st December 2010. The increase in tourist numbers is especially surprising as the National Park opened as late as 15th October and even after that, tourism was affected due to heavy rain for four days. These numbers include 2,342 foreign tourists having visited the Gir Sanctuary in 2010 against 1,827 in 2009 for the period from October to December 2010. This expresses a 33% increase in the foreign tourist inflow to the National Park.

Running parallel to the increased tourist inflow to the Gir Forest National Park is the revenue earned by the park. Last year total revenue earned by the park was 2.1 crore. However from October to December 2010, the park including Gir and Devaliya forest earned Rs. 1.45 crore which amounts to 70% of last year’s earnings.
The popularity of Gir Forest National Park increased with media attention directed towards the Asiatic lion conservation that was undertaken at the park. Also a recent lion census conducted in April 2010, revealed that the forests of Gir Forest National Park is home to 411 lions. This apart there have been reports of 90% sightings of lions by tourist on their safaris. "This year, the attention of media as well as experts was on Gir forest as the first population estimation took place after the 2007 poaching incident. This got due coverage and an awareness was also created," said a senior officer.Apart from foreign tourist, domestic tourist which includes visitors other than people from Gujarat has increased by 41%.

Gir Forest National Park also called as Sasan Gir was declared as a protected area in 1900 by the then Nawab of Junagadh.

Chintan Shibir in Gir?

AHMEDABAD: "Sher dil ho to kuch waqt gujaro shero ke beech," the statement in famous baritone of Amitabh Bachchan seems to have caught the Gujarat babus' fancy. Forests department officials said that the preparations are almost complete and resurfacing of roads has been started even as, the state government sought a report from the Junagadh collector asking him to explore the possibil ty of organising the next Chintan Shibir inside Gir forest.
Interestingly, the Junagad district collector, in his report, has said that while organising the camp was possible inside Gir, the last abode of Asiatic lions, accommodation may be a problem. As per the forests officials, the report stated that the part of the camp can be organised at Sinh Sadan - government guesthouse - while the some part of the event may be held inside the forest area.
Around 200 government officials, including ministers would be attending the Chintan Shibir. The report states that the official guesthouse, Sinh Sadan, will be able to accomodate only ministers and some senior bureaucrats. But for the remaining babus, the government will need to acquire rooms in the private hotels and resorts situated close to the forest.
When contacted Banchha Nidhi Pani, in-charge collector, Junagadh, admitted that the government had sought such a report. Pani also added that he has sent his report to the government. "The final decision was awaited," Pani said.

Lions Invade Villages and Attack Livestock in India's Gujarat State.

For video please click below link...


Villagers residing in the border areas of the Gir Forest in India's western state of Gujarat are living in constant fear as lions frequently enter their village.
[Ashwin Naliyadhara, Farmer]:
"Our village is very close to the jungle. Lions constantly enter the village and harm our livestock and kill them. So there is lot of fear in the village."
On Tuesday night, a lioness barged into a cattle shed and attacked a cow in Gigasan village.
Out of fear, the villagers now graze their cattle within the village perimeter.
Villagers say one night the big cats attacked two cows, one bull and seven goats in the village.
The lions confidently enter fields and villages, forcing terrified villagers into their homes.
The Gir Forest National park is the biggest reserve for Asiatic lions in India and houses more than 400 lions.

'Wildlife friends' help Asiatic lions conservation in Gir.

AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat forest department's initiative of involving local population by appointing 'vanprani mitra' (wildlife friends) in the last abode of Asiatic lions -- Gir Sanctuary -- has paid off as they have become an important factor in conservation of this endangered species.
There are many instances where 'wildlife friends' have given crucial information to forest authorities about illegal activities going on in and around the protected sanctuary areas.
"We felt that it was of utmost importance to involve local communities in wildlife conservation efforts to save the last population of Asiatic lions in Gir," Chief conservator of forest of Gir region R L Meena said.
This need was strongly felt after the 2007 incident when eight lions in the Gir became victim of poaching by tribal gang belonging to Katni area of Madhya Pradesh, he added.
"It has paid results as a lot of information regarding what is going on in and around the sanctuary comes from them. Three major arrests could be made due to information provided by wildlife friends recently," Meena said adding this unique concept has opened a new chapter in wildlife conservation activity in the country.
More than 20 tribal people were arrested on December 13 from the outskirts of Gir forest for selling fake lion parts, based on the information given by a wildlife friend, Meena said.


India: Gujarat's wildlife, culture and cuisine.

Three jeeps of camera-toting visitors swung off the jungle track into a clearing. Trackers stood at the ready, armed with batons and two-way radios. Ahead, just 20 feet away, lay two kings of the jungle. Unconcerned by the arrival of intruders, the pair of young male lions dozed in the shade of a fig tree.
I'm no expert, but these animals seemed slightly smaller and stockier than those I'd seen in Africa. They are said to have thinner manes and a thicker tuft at the end of the tail, too, but I was not planning to get close enough to check.
India is not the obvious place to come in search of lions, but the state of Gujarat is their only Asian natural habitat. Covering an area roughly the size of London, the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to more than 350 Asiatic lions, as well as panthers and leopards.
"I promised you lions today," cried Mitain, our guide, slapping my thigh enthusiastically. "I very happy now."
If sighting game is all you want from your escort then Mitain is your man. Within another 20 minutes of trundling over dry, rocky scrub and burbling streams, we came face to face with a whole pride gorging on a high tea of wild boar. "Now I find you leopards," Mitain beamed, struggling to hide his excitement. Sadly this would prove beyond him, but on our tour we'd already seen numerous peacocks, kingfishers, spotted deer, antelopes and wild boar.
The park has been such a successful sanctuary for big cats that the population has almost outgrown its natural resources. Some have migrated beyond the park in search of fresher pastures and more available game.
Notwithstanding the inevitable friction this has caused with local inhabitants on the park's perimeter, some of the creatures have shown great taste in their choice of new habitat. Lions have been sighted as far away as Junagadh, 50 miles to the north, in the Girnar Hills, the site of the awe-inspiring Jain temples and an important religious centre.
Leopards have been seen in the hills around Palitana, 100 miles to the east, and home to yet more enchanting Jain temples. A lion was even tracked strutting along a palm-fringed beach on the island of Diu, 50 miles to the south.
Did you know?
The first vegetarian Pizza Hut in the world opened in Ahmedabad

Junagadh is a fascinating small town of narrow, winding streets, crumbling relics from colonial times and a skyline of shining domes and minarets. We spent a lazy afternoon exploring dusty lanes lined with small stores selling everything from ropes and hooks to mounds of colourful spices.
Its most celebrated attraction is the rather daunting 10,000-step climb that winds up Mount Girnar, to a chain of superb Jain temples near the summit. Its peak is the highest point in Gujarat and on a clear day the view stretches almost as far as the sea, some 50 miles to the south. Before you lie the dry rolling hills and lush fertile planes of the Saurashtra Peninsula, punctuated by the occasional hulks of fuming chemical factories and modern manufacturing plants. Happily, these do little to detract from the surroundings' natural beauty but are reminders of the country's rapid industrialisation.
Gujarat provides the visitor with perhaps the best insight into the new India, where rapacious economic development and modern consumerism rub shoulders with extreme poverty, spiritual and religious diversity, and tribal and nomadic ways.
Travelling south to the coast, we passed oxen pulling hay carts, while across the road gleaming new combine harvesters cruised through golden wheat fields.
The descent down the mountain took such a toll on our ageing legs that we struggled to make it out of bed the next day. However, there was a sense of satisfaction in having done something to work off the mounting effects of Gujarat's delicious cuisine. Its sweet thalis are memorable, the largely vegetarian diet makes full use of a rich mix of local spices, and the fresh fish on the coast is a delight.
If temples are your thing, just outside the busy town of Palitana there are more than 900 of them. The holy hill of Shatrunjaya (which translates as "Dawn to Dusk") is India's principal Jain pilgrimage site and attracts worshippers from all over the world.
It is a much shorter and easier climb than Girnar, at just 2,000 steps, but for the lazy or infirm, pall-bearers are at hand to carry you up for a small fee. We made it in less than one hour, led by the clanging of bells and murmur of rites from the great citadel above.
At the summit, this city of temples proved a breathtaking sight of spires and towers, hemmed in by mighty protective walls. Despite the crowds, it felt wonderfully peaceful and afforded beautiful views over the flat pastureland below.
When religious fervour and city chaos became too much, the palm-fringed beaches of Diu Island were a welcome relief. Along with Goa and the nearby sea town of Daman, Diu was a colony of Portugal until the Sixties and is just about the only place you can drink alcohol in the dry state of Gujarat.
The island is tiny: barely two miles by eight, but we could have spent an age lolling on its golden beaches.
A short walk from our hotel at Nagoa and we had a whole beach to ourselves. The only interruption to our solitude was a stray dog taking sleepy respite in the shade of a palm tree. As the tide drifted out, women in colourful saris appeared to comb the exposed rock pools for shellfish.
The next day we explored Diu Town, a colonial relic with a maze of colourful narrow alleys and an imposing fort that looks out over the Gulf of Cambay. The streets were full of dilapidated houses painted in fading pastel colours. Sea blues and mustard yellows and ochre reds provided hints of former glory.
Nearer the great fort we stumbled across the glorious white façade of St Paul's church, with its attractive turquoise-patterned ceiling. When we arrived, wardens were busily chasing roosting pigeons out of its interior.
Heading back to the town centre we came across travel agent Jorge, one of many village elders whose mother tongue has remained Portuguese. To judge by the expletives levelled at his fellow agents in neighbouring Rajasthan and elsewhere, he clearly cherished Gujarat's quainter attitude to tourism.
"Where else can you find lions in India?" he barked.
For the moment he has a point, but moves are afoot to relocate some of the animals to the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh to ease overcrowding at Gir.
Some fear this may reduce Gujarat's draw – and it may, but happily there is much more besides to India's most westerly state than its big cats.

Jairam Ramesh to visit Girnar ropeway project site.

RAJKOT: Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh will visit Gir wildlife sanctuary on Friday. He will also go to Girnar to assess the proposed ropeway project at Girnar mountain in Junagadh, which has been long awaiting clearance from his ministry.
The minister is expected to arrive at Sasan-Gir on the Friday night and stay overnight. On Saturday morning, he will go to see the Asiatic lions and then leave for Junagadh. Official sources say that during his visit to Junagadh, he will interact with local people and political leaders who have been pressing for the ropeway project, as it will bring in tourists.
The project has been delayed for various reasons since its foundation stone was laid by chief minister Narendra Modi in May 2007. But, after Girnar forest - covering around 178.88 sq km area including Mount Girnar - was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2008, the project went for approval to the Union ministry of environment and forests.
The proposed ropeway project site is located at Girnar mountain, which is inside the Girnar wildlife sanctuary. According to the latest estimates, there are 24 lions in the sanctuary and conservationists say that the proposed ropeway project would harm the nest of vultures, an endangered species, which roost on the mountains.


Gujarat where nature, tradition and development march forward.

By Premala de Mel
The wealthy state of Gujarat has a controversial BJP Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, who has been described by an Indian business magnate as a CEO of a successful company. In spite of the devastating earthquake in 2001 and the Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002, the state has made great strides in agriculture and industry.
The state produces cotton, ground nut, sugar cane, rice, maize and other minor crops. Famous for its textile industry, the state has also attracted companies that have set up engineering, ship repairing, petrochemicals, drugs, pharmaceuticals and automobile plants.
Gujarat derives its name from Gujjar, a tribe which migrated from neighbouring Rajasthan. Gujjars were the first inhabitants of the state. Later, the Parsis from Persia settled down in the coastal areas. As one travels across this state of 50 million people and 75,685 square miles, the good network of roads vouches for progress the state is making. The old traditions flourish as well with alcohol available only to foreign tourists.
Gandhinagar is the capital of Gujarat named after India’s Great Soul, the Mahatma, who was born in Porbandar. The fight for Independence from the British began with marches and protests in his home state. Gandhiji’s modest home in Ahmedebad where he spent many years with his wife, Kasturba, is today a museum with his memorabilia, letters and photographs.
A typical Gujarat village scene
My friend and I arrived at Gujarat’s Bhuj airport close to the Rann of Kutch – a salt marsh -- on the border with Pakistan. A dispute over the Rann led to a war between India and Pakistan in 1965. We were taken to the office of the District Superintendent of Police on arrival to obtain a permit to visit some of the banni border villages in the Greater Rann, a high security area.
Armed with the permit, the next morning, we drove past the black mountains set amidst a stark terrain. The salt threw up a pinky glow with the reflection of the sun. We drove to a Hindu temple dedicated to the mountain gods. We were told the Hindu priests there feed the jackals living in the wilderness at noon each day. As the numerous onlookers waited, a solitary jackal emerged to claim his scrap lunch and disappeared into the bush.
The five Banni Harijan border villages are famous for mirror work. Our guide pointed to the mud and mirror work on the interior walls of the village homes where the residents sell embroidered items, a cottage industry in Gujarat.
We were amazed at the skills, as we stopped over in the villages of Bhujodi, famous for woollen shawls with mirror work. We drove to a village rebuilt with donations from the Economics Nobel Prize Winner, Amartya Sen, after the earthquake. The houses, similar to the Kenyan rondavels, are said to be quake resistant.
As described by Rudyard Kipling “Providence created the Maharajas to offer mankind a spectacle”. Gujarat has a number of Maharajas and their enormous edifices are either maintained by the families as hotels or open to visitors. We saw the Aina Mahal in Kutch. The palace, a museum today, had suffered badly during the earthquake.
We were fortunate to have tea with the Maharaja of Wankaner, Dr. Digvijay Singh, in his principle palace. During British times, the family was accorded eleven gun salutes. The highest number of 21 gun salutes was reserved for the larger royal states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Jammu & Kashmir, Baroda and Gwalior. At the stroke of midnight on December 28, 1970, the President of India signed and de-recognised the Princely Order and six months later the princely states were abolished, despite an undertaking given that they would continue with certain privileges.
A number of the former royal families are in the forefront in politics, fashion designing, films, sports, and business. The Maharaja of Wankaner had studied at Clare College, Cambridge and was the first environment minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in the 1960s. He was responsible for setting up the tiger parks.
A knowledgeable person, Dr. Singh inquired about two of our conservation sites -- Wilpattu and Adams Peak. We saw in his palace, trophies of the animals that his father and he had shot (including a bear shipped from Alaska!).
Our visit to Sasan Gir Lion Sanctuary established in 1913 on the south western fringes of the Saurashtra Peninsula to see the only 300 Asiatic lions, and the 250 leopards, was scenic. The best season to witness the animals is the summer. We did a couple of forays in an open Gypsy jeep bundled in our woollens and aided by blankets to combat the cold. We were unlucky with the cats, but saw a lot of deer, sambhar and nilgai. The migrant and ethnic birds of Gujarat were abundant. We observed a number of rare species in the forest areas, eagles perched on the telecom towers, and flamingoes, painted stork, pelicans and other migrants in swampy areas.
On the trunk roads, we passed the Rabbadis, a gypsy community of Gujarat. I was captivated by the women clad in black as they led the camels laden with their household goods. The men dressed in white walked ahead with their herd of sheep and goats scouting for pastures.
A predominant feature of Rajasthan and Gujarat are the ornate step wells built in the 11th and the 12th centuries. The stepped corridor compartmented with pillared multi-storied pavilions is a unique feature. These have demarcated stages along the descent and sculptures of deities enhance the walls. The step wells have at least five storeys and the lower one descends, the cooler it is. The travellers in the past used the step wells overnight.
Enroute for our sojourn at the Nilambagh Palace, the former residence of the Bhavnagar Royals; we broke journey at the UNESCO Heritage site of Champaner a cluster of beautifully preserved pre-Moghul buildings, the hallmarks of Hindu and Muslim architecture.
The visit to Palitana, the Jain headquarters, which consists of 863 temples and is situated on the summit of the Shatrunjaya Hill, is an unforgettable experience To conserve my energy for the balance part of the ascent, I hired a palanquin for Indian Rs. 1,400 and was borne in state by four bearers. The Jains are strict vegetarians. They even refrain from eating rooted vegetables and believe in non-violence. They make the pilgrimage to Palitana at least once a year.
Prior to reaching the summit and the cluster of temples, the pilgrim could choose to crawl under the belly of a concrete camel. If successful, the pilgrim is absolved of his sins. I refrained not wanting to pull a muscle though I was told that I was slim enough to get through! The glass mosaic doors of another temple, the statues of deities, the mountains of discarded rose petals brought by the pilgrims to the site, the kitchens making the holy paste, are some of the sights to be seen.
The former Portuguese island of Dui on the southern tip of the Saurashtra Peninsula is now a Union Territory governed by Delhi. Dui is very popular with the people of the state, as the prohibition laws on alcohol do not apply here. St. Thomas’ Church, which we visited, displays Catholic statues and religious paintings.
The well preserved fort built in 1541 surrounded by a moat with its cannons, armoury, dungeons and a tree from Portuguese times compensated for the lack of lions in Gir. The houses in the narrow streets have a number of Portuguese buildings and villas. We could have spent more time discovering what the city had to offer but it was time to move on to our next adventure.
Ahmedabad, a former capital was a welcome change. We stayed at the Heritage Hotel Mangaldas, formerly the home of an industrial family from the city. The open air roof top vegetarian/thali restaurant Agasti is hugely popular and somewhat similar in its ambiance to The Gallery Café in Colombo. Each diner is presented with a rose on arrival as one sits amidst the glow of the candles.
The Calico Museum, formerly the elegant Sarabhai family home was a revelation and is certainly worth a visit. Strict rules are in force and once the visitor commences the tour, the doors are bolted until the two hour tour is complete. We were escorted through the display rooms where there were magnificent intricate designs, weaves, and materials that had been donated. Some of the items that caught my eye were the brocade Moghul interior of an enormous tent, an ornate interior of a Maharaja’s Rolls Royce, exquisite ivories and bronzes.
As we set off on an early morning heritage walk through the bowels of the old city, we saw men preparing their kites for the January festival and competition which attracts even foreign participants. We passed through narrow streets containing the architecturally distinct homes of former inhabitants of the city.
The Little Rann of Kutch consisting of 4,953 sq km was established in 1973 to conserve the wild asses and this led to an immediate recovery. The Rann is flat, white cracked and utterly barren. There are 364 hills called bets that rise across the Rann and provide food and shelter to the animals. Travel is only allowed in jeeps. As we drove on the flat plains, we saw a number of white asses in small herds, (similar to zebras in height and build) with brown markings on their body. The Rann Riders Hotel recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide was comfortable and consisted of fifty mud and thatch cottages with the traditional Indian swing on the porch. Except for a rat that got into my suitcase and nibbled my jacket, our stay was very comfortable!
The Somnath Temple dedicated to God Shiva is a site that should be visited. We visited Patan, a small town and saw traditional Patola designs being woven by a family that had carried on the tradition from the 14th century. On the loom on order was a sari being woven in an intricate pattern of blue with red and yellow motifs. The senior member of the family told me that it would take six months to complete and would cost Indian Rs. 150,000/-. Another stop was to see agate jewellery being fashioned and sold in a wayside home in a small town.
The State does not attract the numbers that Rajasthan has due to the prohibition laws. Gujarati food is well known for being special. Despite having a mainly vegetarian diet in the remote areas, we did not miss the meats! Gujarat is an absorbing cultural experience and well worth exploring to those wishing to discover another facet of Incredible India.