And then slowly through the dense foliage from one of the sides of jungle walks a lion. The chills that majestic cat brings to your body cannot be described. More so when it’s your first time seeing a lion in the wild. And if you’re lucky, it won’t be just a solitary lion but a pride of lionesses and cubs that will follow on.
However, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars and fly to some exotic African country to experience this. You can go on a lion safari right here in India in the Gir National Forest at Sasan Gir Gujarat. The last remaining abode of the Asiatic lion in the world, the species came very close to extinction due to unrestricted hunting before the erstwhile Maharaja of Junagadh decided to put a stop to it and help the lion population grow. Today there are over 500 Asiatic lions in the world and Gir National Forest is the only place where you can find them.
The entrance to the national park lies near the village of Sasan Gir which is about an hour’s drive from Junagadh— the nearest railway head as well as airport. The access to the sanctuary is by permit only which cost Rs 500 per 4 wheeler. For those who don’t have their own mode of transport, the forest department provides a jeep with a driver which is another Rs 1,200. Along with the permit having a guide is mandatory and costs another Rs 500. If you’re in a group, it is possible to share all these costs otherwise a single trip to catch a glimpse of the big cat can turn out to be an expensive affair at Rs 2200. Especially so when you intend to go multiple safaris, which by the way, is highly recommended because you might not necessarily spot one all the time. Wildlife enthusiasts can enter the sanctuary in one or all the three slots of the day. The first of the slot is the 6 am - 9 am one, followed by the 9 am - 12 pm and then the final set of jeeps are allowed to enter the sanctuary at 3 pm in the afternoon.
However, even if the lions cannot be seen, the national park is home to more than 300 leopards, 200 species of birds, and numerous animals, reptiles and amphibians. The sanctuary has enough wildlife to keep you occupied even if you’re not lucky to see a lion. The best times to spot maximum wildlife the guides advice are the months of summer when all the animals come to the watering holes to quench their thirst.
(In September 2011, Venkat went on a solo trip to Ladakh after which he quit his job to devote nearly all his time for travelling and exploring)