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Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Asiatic Lions of Sasan-Gir!

The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, in Gujarat, is the only refuge of the Asiatic Lions. Every nature lover who harbors a desire to see a “free living, wild lion in India” has to someday, visit Sasan-Gir. I had that pleasure on the 25th of January, 2008!


Asiatic Lion at Sasan-Gir.

What is not unusual about India is the unusual! The experience of seeing my first wild lion, was quite unlike what I had imagined it to be. It made me realize how unusual life in India can really be!

Picture this - > You enter a protected area in search of the King of Beasts. Your eyes are keenly searching for any movement or sounds that would indicate the presence of this mighty beast. Various scenes you had seen on television keep popping up in your mind as your eyes scan the dry landscape. Suddenly, you come across a large group of “cattle” grazing calmly, their friendly caretaker sitting quietly under a nearby tree. Not too far away, you can hear the alarm call of a Spotted Deer heralding the presence a predator!


Happy inside the Gir forest!


A "Maldhari" with his Cattle inside Gir Forest!

Yes, here in the Sasan-Gir forest, over 300 lions co-exist amongst hundreds of human and their thousands of cattle! These people live among the lions and milk the cattle for a living! Known as “Maldharis”, they live in scattered settlements inside the Gir forest, without fear of the lions!


A "Maldhari" settlement inside the Gir forest. Unusual and fascinating indeed!

We left Jamnagar on the 24th morning after breakfast. A pleasant, four hour, drive brought us to Sasan-Gir. Arpit had already made all the arrangements. We checked into Mohit’s “Gir Birding Lodge” by noon. The friendly staff, the newly built spacious and very clean cottage and the quietness of the place were all very much to our liking. We immediately felt at home. After a wonderful lunch we entered the Gir Forest, for the first time, with great anticipation. What are the chances of sighting a Lion? I asked Atul, our bird friendly driver. 100% sir! was the enthusiastic answer I got!

That afternoon we spent about 3 hours in the Gir Forest in search of Lions. The forest was dry and brown. The drive in the open Jeep was dusty. I soon got used to seeing several tourist vehicles in search of the lions. The pugmarks on the forest roads, the alarm calls of the chitals and the occasional roar of the lion all added to my excitement. No sighting yet! However, I learnt of the Maldharis and their cattle. I understood that the dry scrubland with hills, perennial rivers, and teak forest was quite ideal for the lions to roam freely. I saw plenty of “Spotted Deer”, “Sambar Deer” and “Wild Boars”. I was also able to see and photograph several species of birds. Tomorrow we shall see the lion!

The 25th of January, 2008. This day, I shall never forget. My first “Lion” sighting! And what a day! We were almost at the end of our morning session. Various tourist vehicles with their driver and guide were making their own strategies on where the lions may be! Yesterday, we sighted four of them in this place sir, they may not have moved too far away. A mother with her two young cubs were spotted recently in this area… Shhh.. Chitals calling .. move, quickly!

After a lot of effort of going this way and that, while Atul was zooming towards yet another “gut feel”, I suddenly saw her … stop, STOP! .. my goodness a lioness! She was walking quite close to the road in the opposite direction. As our vehicle came to a dusty halt, she quickly disappeared from our view, without breaking her stride! I was amazed at how the color of the animal merged with the background. If I was not fully tuned and she was not moving, I am sure I would have missed seeing her! I was delighted at this first, lucky sighting. I just managed to shoot one image of the back of the vanishing lioness! My first sighting to cherish!


My first Sighting!

As I savored this exciting first sighting, the best is yet to come, I thought. Soon it was time to head back to the resort. The time allowed for our morning session was almost over, suddenly, there it was, a magnificent male, the lord of beasts! As the lion started strolling away to our right, Atul did some miraculous maneuvering of our vehicle to get me a better view. The beast stopped in front of us and marked a bush as he let out a royal roar! At such close quarters, hearing that roar gave me “goose bumps” as I stared in awe at the massive, powerful, wild being in front of me. He then gave me a wonderful look before jumping across a stream and vanishing into the forest. It all happened so quickly, just about a minute I would say and what a minute – phew! I am still wondering how I managed to shoot a couple of images in all that excitement!

The evening session was an anticlimax! After a few minutes of entering the forest we came to a place where many tourist vehicles had gathered. At first we could not see them, though we knew the reason the tourists had gathered. Then we saw three of them – Mother, Son and Daughter! The lions sat quietly in the shade as hundreds of tourists came for a “Darshan”. A forest department vehicle with a few officials was parked close by to ensure no man animal conflict occurred. I happily clicked several images of the three lions as a tourist amongst other tourists would. Some how, the other two “chance sightings” seemed more satisfying.


At first we could see nothing...can you?

We spent the next morning in a different area hoping to sight a Panther, which I was told was also quite easy to come across at Gir as compared to other forests. We did not have that pleasure on this occasion. Instead, we had plenty of birding and some good photo opportunities.


Crocodile at Sasan-Gir.

That evening session was more or less a repeat of the previous evening. After visiting a large waterbody and getting good views of a Crocodile, we found the same three lions under a different tree. Many tourist vehicles were in the queue, for a better look at the lions. The only difference was that this time the “Young Male” was sitting in wonderful golden light – any photographers delight! I got about three minutes before the next vehicle took over the prime position and we had to move on – I had, had my fill indeed!


A fine young male at Gir!

This is how I saw lions at Sasan-Gir. Couple of times by luck and a couple of times being led directly to them. The five trips I made inside the forest were all wonderful. The five lions I saw were full of life and appeared healthy. There was a kind of positive energy about them I thought. It was a gratifying trip for me indeed! The lions seemed to have filled a certain void in the life of a nature lover!

On the 27th we took the short (2 hrs/90 kms) drive to Diu after a late breakfast. A boat ride at the beach for my kid, a good lunch at the Radhika Beach Resort and we were on the 3 pm Jet Airways flight back home!

These are some birds I managed to shoot in the Gir Forest. Please visit www.indiabirds.com to see some of them...

Short-toed Snake Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Brown-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Small Minivet, White-browed Fantail, White Wagtail, Red-vented Bulbul

We were in Bangalore at 8.30 pm to enjoy a lovely home cooked meal. A week had passed in a flash, filling several flash cards of happy moments to share!

We narrowly missed seeing a lioness along with her two newborn cubs. I was however able to get this image of a fresh pugmark made by one of the cubs! This image brings a happy thought to my mind that their breed is indeed increasing…


A newborn cubs walks at Gir!

Vijay Cavale
January, 2008

My second Visit  -> http://vijaycavale.blogspot.com/2010/03/gir-january-2010.html