The Gir forest is unique in many ways. It used to be the private hunting grounds of the Nawabs of Junagadh. They initiated the protection of the forest and its lions. Today, Gir has been protected for more than a 100 years.
It is the last home of the Asiatic Lions.The forest is also home to nomadic herdsmen, known as the Maldharis. There is plenty of conflict between the herdsmen and the lions, but by and large they co-exist.It is early April. The landscape is brown, but the heat is not brutal. Dust does not rise as the jeep trundles along well worn tracks. Trees shade us from the gaze of the late afternoon sun. There is no breeze to rustle leaves and the forest is quiet. The silence of the forest is broken not by the chirping of birds but by the occasional, oddly harmonious toot of a train horn. A train runs through the forest, neither bird nor beast, nor tree shows concern. The metallic snake with people peeping out of its belly, has made itself at home.
Water in the reservoir of the Hiran river is low, but still blue as the sky above. A few crocodiles bask on its banks. The harsh Indian summer is yet to set in. When it comes, the muddy reservoir will be a popular spot with both the thirsty inhabitants of the jungle and the eager tourist hordes that flock to see them. Today, we travel deeper in the hope of spotting true Nawabs of this land.
Every year tourists flock here to get a glimpse of the lions. Some are lucky, like me – I saw around 10-11 different lions, plus repeat sightings of some. Some are not so lucky and return home disheartened.
The forest rangers’ strong focus on showing off the lions is partially responsible for the frustration of not seeing one. Gir is a forest diverse in flora and fauna. Unfortunately, none of this was pointed out to me. The ranger accompanying me was actually surprised when after seeing more than half a dozen lions the first day, I expressed my desire to go another safari the next day. Compare this with Bandhavgarh. At Bandhavgarh, we saw fewer tigers than we expected to. We were a little disappointed about that, but on the whole the trip was very fulfilling as the rangers introduced us to various other species of plants, animals and birds.
Gir could take a lesson or two from them.