27 November 2009

Getting to Gir

We're currently in Gir so that we can visit the Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the last place on Earth where you can see the Asiatic lion in the wild.

The domain of the Asiatic lion used stretch from Greece in the Mediterranean, through the Middle East, all the way to the Bay of Bengal on the East coast of India. However; loss of habitat and hunting decimated the population so that by the end of the 1870's there were thought to be only 12 Asiatic lions left.

They probably would have been driven to extinction if it hadn't have been for the actions of the nawab of Junagadh, who in the early 1900's turned his hunting grounds into what is now Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary. The numbers are slowly recovering and there are now estimated to be around 370 lions in the park.

It had taken a fair amount of effort to get here. We left Mount Abu at 9 o'clock yesterday morning, had a 1 hour taxi ride to the train station followed by a 4 hour train journey to Ahmedabad, the state capital of Gujarat. We then had a 7 hour wait before we could catch the overnight train to Veraval.

Veraval had the distinction of being the ugliest town we've had the misfortune to pass through since Lusaka in Zambia. It looked like it had just been on the receiving end of some huge industrial accident that had affected the whole town. . . plus it smelt of fish! We quickly made our escape in a taxi and headed an hour up the road to Gir.

When we arrived at our accommodation we discovered that the booking agency we'd used for the hotel, despite charging my credit card, hadn't actually made a reservation for us. So after more than 24 hours on the road we arrived to find we didn't have a room. After much faffing about we eventually managed to sort things out and get checked in so that we could unwind before we went out on our afternoon safari.

We're staying at a place called Gir Birding Lodge where we have a quaint little hut in the middle of a mango orchard on the edge of the reserve. There's no TV or traffic so other than the sounds of the wildlife it's incredibly quiet, calm and relaxing, something of a rare experience in India.

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