Tuesday, 16 April 2013

An Unexpected Date with Lions

This last Sunday is going down as my most memorable Sunday in a long while. When I woke up in the morning in my usual grumpy mood, I was planning to do nothing more strenuous than being a couch potato and watch TV. Just imagine sitting in front of a 42-inch idiot box with a tub of chocolate chip ice-cream. Ummm…. Anyway, I was looking forward to surfing the cable and watching Happy Feet 2 on HBO in the evening. Great plans, weren’t they? But alas, God had other plans for me that I wasn’t aware of. Better plans that now I am dying to share with you guys.


Late in the morning, when I was lounging on the couch to fulfill my most industrious goal of the day, my brother plopped down beside me and started complaining that he was absolutely stressed out and he very badly needed a break. As my brother and I are quite close (In fact, I am coming from a tight-knit family, which can be a boon as well as a curse…anyway, that story is for another time.), we started exploring various options. Going for movies or eating out is quite ordinary for us. We wanted to do something different, something fun, something exciting. My brother absolutely adores lions, especially BIG, MEAN ones; and so we decided to go for lion watching. Now where to go for that? In the zoo or in the wild? If we decide to go for the zoo, it’s not even much time-consuming; but the lions over there are bored of humans. In the past, when we went to see the lion at the zoo, he didn’t even bother to glance at us. In fact, he didn’t even bother to come out of his cave to greet us and that tells you how dull he finds us — we puny and fragile humans.

So the next option for us is to visit the jungle of Gir. In Gujarat, one can go for jungle safari in the jungles of Sasan Gir. (Most of you must be knowing about it from the much-famous advertisement of Gujarat Tourism, featuring Amitabh Bachchan.) Now Sasan Gir is nearly 400 kms. away from Ahmedabad and we could reach there in 6-7 hours, i.e., by the evening, if we start out immediately. Last time when we visited Gir forest, I was 10 years old and my brother was 8 years old. We had gone for a memorable night safari to watch lions (and believe me, I will tell that story later on as it is quite memorable too because it involved me screaming my lungs out and scaring away the king of the jungle.) and so we were pretty sure that we could go for the jungle safari in the evening and be back in the morning to go to the work. It really looked like a great plan. And so off we went to put our plan into action, and little did we know what it was going to involve!

Well, as we planned, we reached to Sasan-Gir at around 6 p.m., feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for finding the right place after consulting GPS numerous times and hounding all the passersby (as we don’t trust the GPS much in the iPhone). But our pleasure was short lived and we were brutally hurled back into the reality when the forest officer told us that the roads close down between 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Essentially we were stuck, or so we were told. Neither we could go back as the roads will close down halfway, nor did we have any kind of reservations in any of those ridiculously expensive forest resorts. Finally, the forest officer took pity on us and he redirected us to one of the locals, who lodged tourists in his humble abode. So we went there with dread, ready for the worst. We didn’t know what to expect. Night had already started setting in and it was getting cold with so many trees around. When we finally reached Momai Hotel (please don’t overestimate the hotel as it’s simply a cottage with couple of rooms), we were pleasantly surprised. Although it was too hot to stay in the room, we decided to sleep on the terrace. The owner was kind enough to let us to know that as the cottage was in the middle of the jungle, we might see or hear a lion or a panther at the back of the cottage and should not get scared. How reassuring! Anyway, we feasted on lip-smacking Kathiyawadi cuisine and went to sleep. Although it was an absolutely wonderful experience of watching so many stars clearly (you cannot star gaze in Ahmedabad due to lot of pollution and lights from numerous hoardings), I woke up every couple of hours, drenched in the jungle dew. Throughout the night, my mood swung between the awe of the nature and annoyance at the wet dew.



We got up at 4.30 a.m. in the morning and again went back to the government office to get the permit for jungle safari. Luckily we got the permission (we were the last ones to get as only 15 cars are allowed at a time). As soon as we got the permission, we broke into the celebratory mood and started thanking God for all his blessings (I know, we are bit over the top for the things that we want). As soon as we entered the premises, our guide showed us the footprints of a lion — taking our enthusiasm to the next level. In that hour, we spotted deer, peacocks, boars and buffalos. But no lions. As the hour went by, our guide started rambling about how many times lions are not sighted during safaris, how leopards are sighted only once a month. In short, he started depressing us. In fact, at one point, I felt like throwing him out of the gypsy car. (Nobody, including the guide, is allowed to step down from the gypsy as animals find humans on foot threatening. Figure that!) I started even cursing all the lions in the jungle for being ungentlemanly enough to stand me up. All four hundred plus lions standing up me at that. Anyway, just when we were absolutely bogged down, we saw a vision. Yes, a vision of a majestic being on the top of the hill. We were far enough to be not too sure about what it was, but we surely knew it was something spectacular. Something daring. As that lofty being started climbing down leisurely taking its own sweet time, at last our guide recognized him for what he was. Yes, a lion. A three-year old lion. At last our trip was going to be worth anything. We started praying with fervor. We wanted him to climb down and give us a proper view. And the God Almighty was in the mood to grant all our wishes (On the hindsight, I think I should have also asked him to make me filthy rich.). The lion started climbing down the hill. When he was halfway down, another lion followed. Double bonanza! Both of them came near our jeep. We had parked near the water basin in the hopes that lions would be thirsty enough to come there. And how right we were! The lions approached the basin. They didn’t walk. They cruised toward the basin, looking at us with their tawny eyes, unafraid of us. I am really not kidding but I got the feeling that they found us utterly contemptible, quite below the social ladder in the world of animals. The way they moved, the way their limbs flowed…I simply can’t find the words to describe their body language. The scene of their lapping up water was quiet mesmerizing. I was completely in awe of them. Without any doubt.



And suddenly, one of the lions had enough of water. He started moving toward us. I wasn’t sure whether I should be scared or excited. Admittedly, I was feeling both. Every step he took toward us, I was torn between yelling at the driver to drive off and staying put to see what he would do. And believe me, my so-called bravery to stay put paid off. The lion came near our jeep and stood at a mere distance of one meter, looking at us. He stood in front of us for few seconds. He looked down at us, trying to convey how weak we are and how he can destroy us with just one powerful swipe. (Even though both the lions were just three year old, they were nearly quite huge with unbelievable size and muscle.) We waited with a bated breath to see what he would do next. I think we were more like transfixed, both with fear and excitement. At last, the lion took pity on us and moved on. He just circled around our jeep and sat down next to it, under the shade of the tree.



Just when we were starting to breathe easy, third lion entered the scene. He joined the second one at the water basin. Both started lapping up water. Believe me, it was an unbelievable scene with one lion at our left, resting under the shade of a tree, and the other two on our right, drinking water. As soon as the other two lions were done drinking their water, they acted the same way the first one did. They both circled us and sat down under the shade of the tree with the first lion. Man, it was the most spectacular scene of my life! All that sleek power of nature, just few feet away from me.



Suddenly, the guide decided that it was too dangerous for us to linger as we might annoy the lions. Our driver started the jeep and we started creeping away from the lions. When we were moving away, I couldn’t help but look back at the lions, and what I saw really astounded me. I really think I saw a glint in the eyes of one of the lions, as if he was telling me to run away. Be safe in my world of concrete jungle as natural jungle was beyond my comprehension. It might be whimsical on my part to think like that but somehow I can help but feel it.

 While returning, we were quite happy by the experience. In fact, saying that we were happy is mild. We were ecstatic. We were jubilant, gleeful and much more. Down the road, we got another surprise. We sighted a leopard. Yes, a leopard that is sighted once a month. And then we went right from being gleeful to deliriously cheerful. We were intoxicated with happiness. Yes, we had sighted both lions and a leopard. What can beat that?

Even though I got a case of mild sun stroke and cough and cold due extreme weather of night and day, these two days are going to be my one of the most memorable days of my life. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Not even for a pair of Gucci sandals!

Photo Courtesy: Dhara Desai

20 comments:

  1. I envy you for this Pankti, encountering lions face-to-face. Undoubtedly, the experience has to go down in your history book. Btw, insightful write-up.

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  2. Nice narration and pics perfectly captured....! :)

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  3. What luck! Lovely post. Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Madhu. I too was grateful when I had the chance to see these lions from the mere distance of 2 feet.

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  4. thoroughly enjoyed your venture Pankti....
    I was surprised how can somebody take so nice shots with iPhone till I came down to the photo courtesy...
    Just a modest suggestion, either break the post into parts or make it condensed... I'm telling this because travel posts don't look good if they are lengthy...
    Cheers... waiting for your GP ;-)

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  5. Thanks AS. Yeah, if I ever write my traveling experience again, I will keep that in mind. Also, the pics are taken by my SIL from her mobile (Samsung Grande) and not from a normal or high-end camera :)

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  6. in that case it would have come better from 4S... start exploiting your gadget... if you think it proper you can even summarise it and use it as GP...

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    Replies
    1. I have already started exploring the capturing capabilities of my 4S. But what is GP?

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