The Loins of Gujarat - Mumbai to Gir National Park | Horn please, OK?

The Loins of Gujarat - Mumbai to Gir National Park

The Route :
Day 1 : Mumbai -> Bhavnagar
Day 2 : Bhavnagar -> Junagadh - >Sassan-Gir
Day 3 : Sassan - Gir -> Diu -> Sassan -Gir
Day 4 : Sassan -Gir ->Junagadh -> Baroda
Day 5 : Baroda -> Mumbai

When : May 2014 | How far : 2100 kms | How long : 5 Days

The route map

As much as we like to hate Facebook (the time sink that it is), it has its merits. It led us to this.
Which left us with only one choice - to visit the only place in the country where lions can still be found.
Gir National Park in Gujarat. The park stays closed for 4 months starting June 15th, which gave us very little time to plan a visit. Indian summer be damned, we were going lionspotting!

Travel tip : Check the Gir website for dates on which the park stays open. The lions wouldn't want you to leave disappointed.

Day 1 : Mumbai -> Bhavnagar 
How far : 605 kms | How long : ~10 hrs 

Mumbai to Bhavnagar via NH8 is a smooth drive, as we'd discovered on an earlier trip. Especially so when you have good company (give yourselves a pat on the back Shinoop, you were undoubtedly our lucky charms). After passing Karjan, with the Gulf of Khambat on our left we turned on to state highway SH160 towards Amreli and finally on to Bhavnagar.

The plan was to spend a night at Bhavnagar before driving on to Junagadh the next day.

We passed fields and farms, village belles and cattle.

All suitably rustic till we saw a multicolored cobweb stretched out across the trees.

Both eerie and beautiful, we stopped to take a closer look. The spot was a shrine to the Chudel Mata and the cobweb was made up of hundreds of brightly colored sarees gently flapping in the wind. A saree is tied to a tree when a devotees make a wish and the wish comes true.

We passed another about a hundred kms down the road but the magic of the discovery had worn off.

The road to Bhavnagar passes through Velevadar Black Buck Sanctuary. We didn't know it at the time but we did notice a change in terrain. Gujarat seems to specialize in stark landscapes. The road was framed by sun-bleached river banks sloping down to a turbid, lethargic river.. And no, not a black buck in sight.  

King of my Castle

Bhavnagar is more city than town, buzzing with activity. Its famous for its proximity to the ship-breaking yards at Alang which we unfortunately didn't get a chance to see. Work at the shipyards stops at 6:30pm- something to keep in mind if you plan to swing by.

Our stop for the night was Hotel Nilambag Palace. A good place to get used to being in the presence of royalty.  We were after all, on our way to meet the king of the jungle.

Travel tip: Don't rely on Google Maps to find your way to Nilambagh Palace; Do it the old fashioned way. Ask someone.

Hotel Nilambag Palace  (they should think about dropping the 'hotel') belongs to the royal family of Bhavnagar.  The palace, a gracious 160 year old structure occupies most of the sweeping grounds. The residence of the current king and his family, occupies the rest. The chatty manager told us that the palace was once coveted by both the Taj & Oberoi groups but their overtures were rejected. The hotel is still owned and  operated by the royal family.

Majestic with a patina of fading glory, the most expensive rooms in Nilambag can teach Mumbai's rich a thing or two about class. The rooms we picked were made for more bourgeoisie tastes. They were well appointed and faultlessly clean.

We spent the evening exploring the palace and playing word games while working off a dinner of country chicken and naan. Delicious!

We'd started from Mumbai at 7am and reached our Day 1 destination at 5pm. This included grabbing a quick bite at a highway Kamat hotel (Decent & Honest were our other two options) and a few stops to take pictures. An earlier start would've helped us reduce our drive time by avoiding the weekday morning traffic in Mumbai.

Travel tip : Early to bed and early to rise will get you out of city traffic in very few tries. An old Chinese proverb.

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> You just read it
Day 2 -> Bhavnagar to Gir Forest
Day 3 -> Gir to Diu & Somnath
Day 4 -> Junagadh to Vadodara
Day 5 -> Baroda to Mumbai via Champaner

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