Gir National Park : Bhavnagar to Gir Forest | Horn please, OK?

Gir National Park : Bhavnagar to Gir Forest

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Day 2 : Bhavnagar-> Junagadh -> Sassan-Gir
When : May 2014 | How far : 300 kms | How long :  5 hrs

Ever been given directions so bad that you've landed up in a different city?
We have. By none other than <drum roll> Google Maps.

Bhavnagar to Gir National Park is a 200 km drive which takes about 4 hours. The park allows visitors to book permits online, in advance but they're usually always sold out.

Travel tip : Try booking a permit on Only half of all permits sold are available online. So like everything else in life, your chances of getting one are 50-50

Our plan was to stop by the Taj Gateway hotel, check in and rush off to stand in line for the 3pm safari tickets. But our fragile itinerary got shot to pieces when Google Maps sent us on a wild goose chase. We were looking for a Gateway Hotel in Junagarh when the real one was an hour away in Sassan!

In the app's defense we should have called the hotel at some point to confirm the address but who wants to talk to people when you have an app that can tell you everything?

Junagarh is 60 kms from Sassan-Gir and its two most famous monuments are the Uperkot fort and the Mahabat Maqbara, a mausoleum. Its also known for its lassi.

Not wanting to waste the trip to Junagadh we decided to take a quick look at the Mahabat Maqbara.

The Mahabat Maqbara squats on the side of a very crowded MG road, opposite the high court. It's a mausoleum built in the late 19th century by the then Sultan of Gujarat, Mohabbat Khanji. Next to it in the same deserted complex stands the Bahauddin Maqbara or Vazir's mausoleum. Their ugly step sister, a spanking new mosque inspired by a frosted cake, watches over them from a corner of the plot.

The mausoleums belong to another world. We were transfixed by their beauty. Designed using a mix of Indo-Islamic and Gothic architecture, a style common in that era, they look like they had escaped from a fairy tale.

The Bahauddin Maqbara  is the more elaborate of the two, surrounded by four minarets each with a winding spiral staircase.

The mausoleums were locked from the outside and closed to visitors. A rusted, crumbling sign (almost as old as the mausoleums) apologetically displayed their names along with the cost incurred to build them.

Like they say, its all about the money and neither the ASI nor the state government seem to have any left to conserve these works of art. They stand languishing and forgotten in a little square in a little town that's barely on the incredible india tourist map.

We tore ourselves away and consoled our heavy hearts with some of Junagadh's famous lassi. Calling it a lassi is misleading. Its more yogurt dressed up as ice-cream. Chamunda's at Kalva circle is a good place to buy some.

Our flirtations with Junagadh got us late for the jungle safari at Gir National Park. All seats for the 3pm slot were full. A member of the hotel staff suggested that we try getting "standing tickets" (whatever those are). He accompanied us to the ticket office and helped us book an entire jeep. Full marks for effort!

Travel tip : The best time of the day to see lions in Gir forest is when the sun is not very strong. In Gujarat that could exclude the entire day. Our advice - pick either the early morning slot (6-9am) or the evening one (3-6pm)

This is how the ticketing system works -

They let out only 25 jeeps per slot. So if you don't have an online permit, make sure that you get there early enough to stand in queue. The forest reserve folks put out chairs for safari hopefuls to lay claim on. Getting a chair equals getting a ticket. And if you don't, hang around till someone vacates a chair and lunge for it like your life depends on it. Simple.

Travel tip : Also buy a hat from the souvenir shop. You'll be grateful for it by the end of the safari

Once inside the forest our eyes were treated to a smorgasbord of wildlife; birds, spotted deer, Langoors, Sambar deer and peacocks.

The king of the jungle was more shy. On the verge of giving up and leaving to return the next day, we saw a jumble of safari jeeps ahead of us. Our arrival at the spot was greeted with the cry of a Sambar. It was a warning to the rest of the herd. According to our driver, a Sambar never cries wolf. A minute later we spotted the big jungle cat.

An adolescent male lion had emerged from somewhere to sun itself. He exuded laziness and showed a mild interest in the staring, whispering and finger-pointing going on around him. A languorous stretch and flick of the tail later, he settled down to survey his audience.

This stalemate went on for a while. Most of the other jeeps having had their fill of the staring match, vroomed off leaving a much smaller group behind. Lucky for us, a second cat emerged and cavorted around putting up quite a show.

Travel Tip: If you're a wildlife enthusiast make sure that Gir National Park figures on your list of places to visit in Gujarat.

Exhausted from the heat and the day's many adventures, we cooled off  in the sun warmed swimming pool at the hotel.

Our lesson for the day : A wait in the jeep is worth two cats in the bush

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> The Loins of Gujarat - A trip to Gir National Park
Day 2 -> You just read it
Day 3 -> Gir to Diu & Somnath
Day 4 -> Junagadh to Vadodara
Day 5 -> Baroda to Mumbai via Champaner
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