Gir Lion Sanctuary

Sasan Gir is located on south Gujarat. It is nearly 6 hours journey by car from Rann of Kutch in Dassada. We bypassed Rajkot town and turned towards Somnath via Junagarh.

Passing through Junagarh and not stopping to visit the fort would be a sacrilege. We stopped to see Junagarh fort. According to historians Juangarh fort, I do not know if this exact fort, was built in nearly 200 BC during Mauriya empire. The fort has been captured and rebuilt several times by different rulers that occupied it. Such a historic fort, yet approach to  fort I found to be shabby with shanties on both sides of the approach road. Fort  is in slight elevation. One can see Junagarh town and a view of Mount Girnar from the fort. A view from ramparts of Junagarh fort  with a big cannon in the background. I read that a Turkish admiral of the then ruler had set this cannon, when Portuguese occupied ports of Daman and Diu. I am not sure of the veracity of this fact.

Inside the fort, a view of court house. 

A view of the Mount Girnar from Junagarh fort. Mount Girnar is an ancient mountain. On different peaks of mount Girnar  there are holy temples for Hindus and Jains. Notable being Dattatreya temple, Gorakhnath temple and Ambaji temple for hindus and Digambara and Swetambara temples for Jains. One has to climb up more than 8500 steps to reach the peaks. We did not visit. May be next time.  

We drove on towards Sasan Gir on NH8D. Our destination was Lion Safari Camp. In Lion Safari Camp, one has to live in tents. These tents are like one room accomodation with attached bath. These tents can get quite cold in late night and early morning, because temperture in this part of Gujarat drops dramatically at night. Arrangement of additional blankets is must, if travelling in winter. A typical tent is shown below. Lion Safari Camp also had arrangement for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

In the evening cultural program was organised by camp management. Performance was given by a group of black entertainers. I thought they are foreign students, moonlighting for pocekt money. I was surprised to learn that these are Gujajati speaking people, whose ancestors migrated from East Africa to Gujarat more than 300 years before. 

Coming back to the main purpose of the visit, that was to watch a lion in the wild. However, we were told that lions are elusive creatures. in order not to disappoint us visitors coming from different parts of India, Gujarat government has created a sort of old age home for retired lions. In this government operated park, one is certain to see a lion from close proximity. So we visited government operated part first. In this park, one can choose between a A/C or non A/C bus that runs on biodiesel. We booked our ticket and got in. As promised, we saw lions from up close.

However, our desire was to see lion in the wild. We had arranged a jeep to take us into the reserve forest. Getting entry into the forest is restricted. One has to stand in queue in forest rangers office to get a permit. On a given day, only a limited number of permits are given, unless ofcourse one is a VIP.  Our entry permit was arranged by Lion Safari Camp by sending their man in advance. Our guide was Sharoohkh Khan, not the actor, a local Gujarati teenager. Sharoohkh was genuinely offended when we questioned his ability to spot a lion.

We moved around in Gir sanctuary for nearly two hours without any trace of elusive lion. We were almost about to give up, when another tour operator excitedly directed us in the opposite direction we were going. We rushed, there they were a family of lions – a mother with three kids. We were not allowed to stand there very long by forest officers. So I managed one picture, that is clear and clean. I was told this is a two year old lion.

In addition to elusive lion, Gir sanctuary is full of deers. We saw Spotted deer, Cheetal, and Sambar deers, plenty of them.

We also did some birdwatching in Sasan Gir Lion Safari Camp. But that will be next blog.

Tags: Junagarh Fort, Mount Girnar, Lion Safari Park, Lion, Sambhar Deer, Spotted Deer

Little Rann of Kutch

I have a strange attraction for Gujarat, the western most state of India. Beyond Gujarat lies the Arabian sea. Driving along the Gandhi Nagar – Sarkhej  highway westward on a bright sunny Gujarat December morning fills my mind with an undescribable feeling of anticipation. In addition to being the land of Dwarkadhish, Lord Krishna, Gujarat has many interesting places to visit. We decided to visit Gujarat in December of 2012. Our first stop was Little Rann of Kutch last December. Little Rann is a salt desert, and home of endangered wild ass, along with other animal species.
We flew from Delhi to Ahmedhabad. After an overnight stay at  Ahmedabad we drove to Dassada village. Rann Rider runs a resort in Dassada and organizes trips to Little Rann. In the resort there were several independent adobe huts. Huts are furnished with basic amenities, like bed, study table, easy chair. Huts have electricity, airconditioner, and attached bathroom with running water.  

The resort provides three good meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner in their community dining hall. 

in the afternoon, post lunch, we took off for a visit to the Rann. We had booked an open jeep for the purpose before hand. At least two other jeeps accompanied us carrying more tourists. Rann is vast expanse of empty space. It gets filled up with water during monsoon season. In December, when we vistied, Rann had patches of water. There were a large number of migratroy birds and local birds flocking the wet land. In most places, desert floor had cracked because of lack of moisture. There in the midst of no where, we saw herds of wild ass. We were told, Rann was one of the natural habitat of the ass. It has been declared a sanctuary for wild ass. 

We also were fortunate to view a desert fox. The fox alsmost camoflaged itself with the sorroundings. Only trained eyes of our guide could locate the fox. Very agile and very shy, it vanished into a concealed fox hole. 

We also saw a herd of nilgais. A male Nilgai posed for the camera, while the herd moved one.

We saw one salt harvesting pond on the Rann. It was run by local villagers. Villagers trap the salt water that flood the Rann during monsoon, and let it dry under relentless sun of the Rann. Many consider, such activity is detrimental to wild life of Rann. Conservationists believe that many such salt harvesting ponds are appearing all over Rann. Again conflict between human activity and wild life.

We had a good view of the setting sun on the Rann. As the sun set, temperature immediately started to come down. It is advisable to carry wind cheaters, if one plans to spend evening on the Rann. I heard, one can take beautiful shot of moon on the desert. We returned to warm comfort of our resort. After dinner, we went to bed as we had to move on next morning. I plan to go back for a longer stay on the Rann. 

Tags: Gujarat, Dassada, Little Rann of Kutch, Rann Rider, Wild Ass, Desert Fox, Nilgai, Salt Farming

India and Pakistan In A Love Hate Relationship

How to deal with Pakistan, India’s western neighbor, is a puzzle that has kept Indian policy makers confused for last sixty years or more. Created by severing India in 1947, Pakistan had been the most difficult neighbor to handle. Pakistan has fought four declared wars with India, and countless undeclared wars in the form of terrorist attacks in India. Most recent Pakistani offensive had been Pakistani Prime Minister dubbing Indian Prime Minister a “Dehati Woman” in the presence of Indian and Pakistani journalists in an informal off the record meeting in New York. Although denied vociferously, damage has been done to already fragile India – Pakistan relationship.
Pakistan lost part of her territory, erst while East Pakistan, in 1971. Bengali speaking East Pakistanis lead by Sheikh Mujiboor Rahman wanted independence. Pakistan responded by unleashing military might on unarmed population of East Pakistan. Civil war erupted in East Pakistan. With India’s help and intervention East Pakistan was liberated and an independent country named  Bangladesh was born. Pakistan suffered a military defeat, where general Niyaji had to surrender with close to 100, 000 Pakistani soldiers.
Power in Pakistan is concentrated among northern Punjabi speaking people, who control top positions in politics, administration and all powerful Pakistan armed forces. On an informal level, Pakistanis can be great friends, fun loving people, that enjoy finer things in life. Pakistanis want to play and win cricket matches againist India, enjoy Indian movies, want to get a share of massive Indian market and so on. Indian visitors to Pakistan can attest to great hospitality from Pakistanis familiar or otherwise.
Underneath benign Dr. Jekyll like exterior, is lying Mr. Hyde the monster. Like a true uber competitive Punjabi, Pakistani ruling elite wants to get even with India for the ignominy of having to part with their territory. The war of 1971 and the role India played was neither forgotten nor forgiven. Pakistan will not likely rest till it make India lose a state. Every trick in the book has been employed by Pakistan to engineer secession in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. A low intensity war was also unleashed on India where explosive devices were detonated in public places in different towns and cities. Many unarmed and innocent people lost their lives or maimed for life. The whole idea was to create civil war in India by instigating communal violence.
In her effort to damage and dismember India, Pakistan has employed a very ingenuous tactics. Poor and jobless from Pakistan, were given training in urban warfare and unleashed on India. One such person was Ajmal Kasab, caught alive during Mumbai seize. Pakistan have consistently used alibi, despite evidence otherwise, that Kasab was a terrorist, terrorist have no nation, and Pakistan herself is a victim of such terrorism. Pakistan has also indoctrinated and trained Indian youth, with a feeling of being persecuted, in acts of terrorism against India. Again, Pakistan have claimed that acts of terror in India is homegrown, Pakistan has no role in the process.
India has extended olive branch of friendship many a times. Each apparent bonhomie at political level was responded with either military attack or terrorist strike. As always, Pakistan had denied any involvement inspite of proof shining on their face. Rare occassions when Pakistan accepted proof given by India, they failed to act on them. War between two nuclear powered neighbors may be out of question. India is under US pressure not to engage in any unilateral military action, even when harmed. India cannot stoop to the level of creating urban warfare in Pakistan. Atleast there is no evidence to that count, till date. At least Pakistanis have not raised it.
India recognizes that as a neighbor Pakistan cannot be wished away. Challenge, however, is how to deal with good Pakistan and keep bad Pakistan at bay. Pakistan, an Islamic state, looks towards Saudi Arabia for spiritual lineage. Pakistan, however, cannot shakeoff her 3000 year plus history as part of Indian subcontinent. Somehow, in her psyche Pakistan always want to equal or do better than India in every facet of life. If India explodes a nuclear device, Pakistan will do the same. If India wants a seat in security council, Pakistan must get one. If India wins a world championship in cricket, Pakistan has to win one too. While India abhors such blatant parallelism, I think India must recognize this competitive spirit of Pakistan and capitalize in her dealing with Pakistan.
I think, internally India must strengthen her defences and not let her guard down when dealing with official Pakistan. India must modernize her police force and give them autonomy. A modern force that is accountable to public will function better that that is accountable to politicians carrying out electoral calculation. Police must use human intelligence as well as using technology to intercept terrorist activity before they strike. The same goes for armed forces. A case in point is terrorists that attacked Mumbai, sailed through 500 km of Indian waters undetected. Mumbai is the head quarter of Western Naval Command. If this is the status of security of naval command centre, we can imagine what happens in less important areas. At the same time, India must improve people to people contact between two nations, allow commerce to grow between two countries. A prosperous Pakistan, with stake in her economy, will be less likely to attack the hen that lays golden eggs.

Tags : India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, War, Terrorism, Commerce, Competition