Did you know that there are lions in India? Yeah, we didn't either. That is until we saw a program about it while in Sri Lanka (thanks Jeff Corwin and Animal Planet). We decided then that one of our goals on this trip would be to try and see Asia's “big three” cats- leopards, tigers, and lions (and we had already seen leopards in Sri Lanka). Our decision then took us now to the state of Gujarat and Sasan Gir National Park. The Gir Wildlife Sanctuary is the last place on earth where wild Asiatic Lions can be found, and even here their future did not look promising. By the end of the 19th century there were fewer than 20 left. Their classification as a protected species in the 20th century saw their numbers increase once again, but it was a gradual process. 50 years ago there were still fewer than 200 lions in Gir, but today their numbers have exceeded 400. All we needed to do was find one!
From Mumbai we took the night train to Ahmedabad and from there a couple of buses got us to the friendly one-street town of Sasan Gir in the south of the state. After finding a place to stay, we focused on arranging our safari for the next day. We met some other foreigners in town to share the cost of the jeep and together we obtained our permits to enter the park the next morning. The morning safari entailed a 5:30 a.m. rise. At 6:15 we were assigned our jeep, driver, and guide, and before the sun came up we were already in the park searching for wildlife. While everyone comes to see the main attraction, there is plenty of other wildlife to see other than the lions. Gir is also home to chitals (spotted deer), sambar (a very large breed of deer), bluebulls (a large kind of antelope), chinkaras (gazelle), leopards, as well as hundreds of species of birds and reptiles. We did a total of three morning safaris. On all three we saw plenty of deer, antelope, and birds. On two of them we saw lions. On our first safari we saw a single lion far off on a hilltop. On the second morning we had an amazing interaction with a large male. When we first spotted the giant cat it was lazing under a tree, then, it got up and walked across the road directly in front of us before resting once again in some brush on the other side. Our driver actually had to back our jeep up at one point as it looked as though the lion would walk right over the hood of the vehicle. It was an incredible and extremely fortunate experience. That would be the end of our lion sightings though- our third morning was a bust!
For those who want to learn more about these lions, or just want to check out a great documentary shot on location in Sasan Gir, click on the link below to watch the first part of the BBC's film “The Last Lions of India”. Subsequent installments can be watched after the first is finished from the You Tube website.
88.5 hours on public transport thus far.