Lions, Beaches, Ancient dry dock
Not so known for many beaches and wildlife Gujarat state has which other states will be envious for. The state has what none of the states in India has. It makes the state special to visit. Asiatic Lion. the only sanctuary in India which boasts a population of 600+ concentrated only in Gir Lions Sanctuary. Not only Lions, Gir wildlife sanctuary not only accommodates the king of the jungle, but also is a home for various other wild animals like leopards, deers, crocodiles at the lake, etc In Summers, its relatively easy to spot a Pride of lions than spotting a tiger. To read and experience more, keep on reading.
Day 13(1st March) – Junagadh to Gir – 80 kms
Morning we were joking about finding our bikes and leaving from the GTDC’s Toran hotel’s Purana Khandar status.
Loading our luggage, which became our daily ritual and we had become very profient at, we set off for Junagadh sightseeing. Junagadh means an old fort which is called Uperkot, located on a plateau in the middle of town, was originally built during the Mauryan dynasty by Chandragupta. From 319 BCE The fort was in use use until the 6th century and again the history records has it covered for 300 years, then again the entries are found from 976 CE. The fort has a record of a siege for 16 times spread over 800-years of period whereas one such unsuccessful siege was for more than twelve years.
Our first attraction was 2 Maqabaras which were on our way. Built by the Nawabs of Junagadh. Between 1851–82 around Chittakhana Chowk. This architectural marvel is known for the diversified cultures of India. A mix of Islamic rulers of India, Neo-Gothic and because of British rule, European style. One can see the influence of Islamism on the Minars and dome, the gothic styled sculpture and pillars. This mausoleum’s uniqueness lies in its structure. Minars has stairs from outside. Other minars like Qutub Minar has stairs from inside.
During India’s independence days, story of Junagadh runs parallel to Hyderabad’s story. Despite having no geographical connections with Pakistan, Incumbent ruler Mahabat Khan III decided to merge with Pakistan instead of India. Under pressure from the Indian government he fled to Pakistan, and Junagadh reunited with India just three short months after declaring its independence.
Though we could see Girnar in the evening which is a nearby mountain but looking at the climb and time in our hand we decided to give it it a ditch and headed towards the Upparkot which has an impressive old fort overlooking the entire Junagadh city.
Though the city didn’t leave much of impression except the booking by Traffic constable for my bike’s big horns. We tried to reason with the guy by giving the examples of the riders all around us who were riding without helmet, 3/4 people on 2 wheelers but he was very adamant. After paying fine we moved to Gir, our dream and exciting destination with the heart full of hopes of sighting Jungle King.
We didn’t waste much time to reach Gir covering just 50 odd kms. People had warned us about bad roads on this route. But surprisingly the roads were narrow but in good condition except that there were speed breaker bumps at every nook and corner. It was but natural as we were passing the reserve forest and the speeding vehicles might injure the wild life if any animal crossing the roads.
Reaching Gir forest safari reception, called our local contact point, Shamseenbhai. Quite an intrigued character who is a forest guide by profession. We discovered, he has lotsa stories and knowledge about the wild life as well as birds. It was but obvious as he was working for last 15/20 years as a guide. He was also our host for tonight. He stays with his family in nearby Bhojade village which is in buffer zone of the reserve forest. We almost reached there and he got a tip of sighting a lion pair nearby to the village. We later found about these tips are given mostly by forest guards who earn little extra money besides their meager income to support the family.
We were pretty much excited about the possibility of spotting the king from a close distance rather than bus or jeep. But my unlucky charm of spotting a Tiger or Lion or Leopard in an open place prevailed before me, the pair had decided to walk off in jungle.
Because of that tip, we had let go of the afternoon safari. Post lunch decided to explore the village, chat with the villagers, and the kids who were enthused to see a Ninja and a big bullet. Because of the proximity of the village to Gir sanctuary, the various species of birds were ample to spot. We met a group of young bird watchers who had come all the way from Gandhinagar to Gir and it seems that was their regular visit as one of them was our host’s nephew. We chatted with our host over dinner. Oh, I completely missed. Our dinner was an oasis in the desert for me and the host family with a special dish prepared of Pomfrets which I was carrying all the way from Dwarka.
Post dinner, Shamseenbhai decided to take us for a walk I the jungle in the hope of spotting a leopard that sometimes visits nearby poultry to feast on dead chickens. But again my bad luck reached before us and couldn’t see anything but a jungle. Reaching home, we crashed early as tomorrow was the big day for us – a Lion Safari for which one has to stand in a safari Queue quite early morning.
Gir, an only Asiatic Lion century is well connected by,
Air – Keshod airport is the closest, but being a smaller airport has a lesser connectivity. Rajkot airport which is 160 kms from Gir National Park, is connected to all major domestic airports of India. From airport, you can opt for taxi or bus service.
Road: It is well connected through road network.
Rail: Rajkot railway station is same like airport connected to ll major cities of India.
To stay at Gir: There are lodges to luxury hotels spread in 5/10 kms vicinity of the park gate.
Best season: December to March
With Gir, you an also cover Somnath temple and Diu in 3 days plan by booking a cab.
Day 14(2nd March) – Gir to Diu via Somnath – 150 km
The day started with excitement. In half-sleep rode for 7/8 km from Shamseebhai’s place to Gir’s entry point. Had to wake up at 5, so that we shouldn’t miss the permit allocation for 7 a.m. Safari. Shamseenbhai, our host told us that there are only 16 permits available for 1st Safari on that day. From the earlier experiences shared by him, the chances of spotting Lion are very high in this Safari. My partners were hell-bent about not leaving Gir without spotting the King of the Jungle, but little did they know about my unfortunate past of never spotting a Lion/Tiger/Leopard in any National Parks of India.
Reached the park gate in an anticipation of claiming 2nd or 3rd place in the Safari permit Que. Our host was right. There were already some 10/15 people in the reached before us. The disappointment was visible on our faces. The gate opened at 6 for the permits and one has to sit on the chairs to collect permit forms. Gathered courage, counted a number of people and the discovered I might have a chance of getting a permit even if there were some 20 people ahead of me. In Gir National Park, one permit is given per person but for 6 people in a jeep. And people ahead of me ignored the fact and there were 2/3 people from the same family sitting together and occupying the space. People were not taking the chance. The officer came and explained the facts to all of them and distributed the forms and hurray, I was given the form which numbered 15 and the permits available were 16. We had an option of sharing the cost of permit, jeep, and guide among 3 more people as one jeep can carry 6 people besides driver and guide. But my we didn’t want to share the jeep. The reason being the restrictions on shooting pictures freely with more people in the jeep. Permit costs were INR 400, INR 100 per camera, INR 150 towards guideand INR 1000 towards jeep cost. If you spot the lion, you can tip the guide and the jeep driver. Was wondering in such a paltry amount, how the guide survives. Decided to tip the guide, even if the lion is not spotted.
The Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) also known as the Indian lion, Persian lion, and Eurasian lion, are subspecies of lion. In India, the only place for spotting a lion in the wild is Gir Forest of Gujarat, India. Promising news in an increment of Lion’s population In 2010 was according to the government reports sightings of 411 Asiatic lions in the Gir forest; which was 52 more than the last census done in 2005.
In India wild life scenario, the big Bs are the Bengal tiger, the Indian leopard, the snow leopard, and clouded leopard. The Asiatic lion is one of amongst the five big cats found in India,
The gates were opened and here we are entering the King’s territory with our fingers and toes crossed as yesterday we had met a family who camped in the Gir for the last 3 days but was out of luck in spotting a single lion forget about the pride. First hour was so unfruitful that we only spotted deer family, a jackal, and few peacocks. Frustrations started building up. Our driver decided to take a break finding one Forest Guard’s jeep. The purpose was unclear. We were desperate but he explained that we could not have gone back on the same tracks we had already driven and by this speed, we will be out of Gir. So he was trying to find out from the Guard for any news of spotting.
Hoopla! We hit the jackpot. The radio message came through for the guard was an entire Pride of Lions were spotted. Our driver immediately turned and raced to the spot. On reaching the spot, I almost shouted. But we were instructed not to show sudden reactions. In front of us were entire Pride walking like a Royal family caring least about others or for that matter, they were the King and we were just the courtiers of his court. The Pride consisted of one male grown proud Asiatic lion, one young, 2/3 lionesses, and 2 cubs. They were least bothered about the people around them. Walking majestically on the path. We shot as many pictures as possible. The entire Pride walked off the path and disappeared in the jungle leaving one lioness behind. She must be in her own thoughts. May be thinking about us, humans. How stupid they are. Paying, traveling, and wandering so much just to have our glimpse. As we were right in front of her. She glanced our jeep and we missed our heartbeat as she was just 10 feet away from us. We were praying about her stomach being full. Our guide had comforted us at the start of the tour when we saw an open jeep in place of a close caged one that Lions doesn’t attack unless they are hungry. That’s why we prayed and she needs no more food otherwise food on a platter inform us was waiting for her. She just walked off in the jungle keeping just 2/3 mtrs distance from our jeep. That was ‘THE’ moment for us. I shot a video on my mobile.
That would be a very precious video for me for the next few years to cherish. Hitendra was on that side from where Lioness walked off and I was asking him to use his camera for a better shot. Once she disappeared, I noticed a huge sigh from him. We decided to return to the base ignoring other animals as if they do not exist. But stopped at the sight of a deer family where the male is in his own mood of ready for the mating and inviting the females with his tap dance. We had to hurry to reach the exit point as in any sanctuary, visitors are not allowed to stay beyond the permitted time.
In Gir forest, you will get a surprise in the form of forest guards. Few of them are African Origin. Either British brought them here as slaves or they traveled a few centuries back and now settled here. They speak fluent Gujrati and not scared of Lions or their prides. They walk on the foot. In fact, Lions must be scared of them looking at their size and height.
After shopping for souvenirs, we returned to Shamseenbhai’s village to prepare the onward journey. Bhabhi was ready with sumptuous breakfast of Theplas and chutney. I realized one thing. Even if these rural people do not have money but they are generous in their hospitality. Once they are friendly with you, whole life, they will not untie the bond. For many months after visit, Shamseenbhai used to call me whenever they had non-veg at home. Bhabhi used to remember the feast of fish I brought to their house.
Today was the day for a leisure ride and the destination was alluring. First was Somnath, Lord Shiva’s place to wash our sins and Diu to commit new sins. Not much to cover and the chilled beer on the beach was calling.
We carried on for the ride towards Somnath, our next destination.
Somnath is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of the God Shiva. Somnath means “The Protector of (the) Moon God”. Known as ‘the eternal shrine’, the Somnath Temple was destroyed multiple times and rebuilt every time, stands tall showing its non-destructible six times. The temple is situated right at the seashore. We missed the opportunity of clicking the sunset at the beach like Koteshwar temple as we had to reach our next target, Diu, and also one cannot take pictures of Somnath temple from the temple premises. The security was so much that we had to keep our belts, too at the depositary lockers. The temple is huge but was missing its ancientness due to the renovation. My inclination is always towards visiting ancient places than renovated with modern style ones. I always like the temples which are in its original forms and not painted or plastered. That’s the reason I love Hampi as the main temple where the idol is worshipped still retained in its original avatar and not painted, maybe because its under Archeological Department’s jurisdiction.
The Triveni Sangam near Somnath temple is a site to visit along with the temple.
How to reach Somnath: By Rail and road: Veraval Railway Station connected to major Indian cities is the closest railway station to Somnath which is just 5 km. To reach the Veraval railway station, there are trains available from almost all major Indian cities which includes Mumbai and Ahmedabad. To travel from Veraval railway station, one can book a cab to reach the temple.
Our main attraction of reaching Diu is heaven in dry state of Gujarat and not only us, but for alcoholics of Gujarat, too. The liquor is cheap as its a Union Territory of Daman and Diu. Old Diu is known for its Portuguese architecture. Diu Fort was built in 1535 and housed an active army until 1960. Diu has three Portuguese Baroque churches, The only one church St. Paul’s, which was completed in 1610 is the only church still in working condition for its original purpose. First Church of Diu, The Church of St. Francis of Assisi, built in 1593, is now converted as a hospital. Another church St. Thomas Church is now turned in a a museum. Without any tall buildings apart from the fort, Diu’s skyline is has a distinctively low skyline. A very ancient Lord Shiva’s Temple is located on the Gangeswar coast.
We tried our luck with the Circuit house as the hotels were priced steeper compare to other places. The caretaker was allured with extra bucks he could make and offered an AC room with an extra bed right across the beach.
Vivek and Hitu wanted to explore Diu, but I was in favor of a relaxed day on the beach. They took off and I found a restaurant that served beer and seafood. The beach here is nice and clean, unlike its other part Daman which has a rocky beach and black sand. The roads are wider and cleaner. The town had its own charm which resembles Goa. You may call it as little Goa as both were ruled by Portuguese. Unlike Goa, the main language is Gujarati. In Goa people still have an influence on the Portuguese language and culture. Today evening was dedicated to the beer and good food.
Day 15(3rd March) – Diu to Palitana – 165 km
The time had come to bid adieu to Diu’s beers & beaches sans babes and also to Vivek. He had to resume work from 5th March. Till about 40/50 km we were planning to ride together and then we on our way to Palitana and him towards Mumbai. Though we had planned to start by 8. By the time we left Diu after fuel stop and breakfast, it was 10, so he decided to take off as he has to cover some 800 odd km in two days and we had to just ride for 165 km for today. But immediately when we left Diu, Hitu hit a jackpot. We came across a waterhole right on both sides of the SH 98 which was a feeding ground of various kinds of aquatic birds. Stopped there for about an hour so in the hopes of covering the wasted time to Palitana in 3 hours. But it seems, we ran out of our luck on that road which supposed to be NH 8E. It was the worse highway on our entire ride in Gujarat. A stretch of 40+ km was the disaster. It looked like the road was either never done post nation’s freedom or this part of the state does generate any revenue, so the government doesn’t pay any attention. Finally, after first 30 kms, we stopped for a break and found out the road was done only last year. So this part of the country also couldn’t escape corruption.
Finally, after sometime, we hit the not so good road as per Gujarat’s other road standards. But somehow we managed to keep up the speed and reached Palitana by afternoon 2.30. Palitana town at first impression was the same as several other towns of India and not attention-grabbing even if there is a pilgrimage center of one of the richest communities of India. I had called the GTDC’s hotel to check out the availability of rooms. He happily obliged. The reason we found after reaching the hotel. The hotel was almost 75% empty. The rooms were in between Descent and Deshant condition. As per our plan, we were supposed to climb Palitana hill today itself. But the news was the temples close at 6 p.m. and the climb would have taken more than 3 hours. So the plan of visiting the temple was changed to tomorrow’s early morning. We searched for the food in the town but couldn’t found any decent eatery. We decided to crash for the early morning climb.
How to reach Palitana, if you are a tourist: By Air: Bhavnagar airport is just 51 km away and connected to major cities of India. By Rail: Palitana railway station is connected to Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad railway stations. By Road: Palitana is connected to Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad by state transport buses.
Where to reach: There are Dharamashalas as well as lodges to stay here.
Day 16(4th March) – Palitana to Lothal via Hanuman Temple – 185 km
GTDC. It seems do not follow what the Modi government trying to establish themselves as Vibrant Gujarat. A tourist destination for the family. Though till yesterday, we got what we always seek on this ride from the hotel we checked in. Cheaper and cleaner room to crash in for the night. A safer place to park our bikes. But in the morning after getting ready for the long climb to Palitana, we were packing our luggage after the check-out. At the corner of the reception of GTDC’s Toran hotel couldn’t help but notice the uncleanliness of the place. The room where we were leaving was not that clean, the hot water seems to be forgotten ages ago, the electrical points not working. Quite a sad state the hotel was and a blotch on GTDC’s image.
We realized whatever we explored yesterday evening is the maximum of Palitana. But when we reached the road to the base of the Satrunjaya hill, we were surprised to find lots of Dharamshalas which looked cleaner from out, food stalls. And yes, lots of Jain devotees were seen started to climb at 5.30 in the morning. Roads were wider comparatively other parts of the city. The influence of the sound financial background of the Jain community is seen all around in this part. Only one thing disturbing was many gates raised by the Dhariwal family, owner of Manikchand Gutkha. This was an odd thing amongst the lot as Jain believes in Ahimsa (no killing of an animal) but this guy is slow poisoning lac and lac of people through his product – Gutkha.
Once we parked our bike at the base, started to climb a 6.15 a.m. We were earlier told about the time taken to reach the top is approximately 3 hours. According to that, we set up our daily schedule. There are about 3 and a half thousand steps to reach the top. The steps are wide and clean. One can use dolls (carried by 2 to 4 people or bamboo sticks or even a person to support you while climbing the steps. This one I loved about our country. Just one religious place generates so many employment opportunities.
A little bit about the Palitana Temples of Jainism is a group of temples located on Mount Satrunjaya, Palitana, Gujarat are considered the holiest of all pilgrimage places by the Svetambara Jain community. A mountain full of more than 800 + temples is the only mountain in the world. 863 temples exquisitely carved in marble covers the entire mountain. This temple-city is supposed to be built as a divine’s abode none is allowed to stay overnight, not even the priests. The main temple, dedicated to the first Tirthankara, Rishabha is at the top of the mountain, surrounded by others.
All around us, people from all walks of society climbing the temple. Sadhwis, Sadhus, Rich, Poor (not compared to the average per capita income of India but poor, compared to the status of the Jain community). The strong reason for this visit is the belief of Jains that every Jain should visit Palitana at least once in his lifetime to get “Bhavya” status (fit to attain nirvana or salvation).
We found the climb quite comfortable and scaled the steps in 1 hour and 10 mins. Maybe because of our background of mountaineering, but people were finding it difficult to climb and breathing heavily. The only aim for them was to reach the top and nothing else due to the divine nature of the place in their hearts. For us, it was a mere part of our ride.
The actual yatra of this place is considered to be completed once you climb from one side get down from the other. First time in my life I have seen so many temples on one mountain top.
We didn’t waste much time to visit each and every temple but the main and a couple of other groups of temples which are called Tonk, a group of temples. It was surprising to find the monotonous nature of carving on all temples. For other people, it looks like visiting other temples was also a waste of time as we could not see many people visiting the rest of the temples than the main group.
By 11 a.m. we were back at the base. One could find lots of shops at the base selling Kathiawadi handicrafts – clothes and ornaments. After a little bit of shopping by me and lots by Hitu, we returned to the GTDC hotel to move on to our next destination. Lothal. On the way, we took a slight detour of 30 km to visit a temple of Lord Hanuman which Hitu had a belief in. We selected the SH 6 which leads to Vadodara. The road was good as always. We zoomed at about 90/100 kmph constantly. Lothal is about 12/13 km off the highway. We came to know about this place at Dholavira, Kutch.
Lothal, ancient Indus valley civilization’s one of the most prominent cities, was situated in the Bhāl region of the modern state of Gujarat and dated back to 2400 BCE. Lothal was excavated 1960, by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The uniqueness of Lothal is the world’s earliest known dry dock. This dock was constructed on an ancient Sabarmati river’s course used as a trade route between Harappan cities in the Sindh region and the Saurashtra peninsula before today’s Kutch dessert was a part of the Arabian Sea. It was a vital and thriving trade center in ancient times, with its trade of valuable stones and ornaments reaching the far corners of West Asia and Africa. After 4000 years, the long-lasting techniques and tools they innovated for bead-making and in metallurgy lasted well. As per the guide we met, Lothal used to be between the Sabarmati river which moved from its course about 70 km, and the Gulf of Khambayat which also moved about 50 km.
In 1961’s excavation, archaeologists unearthed trenches buried on the northern, eastern, and western flanks of the mound, bringing to light the inlet channels and gullies connecting the dock with the river. Archeologists found some a hillock, a small settlement, a marketplace for trade, and importantly a dry dock. Next to the excavated site, the Archaeological Museum displays some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India. We missed the museum timings by about half an hour. Hurriedly took a tour of the excavation, we noticed about its size which was much smaller than Dholavira.
Now the main question for us was to find a place to stay for the night. The option open was to camp out of the gates of the excavation, but the question of finding a food source that night remained unsolved. The guide who became so friendly with us due to our nature of travel on a bike gave us useful information about the availability of a Dharamshala about 10 km from Lothal. The adjoining temple of BootBhavani seems to be quite famous in devotees because of its 80 km proximity to Ahmedabad. Easily we found the room. Devoured the food offered at the mess and crashed early for the next day’s journey back to Mumbai.
How to reach Lothal: This tucked-away ancient archaeological site, attract only a handful of tourists. If you are a hardcore archaeological scholar, you must visit this site keeping Ahmedabad as a base which is a 78-km distance from Ahmedabad for a day trip.
To stay: Nothing to stay except Bootbhavani Temple’s Dharamshala.
Day 17(5th March) – Lothal to Mumbai – 550 km
The ride was coming to an end. At least the places which we planned to see were done. The fatigue was sipping in. More than 3000 km locked in. The home was calling. The next 2 days will be only highway, highway and highway. Plan was to ride till Vadodara on SH 8 for about 118 km and further to Valsad on NH 48 and NH 8 for about 240 odd kms and take a night halt at Hitu’s relative’s place.
We left from the BootBhavani Temple’s Dharamshala at 8 p.m. In the evening we missed the Goddess’ darshan, so morning visited the Temple and started the journey back home. Ride on the first 40 km on 4 lane highway without a divider was a smooth one. Stopped for the breakfast at one of the popular joints (at least it looked like). Turned around to see what people were having. All around us, everyone was having partisan normally which we have in Mumbai as an evening snack but in the morning with so much of oil-fried and the gastronomic power of besan was unimaginable. Safely we ordered a South Indian breakfast of idli and dosa.
The next halt would probably be Vadodara as per our normal riding pattern of 60 km in one stretch for the last 16 days. But instead of stopping we continued as NH 8 is in superb condition. Didn’t felt the stress and stopped at almost after 100 kms. We discussed the possibility of attempting Mumbai instead of Valsad where we would have reached in the afternoon. We again decided to check for our progress for the next 100 km and then take a call. Ride for the next 100 km was the same tune as the morning ride. No stress. Just a slight numbness in the right hand due to the vibrations of the engine. The possibility of reaching Mumbai in daylight becoming bright.
As often it said, the experience changes once you cross the border of one region and enter another region subtly as the lapse of one culture on another is always the feature of boundaries and its nearby regions. Once we crossed the Gujarat border, the cultural experience remained the same but the road conditions changed drastically. Though the National Highway comes under Central Government and road maintenance is done equally in all states. But NH 8 is definitely an exception. Once you enter Maharashtra boundary, the roads till then were wide and 6 lanes, suddenly turned 4 lanes sometimes 2 lanes, patchy with lots of flyovers being built right from the border till Ghodbunder junction.
One more noticeable change in the surroundings was the hotel boards from ‘Gujarati/Kathiawadi Thali Malshe’ to ‘the Beer milel’. Exit from a dry state to the wet state. A truly welcome change.
The ride from Ghodbunder junction to home was not that pleasurable. I had forgotten about the day of the week as it was weekday and it was bound to happen that way. Finally reached home at about 6.30 p.m.
If you have missed reading first three parts or you need any information of Gujarat’s interiors, you can visit:
Thank you for going through all parts of our dream ride and understanding our emotions with patience to read all parts through our perspective. To read more such experiences through my perspective, stay tuned for more blogs on every weekend.
The ride was over after 3500 + km… 17 days… Bara ghatka paani… Many mesmerizing temples and maqbaras … Ancient archeological sites… Numerous bird watching pockets… The great Rann of Kutch… Various types of Gujarati food… Amazing hospitality… and I was back in Aamchi Mumbai with plans of the next ride… next year …
All these parts are our own experience and pics shot by my ride partners, Hitendra Patel and Vivek Mallya, without whom, I wouldn’t have been able to complete this tiring, lengthy, but an awesome journey which gave us lifelong memory which we have cherished till date.
If you are planning to visit any of the places written in any of the 4 parts and would like to information, you can call me on +919819128577 or mail on firstname.lastname@example.org