Sunday, 17 February 2013

Friday 15th - Life with the Lions

After a bit of a lie in we head down for breakfast.We wait for ten minutes but nobody has appeared to take an order so we cut our losses and go back to last night's restaurant where we get splendid omelettes and black tea infused with ginger. We have an hour for a stroll around Diu Town which is quite picturesque and still has some old Portuguese colonial buildings. A large church, St Thomas's, has been converted into the town museum but is currently undergoing extensive repairs. The small market in the town centre is a colourful array of vegetables, fruits, flowers and saris. D treated R to a garland for her hat and another pomegranate - this time at a more reasonable 20 rupees.

Davendra is ready with the car at 10.30 and we take a spin out to look at one of the beaches on the ocean side of the island before crossing a different bridge back to the mainland. We are not stopped and searched by the Gujurat police which is quite fortunate really. Brandy at less than £2 per bottle is just too cheap to turn down and we do have 5 more days of prohibition to endure.

Today's roads are better and quieter and we make excellent progress until we have to stop at a level crossing to permit the passage of a metre gauge passenger train. There is more of this about than D realised but a trip just to ride the remaining metre gauge tracks may be too tough a mission.

Our agent has booked us into the Lion Safari Camp near Sasan Gir and the Gir Forest national Park. This park is the home of the only Asiatic lions surviving in the wild, the population being recorded as only 13 in the early years of the 20th century. There are now at least 400 lions in the reserve as well as leopards, hyenas and jackals along with lots of birds.

We check into the Camp to discover that we do not have the safari booking that we thought we had. Davendra pitches in on our behalf and it soon transpires that we do have a jeep booked and paid for but no entry permit. The system for getting these sounds like it has been devised by Indian Railways on a bad day. Meantime we occupy our "tent". R said that she wouldn't camp but was converted to canvas cabins in Oz. This one has A/c and an en-suite bathroom with comfy seats on the verandah. That's R sorted then.

D grabs a hasty lunch  and with Davendra heads for the Park Office which opens at 2.30 and will issue 15 permits for 3.30 admission to the park. D calculates that he is 14th or 15th in the queue but people keep arriving and leaving. At 2.40 prompt the office opens and a limited number of registration forms handed out. D gets the one numbered 17 but they keep handing out into the 20's. The people at the back of the queue who miss out go frantic , offering money if you will add their names to your permit. A chap from the Lion Camp appears and explains what needs to be done. D just shuffles forward in the queue and eventually gets to the window. Money is handed over, we have our permit and now we need to race back to the camp, collect R, board the jeep and get going. It is a mad system.

The jeep is actually known as a gypsy and has raised seating in the back behind the driver which gives an excellent view all round. We pick up our guide, Jemal, and head for the Park entrance. We receive an explanation of the wildlife in the park as we drive and we soon see spotted deer, the meal of choice for Gir lions. An endless list of sightings will be boring so here are a few photos instead.

The four lions that we see are the highlight but the Paradise Flycatcher was also amazing. It won't stay still for a photo but it is beautiful. Our two and a half hours just flies by and it is time to return to camp just as the light fades. On the edge of the river at the bottom of the camp area R spots a Purple Swamphen, one of her favourites. A member of the camp staff, seeing our interest in birds offers to take us on a a bird walk at first light tomorrow.  We enjoy our buffet supper and sleep well.

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