23rd – 26th March 2016
Sitting down in office, discussing our next recce trip. The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat is next on our long list of recce trips that needs to be done before the end of the year. It’s a completely new territory and the excitement starts seeping in. But there’s a wait, a long wait before you hit the roads. Patience is the key. With each passing day you feel the anxiety building up, the wait getting shorter and soon you’re on your way to unfold a beautiful road route – one that passes through forests, small villages, large cities and more.
Day 1 of the road trip and the car has already hits 100 Kmps. Our destination for day 1 is Ahmedabad and thanks to the amazing national highways and good-quality roads, we reached Ahmedabad in less than 9 hours. 530 Kms in less than 9 hours…we definitely drove at some speed! The final leg of this journey, the route from Baroda to Ahmedabad was spectacular with top notch roads that are surprisingly and absolutely just straight. We spent the night at a local couple’s place in Ahmedabad. After spending most of the day traveling in the heat, the joy of being treated with some chilled chaas was refreshing.
The next day we were up early and all geared up to reach Gir Forest. We were greeted with some tea and breakfast, and the couple were also kind enough to lend their bike for the next 2 days. It is the hospitality of people like these that keep us going on such backpacking trips. The clock hits 7AM and we are already on our way, ramping up the bike on the Ahmadabad – Rajkot highway. With halts for some local ‘fafda’ breakfast, fresh sugarcane juice and some tea, we reached Junagadh which is a couple of hours from the forest.
The route now turned into one-lane roads inching closer to our destination. Almost 24 hours since we left from Mumbai and after a long 9-hour bike ride, we reached the Gir Forest – the home for over 500 lions or so they say. There was a sense of excitement and a hint of victory at successfully completing 900Kms in 24 hours as we reached a little before 4PM. The journey did take a toll on us. Tired and exhausted we immediately checked into the hotel and spent sometime in the room relaxing & discussing our course of action for the evening.
Plans are meant ‘not’ to be followed, and as we made our way of to start our recce work, we bumped into our old clients, who surprisingly were doing a trip of their own at Gir Forest. Nature has its own ways, and almost 3 years after a Meghalaya trip we were destined to bump into them again and of all the places at Gir! Surprised at seeing known faces in an unknown land, we sat down for a cup of tea reminiscing the memories of our escapades during the Meghalaya trip. One thing leads to another and soon we found ourselves driving into the forest with our friends on an adventure trip of our own. Driving into the forest for almost 30 minutes, we finally reached an establishment, relieved to see humans and not lions :P! We spend the evening catching up on how life has fared for all of us since our last trip and bringing up fond memories of Meghalaya. We also got a chance to witness the tribal performance called ‘Tamasha’ (not sure if this is the correct name, but that what everyone there called it). Frankly speaking wasn’t quite amazed at the performance. It was a little offending than pleasing, and more so there was nothing ‘authentic’ about it. But nonetheless a new experience! We then made our way to meet Mr. Murad – a legend of the forest and a hero in the eyes of locals! Mr. Murad is known for his brave encounters with the lions and for whom the forest is another home! A humble person with absolutely no airs about his accomplishments that’s who Mr. Murad is – a true hero! We were obliged by the fact that Mr. Murad invited us to his house late at night close to 10:30 PM, and was more than happy to share his experiences. We spent almost an hour talking to Mr. Murad understanding the nature of lions, the way they live, his encounters with them, and asking him plenty of questions. One account that stands out is when we asked him ‘If you are given an opportunity to move to a city with a high-paying job, will you do it’ he replied saying ‘Never will I leave my lions’ – the sign of a true legend! Truly obliged and thankful to Mr. Murad for his time and humility, we left his house immersed in thoughts of his bravery, achievements and his life!
After a good night’s sleep, we finally decided to start with our recce work the next day. A quick breakfast at a local hotel, and we were back on our bike hoping from one resort to another trying to understand the accommodation charges, services and other facilities being provided. Riding through Gir and interacting with locals all morning, we got to know of this place called Jamwala about 35kms from the city. We had all the information we needed from Gir, and were about to leave for Ahmedabad, and there we were contemplating on whether we should visit Jamwala on our way back or not. Our instincts somehow kept telling us that we should and the adventurer in us backed those thoughts. Soon we checked out of our hotel and headed straight for Jamwala, completely unaware of what to expect from this place. We started riding, asking for directions on our way; the roads taking us away from the city and the forest around us getting dense. We crossed the tribal village on our way and eventually found our way to Jamawala check post, an hour after leaving from Gir. A couple of locals led us to a farm-house owned by Mr. Falgun, and to our surprise it was the best place we had seen at Sasan Gir. Camouflaged deep within the forest, away from the city, surrounded by farms, water reserves and the dense forest – this place was what we had imaged the Gir forest to be and exactly what we were looking for! Mr. Falgun too seemed quite surprised at our adventurous trip from Mumbai and amazed that we rode all the way to Jamwala to find his place. A chirpy and adventurous person himself, he was more than welcome to show us around his and also offered lunch. A nice home-cooked meal with barbeque fish – what a delight! The gamble to visit Jamwala…paid off, the intention of the recce trip…met, the excitement of discovering a new place…achieved! Satisfied and content with ourselves, we said our goodbyes to Mr. Falgun with an assurance that we’ll be back again and left from Jamwala. Little did we know that the best part of the trip was yet to come…
On our way out from Jamwala, we were suggested to take a different route to Ahmedabad, a much shorter and time-saving route. We made our way to Dhari and within a few minutes we were at a check post registering our personal and bike details. Curious to know the reason for the registration, we were informed that it was for safety reasons as the next stretch of 35kms is through the actual Gir Forest!
Shocked, surprised and excited, you could see a change in our body language. We were no longer tired of riding in the heat, but were all charged up, ready to face the challenge, our cameras ready just in case we saw a sneak-peak of something! We started riding, with a strange sense of fear within. There was no one on the road, not a single car or bike ahead or behind us. The roads were rough but we kept riding. As we went deeper into the forest, we saw a herd of deer…we slowed down a bit to sink in a visual and get a closer look.
It was just beautiful; seeing the animals in their natural habitat. We didn’t halt as this would scare the deer, but we drove as slow as we could to get a good glimpse. We continued our way through the forest, scared to even halt for water, as a deer ran across the road a few yards ahead. We kept riding, highly attentive to the movements happening around us, as the roads became more and more rough. And out of nowhere we spotted a peacock. We slowed down again as the peacock continued walking in the woods. We could just barely see it among the trees and then it emerged from woods to cross the road. The majestic bird crossed the road just a few feet ahead of us and disappeared into the forest – whoa what a sight! Absolutely amazing! We went on till the end of the forest, completely watchful, gripped with a sense of fear and curiosity!
The 35kms forest stretch was a complete off-roading experience and took us almost 2 hour to traverse, but was absolutely worth it! We were hoping to reach Dhari soon and from there zoom into Ahmedabad. But to our destiny, the route after the forest had something unique – a sense of freedom which we couldn’t anticipate. We found ourselves riding on narrow 2-lane roads connecting small towns with golden farms on both sides. What a contrast – off-roading through a forest and now riding through beautiful farms.
We stopped beside a farm just to absorb the extravagance and beauty all around us. We didn’t speak a word; the silence around us divine. We felt at peace doing absolutely nothing. This is what life is all about…these tiny moments when you find yourself completely lost in the beauty of nature, your mind exhilarated at capturing the scenes around you and your body relaxed with a sense of freshness!
It had started getting a little dark by now. The thoughts of camping there at night did cross our minds, but we had to reach Mumbai the next day. Soon we were back on our bike, with a long journey to Ahmedabad that had to be covered in the time left in the day.
We reached Ahmedabad early morning the next day, completely exhausted. We spent what was left of the night at the same local’s place. The next morning we spent some time with the couple, telling them about our adventurous journey across Gir, returned their bike very much grateful at their kind gesture and were back on the road for the last leg of our journey from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. We were back to Mumbai after a long 9-hour drive, and having covered 1800 kms in 4 days, we were completely burned out and waiting to hit the bed. But we felt content at the end of the day, having successfully achieved the intention of going to Gir forest and having discovered some really amazing places and routes.
There’s one thing I’ve observed in doing these trips. By the time you’re back home, you’re physically exhausted. But as you lie in your bed and your body slowly starts relaxing, you start collecting your thoughts and memories, and when you close your eyes, you find yourself riding on the beautiful roads surrounded by golden farms on both sides! That’s when you know you’ve created another fond memory, something you’ll cherish for the rest of your life!