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Backpacking in Gujarat – Part 1

Madhumay Mallik

India, for sure is a country of diversity. It’s not just the nation as a whole but every state in its own accord offers contrasts that travelers like us can get bewitched to. Believe it or not, every 300 miles in India brings you new cultures, new languages, new food, new art and this change even extends to the topography!

Photo Credits: Spiceaffairs
Photo Credits: Just Dial

Planning a backpacking trip is never easy. Apart from the plenty of research, you will have to mentally prepare yourself for some sleepless nights and backbreaking treks across vast nothingness. The advantage? Well, you get to explore places that regular tourists wouldn’t have a hint about and more encouragingly, you save a lot of money! Well, the excitement of a new destination too played a part in keeping us at our feet! Somehow, the idli-bada and the theplas kept us going and we made it to Rajkot in time to meet Mohit, a long-time friend and one of the backpackers in this trip.

Travelling is the only way that you can live the experience called India and this time it was Gujarat written all over our backpacks.

Photo Credits: Youth Express
Photo Credits: Lonely Planet

The overnight bus to Diu was the first lap of our backpacking in Gujarat. The bus ticket costs about Rs. 200 for each person and if you are opting for a sleeper seat, you pay Rs. 50 more.

Diu is an independent Union Territory in itself but is somehow always a part of Gujarat tourism. Some people go there to break their non-drinking stint (Gujarat is a dry state!) and other run for the virgin beaches and the laid-back culture.

The ride was uneventful except the awesome tea we had near Krupali at 12 in the night. We were dropped at the Diu Bus Stand around 5am and the activity around still needed a couple of hours of rest. Half an hour of waiting and the Sulabh Services opened up! Since we were the first for the day, we were welcomed by a considerably decent cleanliness. Now that we were feeling good inside, it was time to look for conveniences! Two scooters were enough for three of us. Some chit-chat with the agent, some note-down of directions and a couple of cups of tea and the life was just getting instilled in the city. We were advised to keep our fuel refill to a maximum of RS. 50 and that this would be enough to take us throughout Diu for the day. It was already 7 am by this time and the first thing we had to do was find a good washroom. The solution was a restaurant that didn’t look overpriced but equipped enough to have a decent bathroom.

Photo Credits: Free Press Journal
Photo Credits: Go To India

After sharing alu paratha, piyaj (onion) paratha, mix parathas and chas (buttermilk); we headed to the Diu Fort. There was no entry fee but if you were keen on videography, you will have to take special permission from the ASI Authorities. After spending a couple of hours seeing the sun grows to its full strength, we headed down the rather secluded streets of Diu. There was no dearth of colors but people, there were just a few! The only humans you will see would be the vendors or the sweepers around important looking premises. We visited the St. Paul’s Church, The Naida Caves, Nagoa Beach, Chakratirth Beach and the Gomatimata Beach. Diu isn’t a big place and if you don’t have a liking for architecture, you might easily run out of “places to see”.

Photo Credits: Lakshmi Sharath
Photo Credits: Madhumay Mullik

The best part of our Diu didn’t happen in Diu anyway. It happened when we missed our last bus to Sasan Gir and had to take a Chakda to Una and try and find a ride to Gir! If the provoking Chakda wasn’t exciting enough, these were what was revealed by the road! The frame was full with Nilgais, Pelicans, Ruddy Shell ducks, Northern Shovelers, Spoonbills, Darters, Painted Storks, Common Cranes, Red Naped Ibises, Bar Headed Geese, Pintails, Black Winged Stilts and several other migratory and residential wetland birds. We spent around 2.5 hours dragging ourselves in the mud for some decent shots like the above!

Realizing that we had to be at our hotel in Gir before night, it was time to cut short the excitement and find a way! We again took a Chakda to complete the rest of the road to Una and ended up at the bus stand. To our disappointment, there was no bus available and the one that one late that night would take us to Gir by 8 AM to Gir – too late for us! We had already booked our permits into Gir and paid an advance to the hotel to bunk for the night.

Inquiring around led us to an auto driver who promised to take us to Gir in an hour and a half for Rs. 1000. The deal seemed worth it as we had no time to lose and doing a break journey would mean ending up paying the same amount but losing more time and taking up more stress.

We had reached our hotel at Sasan Gir by 8.30 in the evening. All we could think of was unload our heavy backpacks, wash and lighten ourselves, get some light dinner and go to sleep! We had transferred an advance to Harish Bhai, the proprietor of Hotel Umang to book us a room for the night. This had to be done as the tourist traffic is quite huge at this time of the year and this was among the cheapest options we had. A room for three cost us about Rs. 1300.

Our permits were booked for the 6 am – 9 am slot for the next morning. It is advisable to get an advance permit done online to save the trouble of standing in the queue. Also, once you have the permits, the driver attending you would be taking care of the rest while you can sip on some tea outside the gates. Hotel Umang was just 100 meters from the Sasan Gir Booking Gates. All the safaris here are privately operated and the hotel you stay will usually take care of the guide booking, safari booking, and registration.

Photo Credits: Travel Tour Guru
Photo Credits: Gujarat Ghumo

It wasn’t too bright when we started on our vehicles. However, being early into the jungle gives you a better chance at spotting a cat before your session ends (9 AM). Well, as it turns out, luck was actually traveling with us. Hardly 5 minutes into the jungle and there was something black/brown crossing the road and leaping into the bushes in front of us! On directing our jeep lights onto the bush, there it was – a leopard! The guides say that they have seen a leopard after long and we must be really lucky. For us, it was certainly a “something” moment and though it was still dark and none of us could get a decent photograph, the experience did raise our adrenaline levels!

I guess, the leopard event made us more alert and we were already trying to spot pug marks along with our guide. Half an hour passed and we were enchanted as the morning lit up, revealing the forest. The main event was yet to start!

Photo Credits: Flickr
Photo Credits: Indian Tourist Place

In abundance all around were peacocks and spotted deer and they made quite blissful frames! Five kms into route no. 2 and we were alerted to hush-hush of the trackers on a bike. About twenty odd meters away were a mating pair of cats – the queen and his highness! Oblivious to the gathering that was crowding around, the royal creatures were engaged in themselves – stretching out, caressing and taking lazy breaths. We got more than decent shots and seeing both a lion and a lioness in our first ever safari to Gir made us feel more than overwhelmed. The 10-15 minutes we took to cross the pair was one of the most amazing wildlife experiences I ever had. Well, we could have easily spent the whole day with the cats but safari guidelines stated that we move. Also, it wasn’t a good idea disturbing the privacy of the animals.

By now, we were all smiles and the thought that the money we invested in the booking and all was more than well spent crossed our minds more than a couple of times. It was 8.30 AM by now and we were to head back out of the jungle. However, an engine failure ensured that we had a bonus 10 minutes inside the jungle.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia; Inside
Photo Credits: Wild Life Worldwide

The next stop was Devaliya National Park. While leopards and lions were captive fed here, other wildlife including Black Bucks, Spotted Deers, Sambars, Nilgais and Foxes roamed freely. It was a half an hour ride and I would say that we shouldn’t have missed this one too. A tip of Rs. 100 was paid extra for the special seats by the driver. On our way back, we stopped by a village that shared a pond with mugger crocodiles! It was getting incredible!

The safari cost us Rs. 1400 and including Hotel Booking, tips and other charges, it was around 3000 in total. Rs. 1000 per head to see lions and stay at a welcoming lodge is not much to fish out!

Continue reading about the trip in the next chapter!

Photo credits - Banner Left: Indian Express ; Banner Center – Madhumay Mallik; Banner Right – Gujarat Tours