Sasan Gir Forests, Somnath and Mumbai  (Formerly Bombay )

Leaving Junagadh this morning for Sasan Gir forest, I’ve booked 3 nights at Anil farmhouse resort in the forest and traveling the 40 miles South by taxi. On the way down I was taking in the landscape and noticed how nearly all the land is being used for growing vegetables where as in the West you would see at least some dairy or beef cattle, pigs or sheep but with India being a mainly vegetarian country that’s not needed and goes to explain why there seems to be such an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, India’s climate also seems to favour most crops. Corn and wheat seems the prominent crops in this area at the moment and most of it is nearing harvest now. Even strawberries have come into season in the last few weeks here.

On the way down the scenery changed suddenly as we took a  left turn, from being mainly farmland to forest, rivers and lakes. We arrived at the farmhouse which is about a 1\2 mile from the main road next to a river and I got checked in. It is in a beautiful location, I hadn’t yet booked a safari and the owner said that there was a French lady staying here that was interested in sharing the cost of the jeep safari, so it makes sense to do that.

I got shown to my room which overlooks the river and the guy that showed me the view from the balcony said that there were 2500 crocodiles in the river but I’m not sure if he was joking. I decided to go for a short walk along the river before lunch ( the manager that checked me in said I could have free breakfasts and lunches whilst here ! ), there is a dirt path that runs along the river and I followed that for about 1 kilometre then turned around, there were a couple of other tourists going the other way.I didn’t see any crocodiles but there were some domestic buffalo and two locals were keen to show me a large black snake maybe around 5 ft long but pretty non threatening and just wanting to get away from us, I haven’t got a clue what it was.

I returned for lunch and met the lady that wanted to share the safari and agreed it was a good idea, she said her English wasn’t very good but it was still better than my French.

In the afternoon the phone went in the room around 3 and the manager said they were ready to go and sort out the safari booking, I was under the impression that we were just going with our passports to arrange the permits required for tomorrow or Monday but it became apparent that we were going on the safari this afternoon, so I quickly grabbed my backpack and off we went.

The booking centre is a couple of miles away by taxi and the manager went off with our passports to arrange the ” Gypsy Safari ” ( why they call it that I’m not sure ), he returned after 1\2 an hour with our guide who spoke English and apparently was one of the few that do. The trip was in an open top jeep but I believe lions attacking anyone here would be very rare so we should be safe enough, on some of the  jeeps people were sitting in cages. The forest is mainly Teak trees and very dry and arrid, at the start it looked to me to be very unlikely that we’d see lions but I knew we’d be lucky if we did anyway, we saw deer, monkeys and peacocks along the way following a designated route given to us when we entered the forest.

It then became apparent to me that they have Lion observers in the park that led you to lion sightings. Asiatic Lions like African lions are mainly nocturnal and spend most of the day sleeping in the shade. Of course the guides know this and we were guided first to a female lion asleep in the brush, at first I was dubious and thought it might just be a realistic replica but then it woke up and sat up while we were there. There were around 20 jeeps  waiting there turn to get within around 30 metres of her.

The guide had told us that there were over 500 Asiatic Lions in the last census done in 2015 recovering from only 11 at one time and Gurjrat is the only place left where they still live in the wild.

A little later there was a report of another Loin this time a male and we seemed to be one of the first there to see him, again asleep and apparently lazier than the female as he didn’t wake up but I believed him to be real this time.

I asked the guide weather the lions movement was restricted but there is nothing to keep them in and they have been known to wander as far as the coast of Gujarat, I imagine they stay around the forest as there is a ready food source of deer and domestic cattle which the farmers are compensated for if taken by lions, also plenty of shade to sleep away the day. They have to fend for themselves as they are not fed in anyway as in other safari parks.

Afterwards the guide pointed out a tree that he called a gum or ghost tree that was pure white and looked like it had been painted with gloss white paint, it must look amazing at night time amongst the other trees. Seeing the lions in the wild and being relatively close was the highlight for me, the guide asked if I carried binoculars but it’s not something I ever thought of needing whilst travelling as it tends to be sort of spur the moment stuff and had never intended to do a safari. He asked if I’d be doing another safari whilst here and was keen to sign me up but I feel I wouldn’t see anymore than I did today and once you’ve seen a couple of sleeping lions I feel that’s enough.

I spoke to the manager at the farmhouse when I went for dinner and thanked him for organising the trip, he suggested some other things to do whilst here such as Somnath Temple or Diu beaches which require taxis as there around 30 kilometres away but I feel Templed out at the moment and will probably walk into the town and along the river tomorrow.

I had also spoken to the manager about options of getting to Mumbai and it was pretty much what I had found out already but he also said there were flights from Rajkot which I hadn’t managed to find, he offered to book whatever I decided on but in the end I booked a bus online from Junagadh on Tuesday afternoon getting into Mumbai on Wednesday morning and will organize a taxi from here to Junagadh.

I spoke to the French lady ( Dominque ) at breakfast and she told me that they do an exchange programme with Indian family’s to travel,  where the Indian family will spend a week in Paris with their host then two weeks somewhere else then the French family will do simular here. She is travelling to Junagadh today and hoping to climb Girnir mountain, I told her about my experience there but as the festival is finished it should be much quieter now.

I walked the couple of miles into Sasan Gir after breakfast taking the route along the river to a bridge then along the road, I met the guide from yesterday just coming out of town on his motorbike and he said he had done an early morning tour and the male lion we had seen yesterday was sitting on the road and encouraged me to take another safari tomorrow and offered me a lift to wherever I was going which I declined. I went to the ATM as it’s important to keep a decent amount of rupees available whilst travelling here as few places take cards, and then I had a look around the gift shop at the safari booking centre but didn’t really fancy a glow in the dark T shirt with a lions head on it.

One thing that had struck me from yesterday was the abundance of water seemingly available to water crops and gardens here. I haven’t seen any real rain since the beginning of November apart from the 1 day on arriving in Lucknow. I had a look around the gardens and farm here this morning and they are beautiful and have an irrigation system set up running most of the day. If we had 2 weeks of this weather in the UK they would be implementing hosepipe bans.

After lunch I went for a walk along the river in the opposite direction and found a very colourful Temple, a building that looked to be a local burning ghat and some amazing trees with orange flowers that I don’t know the name of, it was pretty hot so I only went for about 30 minutes then turned round. 

Ever since the guy that showed me the room said about the crocodiles I was hoping to see at least one but perhaps not to closely, I keep looking on the way and was almost back when I saw to my right between the bank and some reeds a crocodile maybe around 5 foot long moving in the same direction as I was, at first I couldn’t believe it and  by the time I got my phone out it had seen me and was submerging !. I must of stood there around 20 minutes in the sun and kept seeing an occasional stream of tiny air bubbles so believed it was still there, I didn’t know if it could see me or how long it could stay under but I eventually moved into the shade of a tree a little further along and continued to watch ( I really wanted to get a video ) but if it was still there it had out waited me and after 1\2 an hour I  reluctantly walked away but still checking back just in case it appeared but at least I knew they were there now.

I managed to book my accommodation in Mumbai this afternoon after narrowing it down to 3 options, the the majority of the hotels seem to be out near the airport which is 18 kilometres from the centre and I wanted to be close to the centre of Mumbai. In the end I opted for the YMCA which actually looks pretty good even if it does have a shared bathroom, I’ve never stayed in a YMCA before but I’m sure it will be fine. Mumbai also being a popular destination has a lot of very expensive hotels, I’ve booked 3 nights initially but may extend if I need to.

I had agreed to a trip to Somnath today, organized by the manager at the farmhouse. Somnath is around 30 kilometres from here and I had a car and driver and the manager also sent one of the staff to act as an interpreter as the driver spoke little English. Normally I would avoid having a guide and prefer to be dropped off and arrange to meet at a designated time and place later but they seemed to enjoy having a foreigner to show around, we stopped to get some water on the way there at a roadside stall and they had the news on tv with President Trump just meeting Prime Minster Modi, it’s a big thing with the people here and has been front page news for weeks.

We went to a small Temple first and the guide bought me a packet of food to feed the seagulls on the way in and seemed to enjoy taking pictures as they flocked around me whilst feeding them. Feeding the birds seems to be a popular pastime here.

We then went over to the main Somnath Temple which has been destroyed several times in the past and  last reconstructed in 1951 so is fairly recent. It is a impressive Hindu Temple and thought to be the first of 12 shrines to Shiva and an important pilgrimage for the Hindu faith. Entry to the site is strictly controlled and no phones, cameras, electronics, or leather items are allowed. Myself and the guide spent around an hour within the site before coming out and realizing that the guide couldn’t contact the driver as he had to leave his phone with him, in the end he borrowed someone’s phone and rang his own phone to find him.

They then took me over to the beach that the Temple overlooks, getting some watermelon and pineapple on the way but they wouldn’t let me pay for anything we had whilst out but the same driver is taking me to catch the bus in Junagadh tomorrow so I’ll give  him some extra. The beach is not somewhere you’d want to spend a lot of time but was busy with people and camels available for rides which I declined and even a couple of tattooists with what looked like homemade tattoo guns using Bic pens.

It  was an interesting day out and worth the trip as well as somewhere else I had’nt expected to visit in India. So my trip into Gujurat has taken me on a bit of a mystery tour but I feel I’ve learnt a bit about a state that I didn’t really know anything about previously and definitely enjoyed my time here.

I’m off to Mumbai today and looking forward to it, Anil the owner of the farmhouse had arranged for a car and driver to take me to Junagadh. If you ever find yourself in Gujarat I would recommend Anil farmhouse as somewhere to stay, I had a relaxing stay here, the staff are great and food very good.

I have just got on the bus for an 18 hour journey to Mumbai and immediately wondering if booking a non AC bus was a good idea but I think it will be ok once were moving, my berth seems ok and the window opens at least.

I’ve just arrived in Mumbai and checked in at the YMCA.It was 12.30 when I got here and apart from Last 60 km which took 6 hours due to a couple of accidents and the Mumbai traffic it wasn’t too bad and about par for the course I would say when using overnight buses here. I did notice that I seem to be the only foreigner travelling like this though but did see a few Brits in reception when I checked in, they sounded like they’ve only just arrived in India. As it’s lunchtime i’m just going to get cleaned up and explore the local area. On the way in though the traffic Mumbai looks very much like what I expected, a big busy city.

As I had either been sitting or lying down pretty much for the last 24 hours, I decided that i’d walk the 3.5 miles to the Gateway of India, it reminded me of what it’s like to walk though a busy Indian city, and I quickly decided I wouldn’t be walking back.

The Gateway to India was built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of George V in 1911. It is also where the last of the British troops marched to there ships in February 1948 to bring to a close British rule in India.It was fairly busy with tourists when I was there, as well as ticket sellers for boat rides, city tours, fridge magnet sellers and photographers wanting to sell you pictures. After walking around and taking the photos I wanted I got an Uber back to the YMCA.

I asked at reception if they could recommend a bus tour of the city as Anil had mentioned it was a good way to see all the sights, as apart from the Gateway to India i’m unaware of most of them and will probably see more on an organised tour, they directed me to a local travel agency and I went and booked the tour for the morning.

In the evening I spent a bit of time booking a bus down to Goa for Saturday which will get me there on Sunday morning and have initially booked a week in Arambol which has a nice beach, and may extend my time there and travel back to Mumbai just before my flight back to the UK, so Mumbai should be my last city of this tour of India but the only one that was left on my list to see.

I went on the Bus tour of Mumbai today and saw a lot more of Mumbai.      ( formerly Bombay, even the majority of Indians still call it Bombay )  We started off where I had been yesterday at the Gateway to India but this time also went on a boat trip around the harbour as well. I was immediately made to feel like i’d been adopted by the rest of the bus, I was the only foreigner in the group of around 50 Indian tourists so was the subject of lots of photos. After the Gateway to India, we visited the Museum, and then the scenice centre in the newer part of Mumbai which feels much more modern and developed than where I’m staying, along the way the guide pointed out different landmarks in Hindu but I could just about understand what he was saying and there are a surprising amount of English words thrown in. After the science centre it was over the Sea link bridge which is 4.7 kilometres long and took 10 years to build, it links two parts of Mumbai, We finished up at Bandra beach even though it was dark by now, altogether the tour took nearly 12 hours but I still enjoyed it and the people made the day really. I wouldn’t of seen nearly so much of I’d gone on my own.

The stay here at the YMCA has been better than I expected and the price which is very good for Mumbai includes 2 meals a day so I’ve not needed anything else and although it’s a shared bathroom it’s kept very clean and reminds me of my forces days and shared ablutions. The guests have been a good mix of Indian, Europeans and Americans so I’ve felt quite at home here. It’s a busy place and my room overlooks an indoor basketball court that I’ve seen used by kids and adults for rollerskating, badminton, volleyball, drill practice, and of course basketball. The conference hall also seems to be in use most days.

I decided to take an easy day today after yesterday’s tour of Mumbai where I saw pretty much everything I needed to see, so this morning I got a few things done like finding a Vodaphone shop and topping up my Indian SIM card for what should be the last time. Finding an ATM and finding out what should be the location that my bus leaves from tomorrow afternoon,  and finally visiting Mumbai central railway station as it was close by and is where the dance scene was flimed at the end of Slumdog millionaire although there was no dancing going on today.

It’s taken quite a while but I’ve noticed since being in Mumbai that I now feel comfortable navigating the streets of big Indian cities although I rely on my phone at first to guide me until I become familiar with the area I’ve gotten use to getting across busy streets and the sound of the horns that I found very annoying at first now doesn’t bother me anymore, like when living under a flight path and eventually you fail to notice the sound of the planes it’s the same with the horns.

As I enter what should be my last few weeks in India, I find myself looking forward to spending some time relaxing a bit more whilst down in Goa and not having to move around so much like I have in the last couple of months. Starting my tour of India by basing myself for a month in South Goa and then a month in Kerala worked well, now finishing with two weeks in North Goa should be a nice way to round off my visit to India.

Recently I keep reflecting back to my time here and Mumbai has just reminded me that it’s the people I’ve met that have made this trip, although I’ve been lucky enough to visit some wonderful places and seen some amazing architecture, it’s the friendliness and curiosity of the Indian people that stands out, being the only foreigner on the tour bus yesterday emphasised that for me.

Well it’s time to wrap up this week and try to get this online before my trip to Arambol. I’ll post it along with some of this week’s photos and wish you all a good week.

Take Care 

Regards Chris

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