The Wild Wild West
THE WEEK|November 22, 2020
Recovering from Covid, Gujarat is reopening itself to wildlife enthusiasts
NANDINI OZA

Kuch din toh guzariye Gujarat mai (Spend a few days in Guja-rat),” says superstar Amitabh Bachchan in his inimitable style in Gujarat Tourism promotion videos. The tagline has been a hit in the last couple of years and has had a magnetic effect to attract tourists. And now, as Covid-19 has relented, Gujarat is once again welcoming tourists with wide open arms.

Gujarat boasts a wide variety of landscapes, monuments and wildlife. Tourism in the state received a great boost, with the construction of the Statue of Unity—world’s tallest statue at 182m—two years ago. But the state has always attracted travellers to its famed world heritage sites, beautiful palaces, places of worship and national parks. As the actor suggests, enjoying some of these to the fullest requires spending a few days in Gujarat and partaking of its warm hospitality.

Gujarat has always considered the king of beasts to be its greatest attraction, the Gir forests being the only home of the Asiatic Lion in the world. Gujarat is also the world’s only abode of the Indian wild ass, another magnificent creature. Spotting the king of the jungle from close quarters in the deciduous forest is a soul-stirring experience, far away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and choking pollution.

“Ever since the wildlife and bird sanctuaries were opened to the public, we have been following the SoPs laid down by the Union health ministry at the sanctuaries, parks, hotels and restaurants,” said Jenu Devan, Managing Director, Gujarat Tourism. “The tourism department has been conducting webinars to train the lower-level staff of restaurants and hotels on health measures in the context of Covid. At major tourist attractions like the Statue of Unity, sign boards regarding Covid-19 precautions have been put up. There were 35,000 tourists a day at the Statue of Unity during last Diwali vacation. But this Diwali we are not focussing on the numbers. Our focus is to provide the facility in a manner that all the guidelines are followed.”

Devan says the tourist attractions have online booking and for the time being they are sticking to it to restrict the number of visitors and avoid rush.

The Gir National Park and Sanctuary is located in Sasan, Junagadh, in the Saurashtra region. The park is inviting enough, but as seasoned travellers know, patience pays in wildlife tourism. If you are lucky, you can spot the Lion in the jungle safaris conducted by the forest department. The forest guards know the habits and movements of the Lions. But in case you aren’t lucky enough to spot the Lion, you won’t leave disappointed as the Devalia Interpretation Zone offers you a chance to see the Lion and capture it on camera.

The population of the Lions has been steadily on the rise in recent years and currently stands at 523, as per Gujarat Tourism. Gir is also home to other animals like the Nilgai, Spotted Deer, Large Deer and a variety of bird species. Birdwatchers can spot more than 300 species in the habitat that has 258sqkm as national park and 1,153sqkm as wildlife sanctuary. With increasing number of tourists, numerous hotels have come up; one can find budget hotels to The Taj Gateway Hotel Gir Forest at Sasan Gir.

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