Two of the places I was keenly looking forward to in Gujarat for wildlife were the GIR forest and Velavadar blackbuck reserve. I started peacefully at 10.30 AM from Vadodara the next day since I were to only travel 180 kms to the Velavadar Black buck National Park situated near Bhavnagar. The ride would take about 5 hours but the problem was a lack of accommodation around the National Park in a non- touristy season. Since the monsoon had just phased out, the National Park remained shut and as a result, the government guesthouse too remained non- operational.
My family friend from Vadodara tried his sources for my accommodation but couldn’t find much around the National Park. Surprisingly, the climate felt hot even with so much greenery around. I enjoyed the views but the temperature got on my nerves whenever I stopped. The roads at certain sections too, were broken, provoking me to stand on the footpegs while my ‘conventional’ luggage kept swinging towards me from behind.
I stopped at one place by a canal to cool myself down and tighten the Bungee straps. I regretted for not using my panniers for this ride since I was trying to do less damage to the chain sprocket kit which was already on its last legs, unknowingly.
Dark clouds did make things seem dull but the vast green landscape preserved the excitement. The state highway condition was not something to feel good about though, thanks to the recent monsoon showers. I was quite surprised because Gujarat is a byword for good roads, whatever happened to that!
By 2 PM, I found myself having Idli sambar in a village. Yes, that’s what I chose to eat in the restaurant because the heat meant I avoided anything spicy or oily. The climate ‘looked cool’, but in real, it wasn’t. By 4 PM, I reached the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park and slowed my speed down to 30- ish. Crashing into a Blackbuck or being headbutted by one was not what I had on mind.
On either sides of the road lay grasslands, home to the Blackbucks. I was lucky enough to have spotted and photographed a few of them within a short span of time. I could hear thunder far away but the temperature remained high enough to have me sweating in my gear when I stopped to inquire at the forest office about the availability of the forest guesthouse, just in case I got luckier.
After receiving a negative response, I rejoined the main highway and headed towards Bhavnagar, a city just 50 kms away! Thankfully, I had family friends there but that night, I felt like sleeping a lot. So I stayed at in hotel in Bhavnagar, thanks to the same relative for booking it followed by lip smacking dinner at their residence. Before dinner though, I stood under the cold shower for half an hour to cool down properly, it was that hot!
The next day, I headed towards the GIR forest via Amreli and Chalala. As per Google Maps, it was a 4 hour ride so I preferred having breakfast at the hotel itself and started at 9.45 AM. There was no stopping for sometime despite the road conditions getting worse. I stopped to chill at a tea stall after 2 hours on the saddle. When the surroundings turned greener, I knew I was going to reach later than expected because of my photo stops. During my trip to the GIR forest in the winter of 2012, my luck favoured me well and as a result, I was able to sight 6 lionesses and 2 huge lions. But this time, the conditions weren’t that friendly.
My accommodation was a resort in the GIR forest, owned by my relative’s family friend, called ‘GIR N Joy’. Lunch was ready for me at the destination. I was surprised at the location of the resort because it was bordering the forest, one had to make it through the fields, a couple of thickets to reach the amazing location. The locals told me that Asiatic Lions frequented the resort road but it was difficult spotting them in case it rained. I had visited the GIR forest back in 2012 when my
It did. I reached the resort at 3.45 PM, unloaded my luggage, checked in and then went straight to the dining hall for lunch. It began to rain heavily and wind speeds were staggering, I hadn’t witnessed a forest storm like that one before! The GIR forest looked beautiful! While it did make the forest smell great, my chances of spotting an Asiatic Lion got dimmer. Supposedly, the lions go deeper into the forest when it rains since they dislike roaming and sleeping on wet grass.
Jungle safaris too don’t operate in the monsoon months from June/ July until October/ November. That explained a lot about my luck but it didn’t stop me from hoping to see a Lion. You never know what life shows you, especially wildlife. You really never know.
Philosophies aside, I freshened up at the resort and spoke to the local cook about his encounters with the wild since he often goes towards town to get groceries. He also told me of Tulsi Shyam- hot springs situated in middle of the jungle and was just 11 kms away. I was intrigued. As the night fell, I asked the cook to prepare something light with tea and ended the day.
The next day, I decided to pay the hot springs a visit in the afternoon. A 10 kms ride through the GIR jungle in the afternoon took me to a tiny village where a lot of tourists arrived to take a dip in the so called ‘holy water’. Since I had my riding gear on, I preferred washing my face only and rode back to the resort.
The resort was in such a location that I felt like spending the rest of the day there, doing nothing but cherishing the views and chasing bird calls. I’m always up for days where ‘doing nothing’ is the activity. After riding back, I dived straight into the pool since the weather was very warm, even at 32 degrees centigrade in a forest zone. Chilling in the pool for 45 minutes, I relaxed to the tunes of the Bulbul. For sunset, I freshened up and reserved my place on the swing. Of course, with a cup of chai in the hand while the jungle breeze brought me good smell. My trusty old Canon 550D was ready to get a shot of the sun.
It was a rare evening for sure. Night fell soon while the jungle made its own noises. I couldn’t see much from my room, apart from the lights that lit the dining hall and grass. Anything could be around in the darkness, but it was okay. I had dinner in the dining hall, made some calls and called it a night. Some birding next day morning in the cloudy weather and breakfast was enough for a good start.
By 12 PM, the Duke of KTM came to life. It was time to bid the GIR forest goodbye. My destination for the day was Veraval, also known as the place where Somnath temple exists. Popularly called as Somnath itself, Veraval was roughly 120 kms away but with the forest roads ahead, it meant I would reach in 4 hours. 4 PM then was my ETA in Veraval and I was to stay with a far relative of mine.
That’s one advantage for me of touring on a motorcycle in Gujarat, I’ve got many relatives across the state so there’s no need for a hotel to stay in. The highway went through towns Una, Kodinar and Prachi. At 2.30, I thought of getting done with lunch but after I ordered food, my relative from Veraval called me for an update of my location. They were waiting for me at home for lunch. Luckily, I hadn’t ordered stomach filling food. With roti, pickle and of course, some tea being done for mini lunch, I gave it the beans on the Duke in order to not keep my relatives hungry and reached home at 4 PM.
Apart from the stench at the port, Veraval seemed quite old and compact, which in one way is good! After lunch, I freshened up and went straight to the market where my relatives do business. It was bustling with people, especially due to the onset of Navratri- a festival Gujjus wait for, eagerly. We then checked out the main Dandiya night event of the town. The next day, I were to visit the shrine of Somnath and explore some beach around but before that, my rear view mirrors had to be tightened. Someone at the dandiya event had screwed around with its nut!
That’s one warning I got from my relative as well, never, ever to leave the motorcycle unattended in the market area, people often get up to mischief. Once the mirrors were sorted with, I rode up to Somnath on the outskirts of town, parked the Duke in a safe place, put my phone and footwear into a locker and went in. The structure of the temple was neat while the surrounding emitted peaceful vibes. The sea roaring behind the temple wouldn’t let me go soon. After a good one hour spent in and around the temple, I decided to ride back.
Before that, some local exploration had to be done but to my surprise, little did I know that the cops wouldn’t allow me to ride my motorcycle on the beach so I went to a nearby dam and then back to the market. Home made food was always available so I was relieved that way. I stayed another day at Veraval, just to get my laundry sorted and then went onto Porbandar via the coast road. To give you a hint, the road was enough to make me forget about the heat.