iGrapple | Seeking My 'Travel Pulse' In Kathiawad

That feeling!? What feeling?
My parents are the ones from whom I’ve acquired my travel bug; that I further cultivated it such that its mutated into a strain of its own is a separate subject matter. But all the wanderlust in the world isn’t enough to make me sigh a little less when it comes to planning my next sojourn. It is of course retaining the element of ‘control’ in deciding all the things I want to do – whether with reason or just on a whim – which makes up for the time spent on prep! 

So when the opportunity to simply just pack my bags and hop on to the next road trip walks up to me, I wouldn’t say ‘No’! A family road trip was in the offing. Since most places south of the home city – Mumbai - had been conquered (right until Karnataka) on many an occasion, Gujarat it was by sheer process of elimination. With a week in hand I took off with them and hit the road. Gir and Diu were sites in sight; rest everything would be figured out on the go.

But a day and a half of being on the road and I was feeling out of it. Why ‘out’ – I wasn’t feeling ‘in’ one bit. I couldn’t sense my travel pulse. I don’t know, then, when and how the feeling of being disconnected from my journey sneaked in on me.

Disconnecting and connecting
Now Junagarh (Junagadh) is a captivating town bedecked with ancient forts and mosques as much as with natural beauty! And yet here I was, sensing what I was sensing – a disconnect. I couldn’t seem to do anything to shrug it off.
Mahabat Makbara, Junagadh
Mahabat Makbara, Junagadh

The streets, Junagadh

Uparkot Fort, Junagadh

View of Mount Girnar from Uparkot Fort

Buddhist Caves, Uparkot Fort, Junagadh
Buddhist Caves, Uparkot Fort, Junagadh
Well, not until I boarded a bus for a tour of the Gir Interpretation Zone. Sambhars, blue bulls (Neel-Gai), deer pranced about the 5 sq. km. park with complete abandonment. But it was on seeing mother and cub lolling about in the shade and then another right next to them seemingly oblivious to the revving sounds of the bus, that I found something simultaneously beginning to connect on my inside.
It was the beginning of a shift.
Suddenly the 3 PM sun glaring straight into my eye through the window pane wasn’t a botheration either. I continued to strain my eyes hoping to find another bunch of lions or mayhaps even a lone one catching up on their afternoon siesta (in that I almost ignored the jackal who’d made a little appearance too).
En route from Junagadh to Sassan-Gir

Gir Interpretation Zone
Gir Interpretation Zone
Gir Interpretation

View from the Gir Jungle Lodge
The two hour safari the next morning was my first ever. I was as excited as a 5 year old tot in a candy store! Every person brings their own luck; even if it’s Gir. You aren’t guaranteed a sighting.
Almost an hour into the safari I thought I was out of luck already. And then there he was the king of the jungle right there – only he was spread-eagled, numb to the world around him. It’s a known fact that lions go for a big hunt and sleep for around 18 hours a day. Here was a live example. With that we almost resigned ourselves for a drive through the remainder of the park with no other major spotting. I know, at least, I did.

We were driving through a little hamlet within the national park and I was ready to wave at little kids when to our right out of nowhere suddenly stood on a mound of mud the more elusive of the big cats – a leopard – no more than 10 feet away! The eyes told the tale of someone who found themselves in some very unexpected company. Such was my awe (and trepidation) that clicking a photograph didn’t cross my mind until the leopard was gone.

Safari time!!!
Birds! Birds!! Birds!!!
Lion spread-eageled!

The next leg
Unfortunately for me the next stopover, Diu, too went the Junagadh way. This in spite of the fact that Diu is reminiscent of Goa as it used to be about 15 years ago – calm, cool, laidback with narrow lanes disappearing into a slew of mazes; this in spite of the fact that it was Christmas.

St. Pauls Church, Diu
Diu Fort

Warli makes it to Street Art in Diu
Diu on Christmas Eve

Naida Caves - A whole new world
No filters - Naida Caves, Diu

Chakratirth Beach, Diu

I haven’t been able to put a finger on what it is about watching an animal in its natural habitat – wild and free - that creates such an uplifting feeling within me, a mere onlooker! Because I then had a repeat of my Gir experience at the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park near Bhavnagar another two days later.

Low from not having picked on the Diu vibe, my road trip continued onward to Velavadar (which is 50 kms further from Bhavnagar). However this in-between places leg of the journey wasn’t without some disappointments of its own.
Mistake #1 (and our only one): Driving directly to Velavadar in the hope of availing accommodation at the national park guesthouse. There are just two rooms and both were booked in spite of how remote the location is (or may be in hindsight that’s why!) The hotel next door is too too swanky – and by that I mean overpriced. This in turn also meant a drive back to Bhavnagar to scout for a hotel to stay the night.

Mesmerized by the Velavadar Blackbuck National Park
Velavadar Blackbuck National Park would be conquered another day - that being the next day.
There is indeed something NatGeo-like as you approach the national park on the thin strip of a road that leads you to it. Flat in topography, the road is isolated and marooned with barely any trace of life for most part of the journey. With salt pans on either side this seems like a mini Rann. But it’s only when in the final 10 kilometers when your eyes begin to discern for themselves that there are blackbucks and neelgais in cohorts enjoying the vast expanse of the ochre landscape without a worry that you realise how close to nature you really are. The tour of the park takes place in your own vehicle with a park guide in tow and at real close range you witness as the beasts of the wild demonstrate a lesson or two on carefree existence.

And that’s when I knew how and why I began to sense my travel pulse all over again!

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