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Published: March 9th 2016
We left Satpura after lunch having been told that the trip to Bhopal, where we were to catch a flight the following morning, would take around 2 hours. We had been going for that already when the driver stopped and told us that we had arrived at the Bambetka caves where there was a tour guide waiting to show us around the caves which show the earliest traces of human life in India. It was very hot when we got out of the bus and the guide had rather poor English with the irritating habit of ending each statement with 'ma'am' and constantly repeating himself which was a pity because the paintings were rather incredible showing a range of animals, people and things like agriculture and dancing. The driver told us it was another hour and a half from there even though it was only 30km but awful traffic meant it was more than another 2 hours before we arrived....at the wrong hotel! We wearily pointed this out to the driver but luckily it was only another 10 minutes to the correct hotel where we arrived at nearly 8pm, exhausted. This turned out to be a hugely luxurious resort with everything
you could need but we really only had time to grab a quick meal and try to sleep through the noise of the ubiquitous wedding music coming from the next hotel as we had to leave at 6 the next morning for our flight. Sadly the main thing we got from it was mosquito bites!
The journey included a 5 hour stopover in Mumbai so we were pretty tired when we were met at tiny Diu airport by a barefoot driver and battered old bus for the 2 hour drive to our 'luxury safari camp' in Sasan Gir National Park. We were rather underwhelmed by our arrival at the camp and even more depressed when shown to our 'luxury tents' which were dingy, dirty, torn, full of mosquitoes and generally not what we had expected. To cut a long story short and after a number of calls to the agent that had arranged our stay we managed to get an agreement that they would try to move us somewhere else the following day. After an uninspiring dinner we reluctantly retired to our tents early, exhausted after the travelling and hoping that the safari would make up for our disappointment
at the accommodation. Unfortunately there was a large group of Indian tourists travelling together also staying there and they sat outside the tents making lots of noise until finally I got up and asked them if they could be a bit quieter....even the jungle isn't quiet in India!
At 5.45am there were a few jeeps at the entrance to the camp, all of the Indian tourists and nobody who appeared to speak English who could tell us which jeep we should go in. At one point it looked like they were all going to leave without us but another one finally turned up for us. At the park offices, Sanjay, a very young park guide, joined us. He turned out to have a fairly limited range of English phrases and rather awkward pronunciation which meant we could rarely understand him and he struggled with any questions we asked. It eventually turned into a bit of a farce as we tried to persuade him that young birds were 'juveniles' not 'zooveniles' and we were looking at 'flycatchers' not 'plycatchers'. The focus of the drive was on finding some Asiatic lions as Gir is the only place in the world that
they still exist but the park rules meant that the jeep had been assigned a route, with no flexibility about following any other roads if signs suggested there might be lions somewhere off it and it became clear that the park is huge and there are very few lions. Parts of the park were lovely and we saw quite a lot of birds but the drives were also much shorter than elsewhere and we actually overstayed our time and left sometime after the 9am cut off point.
Back at the camp we received a call from the agent saying they had found somewhere else for us so after breakfast we packed up and headed off to the new place. It wasn't a massive improvement but fewer mossies and cleaner (once Audrey had supervised them cleaning the rooms again!).
The afternoon drive started at 3pm when it was still incredibly hot and we all felt it was highly unlikely that any of the big cats would be moving around. We had Sanjay again as guide and he became even more irritating as he desperately tried to find us a lion when it seemed very obvious this would not happen.
The route we were on took us past a reservoir that was quite attractive but we had a forced stopped at one end of it as all jeeps on 5 of the routes had to travel down a very narrow road to get there at around the same time so we couldn't leave again until they had all arrived. The low point came when, stopped by the reservoir, Sanjay tried to persuade us that a couple of rocks were a crocodile but finally agreed with us that they were rocks when I passed him my binoculars....he didn't have any of his own.
Dinner in the new place was actually quite good and we slept quite well before the final drive early the next morning. We had a different and better guide but the focus was still on finding lions. Early on, while it was still not properly light, a huge leopard appeared out of the trees just in front of the jeep, trotted up the road in front of us then disappeared into the jungle on the other side - wow! Sadly too dark and too brief for photographs but quite special all the same. Apart from that there
was little to see apart from the usual deer, langurs and birds so we returned to the hotel bitterly disappointed at not seeing lions as we had travelled a long way to get to Gir.
We had also changed the plans for that night as we had become concerned at the time most of our journeys had been taking and were not comfortable that we would get to the airport at a reasonable time for our flight the following day if we stayed the final night in the park as planned. As feared, the journey took 4 rather than 3 hours so we were pleased we'd realised the potential problem when we checked into a very lovely hotel in Rajkot that, from photographs, seemed to be a favourite with Bollywood stars! We spent a very pleasant afternoon spoiling ourselves with proper coffee and wifi and had our dinner in the Bollywood themed roof top restaurant accompanied by live music.
And from there it was really just travelling towards home. Flight from Rajkot to Mumbai, then Mumbai to Delhi back to the hotel we had last stayed in. A few hours in Delhi to see the president's gardens (impressive but extremely garish!), have a lovely lunch and a quick trip around the Delhi railway museum (special treat for H!). Our flight home left Delhi at 4.30am so we didn't have much sleep or really on the flight but were very happy to get home the following afternoon, despite the unfamiliar cold. It now seems very hard to imagine that less than a week ago we were still there - it now seems a bit like a dream - but we are, of course, now planning our next trip to round off our 6 month break......
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