BIRDS OF GIR - ROAD TRIP TO GIR NATIONAL PARK
It took me quite some time to figure out what exactly should I name the title of this trip. I will come back to the reason why I named it as I did. By far, the most memorable trip I had, this was really special in more than one ways. Let me first summarize a few key points worth mentioning.
Total kms driven: 3302 km from door to door
Route taken: Hyderabad – Solapur – Pune – Mumbai – Surat – Vadodara – Ahmedabad – Rajkot – Junagarh – Sasan Gir (And the same route back)
Route Map Click Here
Car: Ford Fiesta Petrol (2006)
Passengers: 2 (Me and my wife Supriya)
Conditions: Extremely hot weather with car AC on for the entire length of the trip
Average Mileage: 13+ km/lit
Total Fuel Consumed: 252 litres
Total Cost of Fuel: Approx Rs. 17500 (The price of petrol is much less in Maharashtra and Gujarat as compared to Hyderabad – In Hyd it is close to 75, in Mah and Guj it was close to 71 or 72)
Total Toll: Rs. 2010 (Both ways)
Driving Objective: Safe and Secure (no genuine rush with proper pit-stops for fueling, breakfast and lunch)
Maximum Driving Speed: 170 km/hr (occasionally on expressways when the roads were too inviting)
It was in the month of January 2013 that we decided to go to Gir National Park. And after a lot of discussion between me and Supriya, we finally decided to drive all the way. A lot of things had to be pondered before even actually starting the preparation. The car was now 7 years old, will it be able to sustain the rigors of such a long journey? Am I young enough to pull out the longest drive of my life? All these and many more questions were to be thought-off before making the plunge. Went through my long drive checklist one-by-one and arranged everything for the trip.
Day 0: April 5th (Friday) – THE NIGHT BEFOREBefore office dropped my Dog EINS to the kennel. This time we were cautious and gave him all necessary anti tick shots. Also gave him an anti fleas collar to prevent the fleas from attacking him during his stay at the kennel. After office went to my usual Shell outlet to get the fueling done. Got the tyre pressure checked and headed home. Finalized all the packing, had dinner and went off for an early sleep. Although the dreaded night before, as always is the killer. The excitement of the drive next morning was too heavy to get a good sleep. And as always this time also I couldn't manage to sleep well.
Day 1: April 6th (Saturday) – GET SET GO – HYDERABAD TO MUMBAI
Got up early morning at 4 AM, felt as if I was awake all through. Not at all fresh because of the lack of sleep, but the excitement to drive gave the leverage. Left Hyderabad around 5 AM. Had to go a long way. Last time I went through this leg, it was only till Pune, this time it’s a touch more till Mumbai. Initially I planned and thought of making this drive of 720 km in 12 hours, but I entered Mumbai at my brother’s residence exactly at 6 PM. So, door-to-door it was 13 hours. On the way, the GPS took us straight into the Solapur city which took some of our time. We should have taken the below route to exit solapur comfortably.
Once you bypass pune and enter expressway, then the destination seems very near. After that horrible stretch of road till solapur, Pune Mumbai expressway seemed heaven. Before entering the expressway I really felt my comfort level of driving has finished. That moment I felt, after 500 kms whatever I’m going to drive, is actually a stretch on myself. But luckily the expressway didn't let me feel it like a stretch and I really enjoyed driving through that beautiful road, once again. It was still exactly the same as I saw it last time in March 2010, beautifully maintained. Both of us were thrilled with the Tunnels on the expressway. Surprisingly, Indians still have to learn a lot regarding how to drive. In the tunnels of expressway, more than 99% of the cars switch on their hazard lights. I just couldn't believe that all vehicles on the road were having hazardous trouble. Who makes these stupid rules? And why we Indians keep on following other like herds of idiots? Why don’t people use their brains and question the actual use of hazard lights? Driving through a tunnel is not a hazard. Come’on grow up people. You only need to switch on your rear lights so that the car coming from behind knows that you are driving ahead. That’s it. NO NEED FOR HAZARD LIGHTS, PLEASE. And it is not even that those are blind tunnels. They do have proper lighting just enough to see the road. Just switch on your headlights and rear lights and cruise ahead, SIMPLE! But anyway, you can’t expect much from Indians, people still didn't learn the concept of lane driving, not honking, not using high beam in front of oncoming traffic, how can you teach them about hazard lights. Forget it. If I have so many complains, I should better go abroad and settle there, instead of staying here and cribbing. When we were entering Mumbai, our only concern was the office traffic. Luckily though, we were just ahead of it by a fraction. By 6 PM we were inside pomy’s apartment. Once again thanks to the GPS for guiding us inside Mumbai. I was dead tired by the end of the 1st day. 720 km was a bit too much for single hand driving in a single day (and not to forget I didn't sleep well the entire last night compounded by the stop-ready-go driving on the highway all through). I was wondering what will I be doing tomorrow, as tomorrow is going to be really big (200 km more than what I did today). At one point I really wished that Supriya could drive. Had our dinner and I slept like a baby that night.
Day 2: April 7th (Sunday) – THE BIG ONE – MUMBAI TO GIR
Wonderful sleep the previous night and here I was again ready for the real stuff – the big one – 900 km Mumbai to Gir National Forest – single hand driving in a single day. Tried to get up early but by the time we left it was already 6 AM. It was a luxury to get a wonderful homely night stay in Mumbai. I left Mumbai thinking I might be able to reach Gir in 12 hours so that would be 900 km by 6 PM. Highly optimistic as per Indian standards and I did my research about the road condition well in advance so I really believed I could do it.
Exit Mumbai was a memorable experience in itself. People who have exited Mumbai through the Western Expressway towards Gujrat would agree with me. That amazing terrain, beautiful landscape, foggy condition and the sun rising midst that was a thrill to watch. And all this in the month of April was extremely rejuvenating. I even rolled down my windows to smell that fresh fog. Everything was nice about Mumbai exit that morning, except that for the first 75 km one really needs to maneuver through the Trucks plying on that 6 lane road (3 lane each side). All the 3 lanes are mostly occupied with these snails and tortoises playing their racing games. Somehow you need to squeeze through them till the Maharashtra Gujarat border. After that it’s cool.
Once you enter Gujarat, you will actually feel it. believe me or not, it’s a different country all together. That’s not India. After every 20 odd kilometers you will find a proper eatery just beside the fuel station. So you can easily have you breakfast, lunch, whatever time and even get your fueling done at the same place. The eateries are well maintained, clean, Air conditioned, with all available facilities. Rest of India should really take some lesson out of the book of Gujarat. That 6 lane road till surat was beautiful and without any trouble we zipped past surat in no time, we even stopped for breakfast in one of those eateries. The Ankleshwar Bharuch Narmada Bridge is a pain and I was prepared for that, but I was lucky that there wasn't any traffic jam on our onward journey and we crossed narmada without any concern.
In a zippy reached Vadodara and immediately took the Ahmedabad Expressway. And that expressway was really fast indeed. My 7 year old Ford Fiesta didn't mind 170 km/hr on that stretch. And before we could realize we already reached Ahmedabad. It was about lunch time and I had taken the sardar patel ring road from the expressway which directly led me into the ahmedabad – Rajkot highway. So these bypasses and ring roads are so nice in Gujarat that I didn't realize passing-by any of these cities at all. Crossed Surat, Vadodara, Ahmedabad and now heading towards Rajkot. All this without any significant effort. Although there are many alternative routes to reach Gir. But I preferred to choose the longer one with 4 lane rather than the shorter one with 2 lane. The shorter route breaks from karjan before vadodara and takes you through borsad towards Rajkot. My route was much longer but it was all 4 lane so I preferred it more than the other one. And I would still recommend this route for all people going to Gir unless they are on a budget mode.
Had our lunch on the ahmedabad Rajkot highway. Started at 3 PM after a nice lunch and headed straight for Gir deciding not to stop any more. Till lunch time I already covered 600 kms and another 300 still left with a plenty of time in hand. Now, that’s what a good road can do for you. you don’t even feel the distance. It’s smooth as silk. Reached Rajkot, conveniently took the ring road to junagarh and I was surprised to see that the entire road from Mumbai to junagarh was either 4 lane or 6 lane. KUDOS to Gujarat. Only the last stretch of 75 kms from junagarh to Sasan Gir was not 4 lane.
Junagarh – a city worth mentioning here. It has such neat and clean roads and walkways, I was thrilled to see a city like that in India. One would have to see it to believe. GPS took a few wrong turns inside the city and we slightly lost our way. However after asking the locals they nicely guided us onto the Mahendra bypass and towards Sasan. It was not a big problem but a new road which wasn't updated in my GPS map. Hence the confusion. The last stretch was through hilly terrain and single road with stupid people putting on their high beams and not even caring about oncoming traffic. Again reminded me that you can change the cities and the infrastructure but what about the people. We Indians still don’t know simple things about driving. So facing the high beams was really painful in that last 1 hour after sunset.
We finally reached Taj at 8 PM. So 14 hours it took us for the 900 kms. Obviously that includes the breakfast, lunch and refueling breaks. Also the time we lost inside junagarh city. The same journey while returning took only 13 hours. That was because we could avoid the city traffic of junagarh while returning.
WHAT AN AMAZING FEELING IT IS! A feeling of happiness, satisfaction, contentment, pride, joy and so much more excited to successfully complete this onward journey. A feeling beyond words, a feeling that cannot be described and can only be experienced by oneself. A feeling that is limited to a few souls who prefer to drive on their own, covering the distances not covered by anyone before, single-handedly in a single day and whose love for driving is so undeniably profound that they just don’t get tired. That’s what my love for driving is all about. And I think I will surely go again and again on many more trips till the day I’m alive. Not to mention, a short hall of fame that I entered into when people at the hotel got surprised to hear that I had driven all the way from Hyderabad to Gir.
The Taj Gateway Hotel where we checked in last night is undoubtedly the best in entire Sasan Gir. The most obvious reason is because it’s Taj and if one can afford, then there shouldn't be a second thought about staying there while visiting Gir. Besides the most obvious reasons, I will list down the ones that make Taj the best place to stay in Gir.