A WEEK AFTER Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s announcement, lion safaris formally began in Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary (GWLS) in Junagadh on Tuesday, making the hilly forest the second protected habitat of Asiatic lions to have a tourism zone.
Gir National Park and Sanctuary (GNPS) in Sasan village of Junagadh district is the other protected forest area which has a tourism zone and is famous for lion safaris.
This is also the second major tourism project to be launched in GWLS after the Girnar temple ropeway inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 24 last year.
The first batch of tourists were flagged off at a low key affair on the Republic Day from Indreshwar Naka, an entry point to the GWLS on its western periphery. In all, total of seven safari vehicles made the 26-km-long round trips on Tuesday and an equal number of them on Wednesday, forest officers said.
“This is not a lion safari per say. This is more of a nature trail. However, tourists did get to see lions on Tuesday,” Sanjay Berwal, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) of Junagadh territorial forest division told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
The safaris will begin from Indreshwar Naka, pass through Jambudi beat and go till Paturan beat before returning on the same route, forest officers said. Officially, these safaris have been termed Girnar Nature Safari and will have only one route. “This is a route on the periphery of the forest. More routes are not possible right now due to hilly terrain,” Berwal further said.
During his visit to Junagadh city on January 20 to lay the foundation stone of a city-wide underground drainage network, CM Rupani had announced that safaris in GWLS would begin soon.
A note of the forest department stated that the main objectives of the nature safaris were to raise public awareness about the benefits of nature and natural sources, to engage people living near Girnar in conservation of GWLS. The note further said that youth from villages falling in the eco-sensitive zone of the sanctuary along the route alignment had been given training of working as tourist guides at Sasan and that tourists will have to pay Rs 400 fee to these guards per trip.
The inauguration comes despite a case challenging the project still pending with the Gujarat High Court. “However, the government has taken a decision to go ahead with the project. As such, there is no express stay on the project by the court,” the DCF said.
The project was to begin in 2019 but was delayed due to the litigation.
When contacted by The Indian Express for a comment, Environment and Forest Minister Ganpat Vasava said that he would seek details about the project and would revert.
Berwal said that the forest department had sanctioned quotas of eight permits per day—four in the morning session and an equal number in the evening session. One permit, on which a maximum of six persons plus a child can go on safari, will cost Rs 800 during weekdays and Rs 1,000 on Saturdays and Sundays. The safaris would happen from 6:45 am to 9:45 am and from 3 pm to 6 pm during October to February and from 6 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 7 pm during March to June. The safaris would remain suspended during the annual Girnar Parikrama (which takes place a few days after Diwali) and Shivrati Fair which is organised in the month of Magh.