In Gir National Park, the deciduous forest which cloaks the rolling hills has shed most of its foliage, and the ground is a carpet of crackly teak leaves that merge with the brown earth, desiccated by months of sun. The relative absence of vegetation makes it easier to see birds and animals. The forest is full of spotted chital deer, large sambar deer, and nilgai, the largest of India’s antelopes. Against the dun background, two honey-coloured female lions and five adorable cubs made a splash of colour. Gir is the last home of the Asiatic lion, and they did what lions do best: lazing, displaying obvious signs of mutual affection, and playing. The park’s birdlife is exceptional too, so even when there were no lions, there was still plenty to see.
The flat savannah of Velavadar National Park is home to numerous black buck. Natural predators are few here, so numbers are rising and, although nervous of any approach, these graceful antelopes are easy to see. The few acacia-like trees provide perches for a surprising mélange of birdlife, including a variety of raptors; India’s largest harrier roost is here. And the lodge, constructed with style, flair and attention to detail, with impeccable service to match, has to be one of the best in the sub-continent.
The Little Rann of Kutch was a dustbowl. It was impossible to move without throwing up clouds of billowing dust - hardly surprising as, for half the year, this is the bed of a shallow saline lake. When this dries out, a fine sediment remains with a consistency like talcum powder. However not even this could spoil the beauty of the remarkably clean and kempt wild asses whose last stronghold is here.
With three equally remarkable species all undergoing various degrees of revival, the success of conservation efforts here is encouraging.