Most people think that the state of Gujarat is all about its vibrant culture, colorful festivals, good food, and historical places. It usually never strikes to us, when planning a trip to or around Gujarat, that its landscape and natural wonders could be equally fascinating. Also, when travelers plan a nature exploration in this western state, they restrict themselves to places like the Rann of Kutch and/or the Gir Forest. But there are so many other places to explore and discover but aren’t much talked about. These places are also quite rich in wildlife treasures and totally worth a visit. So, one long weekend early this year, I was visiting some relatives in Ahmedabad with my parents, when we all sat down to plan a quick trip nearby. It is always fun to head out in a big group and spend some time in the wilderness. But where could we go? It had to be somewhere closer so we would spend less time on travel and more at the destination. That’s when we decided to visit Shoolpaneshwar.
A Family Vacation to Shoolpaneshwar:
Earlier, whenever we traveled as a group, we would end up renting multiple cars, spending half our journey coordinating and ensuring no one got lost. So, this time I came up with the idea of renting a minivan and travel together, without any unnecessary hassle. Fortunately, I found and availed of a comfortable tempo traveler in Ahmedabad online which could fit tall 12 of us. And thus we started on our big fat family vacation.
It is a drive of 266 KM from Ahmedabad to Shoolpaneshwar and took us about six hours to reach. We made a stop at Vadodara for refueling and meal breaks. Once we crossed Vadodara, the roads changed dramatically, transitioning into rugged, hilly terrain with dense forests. We landed at the edges of the sanctuary around noon. It was late February and the air was still misty, especially towards the interiors of the forests.
I had read beforehand about what to expect (animals, I mean) at the sanctuary and had found out that the jungles were home to sloth bears and leopards, among other endangered species. Our van was the perfect vehicle to roll through the rough terrain.
A day in the wild:
It was a huge forested area, with valleys, bluffs, and gurgling rivers cascading into sparkling torrents. The forest cover was dominated by myriad varieties of trees, shrubs, medicinal plants, wildflowers, and whatnot. My mother and aunt pointed out to a few herbaceous plants which are still used in Ayurvedic medicines.
As the car crawled through the narrow, dusty trails, we were welcomed with screeching macaques and birds. We kept stopping intermittently to get down and walk around, spot birds or take photos. It was the season for migratory birds and we spotted a flock of parakeets, yellow-throated woodpeckers, and grey hornbills, who fly down here every winter from up north. Red jungle fowls were local and scampered around the undergrowth. In one of the taller branches, I noticed (thanks to my binocular) a crested eagle. I also noticed one or two porcupines who scurried away as soon as I tried to take a photo. But managed a souvenir with a couple of quills they had shed.
We continued on the jungle trail, until we reached the banks of an unnamed river, sitting at the base of a craggy mound. We parked our car with many other travelers who were enjoying the views. On the other side of the river, a herd of deer had come to graze and drink, when suddenly, we heard a subdued roar, but it was evident from the sudden pandemonium among the birds, that there was a threat. Some of the travelers around us seemed worried, but our cabbie and a few other guides assured that the predators usually don’t come out in the daylight when there’s so much tourist activity.
After some time, we carried on with our safari further southwards from the river. We stopped at a ravine when my dad spotted a leopard basking in the sun on a tree branch. We quickly managed to click a few photos with the least noise as possible.
Lost in the charm of the wilderness, I didn’t realize that it was nearly evening. We realized it would soon get dark and we would not be able to travel back. So our cabbie suggested that we camp up at the forest lodges for the night. That way, we could cover the rest of the sanctuary the next morning and head back home. It was an excellent plan and such impromptu travel plans can only happen when you book a licensed and top-rated Ahmedabad cab service.
As the sun hid behind the horizon and put half the forest to sleep, the cicadas and the nocturnal creatures came to play. Sitting on the porch of our jungle hut, I listened to the symphony of the night, awaiting another exciting day in the wild.