By the third week, many of us were itching to get out of the palace and on with our field research. Monsoon season came our way on the first day of June, which happened to be Nirvan’s birthday. We celebrated the rain by dancing barefoot in the garden, and later that evening, despite the power repeatedly going off, Lilly and Millie organized a surprise party for Nirvan, where Rina and Jayshree gave him a proper Hindi birthday ceremony.
Nirvan’s surprise birthday celebration
The opportunity was presented to travel eight hours to visit the Gir Forest, a wildlife sanctuary southwest of Dhrangadhra, in hopes of seeing wild Asiatic lions. Barrett and Chrissy stayed back to focus on their research, and the rest of us embarked on a three-day adventure to Gir. We stayed at Jamjir, a lovely, relaxing, and comfortable homestay, with Bapa’s cousin Falgun. In the day we did some hiking. After dinner we watched a spectacular performance by several Siddi men. The Siddi are a group of Gujarati Indians who are descended from Uganda. They have lived in a village called Jambur in the Gir Forest for hundreds of years. Their dances were brilliant, especially their monkey dances, and there was even fire breathing! Eventually they got us all up and dancing with them. Even Bapa, to our delight, was inspired to show his most striking warrior moves!
At night we all piled into two vans and drove around looking for the lions. For over an hour and a half, we drove around and didn’t see anything. Two people spotted a leopard (or was it a jaguar?) for a second sitting on a wall, but it jumped off. As we kept on searching and finding nothing, I had resigned myself to not getting to see them. Just before we were about to turn back, Camilla spotted a group of nine lions and for about ten seconds they were visible. Some of us got a good look at all of them them. I didn’t, though I saw a cub reluctantly following a lioness back into the forest. About ten minutes later, a few young lions, one with a mane slightly grown in, crossed behind our van. Though it was dark and the back window was dusty, they were about ten or fifteen feet away and we could see them well. We were all so excited at these two moments, but the lighting was so poor that none of us got a good picture of them. Maybe that made it all the more magical.
Jamjir resort group photo
The next day we traveled to a city about seventy kilometers from Dhrangadhra called Sayla which was once a princely state, like Dhrangadhra, ruled by the Jhala Rajputs. On the way it stormed heavily, which was terrifying and exhilarating to witness from the vantage point of an Indian road. For the first time we saw a couple of large trucks turned over, which was surprising because despite the chaos of driving in India, we had not really seen any accidents.
Temple in Muli
When we got to Sayla, we stayed at the Bell Guest House with Somrraj and his wife, who provided us another very comfortable and hospitable stay. They took us to visit several temples including a Swaminarayan temple and a stepwell with a large warrior shrine. People, we were told, often came to the stepwell and shrine for healing rituals. The trip was a wonderful breath of fresh air and opportunity to get to know Gujarat beyond Dhrangadhra and its surrounding villages.
Stepwell (top) and shrine (bottom) in Sayla
We also visited the homes of three artisan families: one wove vibrant multicolored rugs from recycled material, one practiced a dying form of shawl weaving and embroidery called Tangaliya from the Dangasia community’s Bharwad (shepherd caste) tradition, and one hand-beaded intricate wall hangings, decorations, jewelry, and other adornments. Their work was beautiful and impeccable. We came back refreshed and ready to jump into our field research.
Handcrafted beaded pieces in Sayla