Gir National Park

More than two thousand years ago, the Asiatic lion, Panthera leo persica, ranged all across the Indian subcontinent right up to Greece. The Lord of Beasts was celebrated as the symbol of power and might, feted in verse and art, feared and admired.

Two millennia down the line, the Asiatic lion has fallen prey, despite its strength, to urbanization, poaching, and all the ills human populations cause as they expand. India’s national emblem- the four-lion Ashokan capital- is one of the places lions can be readily seen. The other, of course, is the famous Gir Forest in Gujarat, the last stronghold of this majestic creature.

Nearly exterminated by 1910- a result of drought, irate villagers and sheer indifference- the Gir lions were brought under protection by the Nawab of Junagadh, who banned all hunting in the area. After independence, in 1965, the Indian government declared the area a national park. The lion population- which had sunk to an alarming two dozen in the early 20th century- has slowly climbed over the years since, and now numbers about 300. The Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary is collectively known as the Gir Protected Area. Gir stretches over 1,412 sq km of scrub and grassland, dry deciduous forest and some marshland. Besides lions, Gir harbours antelope, deer, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles and jackals, along with a spectacular array of birds.

An important part of the Gir Protected Area is the 4 sq km spread known as the Gir Interpretation Zone, about 12 km from Sasan Gir Village, the headquarters of the park. The Zone has a cross-section of wildlife within the park, and a visit here almost guarantees a lion sighting, which is otherwise a hit-or-miss affair in other parts of Gir.

Entry Requirements

All visitors to Gir are required to obtain entry permits from the Sinh Sadan Forest Lodge Office. The permits cost Rs 15 for the first day, and Rs 7.50 for every subsequent day. Extra charges are levied for cameras and for hiring vehicles: a jeep ride will cost about Rs 100 per person, and still camera fees range from Rs 50 (for Indians) to $5 (for foreigners). Guide charges are, respectively, Rs 50 or $10.

Access

The nearest airport is Keshod, at a distance of 90 km from Sasan Gir; the other airport is Rajkot at a distance of 140 kms. Sasan Gir has a railway station of its own, with train connections to a number of other cities and towns in Gujarat and its neighbouring states. The towns of Junagadh, Veraval and Delwada have daily trains to Sasan Gir, from where the park is only about a km away.

In addition, fairly good roads link the park to the rest of the country. Junagadh itself is only about 60 km from Gir, and there are frequent buses connecting the town to the park.

Vehicles are available for hire at Gir, and are easily the best way to see wildlife in the park. Some of the most popular routes for a drive are the Sasan-Kamaleshwar Dam, the Sasan-Kankai, the Sasan-Chodavdi and the Sasan-Tulsishyam routes. Time your jaunt through the park for dawn, when there are more chances of seeing lions and other wildlife.

Best time to visit

Gir is open to visitors throughout the year except during the monsoon (between June and October). By far the best time to visit the park is in the winter, from December to March.

Accommodation

Accommodation within the national park runs the gamut from budget to luxury, and almost everything in between. The forest department operates two lodges, the Sinh Sadan Forest Lodge and the Gir Lodge, while some private lodges also exist. A room at the Sinh Sadan Lodge will cost between Rs 575 – Rs 1,000 per night. If you’re a foreigner, you’ll be expected to pay in US$: an airconditioned room will be $50, a non-a/c one will be $30. Rooms at the privately owned lodges cost about Rs 2,000- Rs 3,000 per night, although rates often come down to half during low season. Accommodation is in short supply, so it’s advisable to book well in advance, particularly during the winter months.

Further information on Gir can be obtained from The Sanctuary Superintendent, Sasan Gir, Junagadh, or the Conservator of Forests, Sardar Baug, Junagadh.