Gir National Park is the last bastion of the Asiatic Wild Lions. It is situated south-west of the Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat in India and covers an area of 1,412 km2 . A drive through the thick, undisturbed deciduous forests is a joy for the senses, even if there were no lions to spot in the jungle. Gir, a thriving eco-system for the wildlife, is home to 39 species of mammals, 37 species of reptiles, over 300 species of bird, and 606 different plant species. The sanctuary access point is Sasan Gir village. It is open to the tourists from November through May.
Best Time to Visit:
The Protected Area in Gir is closed for tourists in the monsoon season from 16th June to 15th October every year. The winter months of December to March are a goof time to visit Gir, as the weather is pleasant. However, the summer months of April and May, even though very hot, are the best months for viewing and photographing the wildlife in Gir.
- Gir Orientation Center, adjacent to the Reception center is an information exhibition on the Gir Sanctuary
- Devaliya Interpretation Zone, situated 12 Kms from Sasan Gir village is a fenced zone housing all habitat types and wildlife from Gir
- Kankai Mata temple situated 50 Kms from Sasan Gir village, is in the heart of the jungle. Here you can hear lions roar at night and see wild animals gather at the nearby lake. Every morning, a bus leaves from Junagadh at 8am stays one hour at the temple and returns back at 9:45am. We, however, suggest, to go with a private vehicle and stay there for the night. The high temple walls ensure your safety, and once night falls, one can watch the stars through jungle treetops, hear lions roam outside the jungle precincts and experience a night in the true wilderness.
- Tulsishyam Mandir, situated 90 Kms from San Gir village, is an ancient temple of Lord Krishna. Legend says that Lord Krishna eliminated the demon – Tul at this place, hence the place is called Tulsishyam. The black stone idol of Lord Tulsishyam is said to be 3000 years old. Near the temple, there is a hot sulphur spring believed to have curative powers. Also, there is a stretch of a Magnetic hill nearby the temple. Do note that the road to the temple is open only between 6:30 am and 7 pm.
- Maldhari tribe co-exist and live with the lions inside the Gir jungle. If possible, don’t miss an opportunity to visit their thorn fenced settlements called Nes. Maldhari tribe are extremely hospitable by nature and their lives have undergone very little change over the year. Their folklore and traditions provide a unique insight into the coexistence of humans with lions
Gir Jungle Safari Permit:
If visiting Gir, ensure that you book an Online Permit for the Open Jeep safari in the Gir Protected area. There is no other way one can visit the jungle to see the lions in their natural habitat and in the Wild.
Devaliya Safari Park and Interpretation zone, at a short distance from Sasan Gir, also provides an opportunity to see lions and other animals in their natural habitat, albeit stage-managed, in a short period of time and at cheaper rates. There are half-hourly buses and each trips last for 40 minutes.
Gir has the largest compact tract of dry deciduous forest in India. The eastern part of the Protected area consists of non-teak forests where Dhavdo is the dominating species . Other trees commonly found in the area are Khair, Sadad, Timru, Babul, Amla, Moledi, Kadayo and Bahedo, Semal, Bor, Khakhar and Asundro.
Mixed deciduous type of forest, dominated by Teak covers nearly 70% of the protected area. Along the principal rivers and streams, one finds a moist riverine forest with species such as Jamun, Karanj, Umro, Vad, Kalam, Charel, Sirus and Amli. The coastal plantation belt consists of exotic species such as Saru and Gandobaval.
Lions are undoubtedly the highlight of Gir. In addition, Gir hosts a large Leopard population, along with other carnivores viz. Jungle Cat, Jackal, Striped Hyena, Common and Ruddy mongoose. Herbivores are found in abundance in Gir. They include Sambar, Chital, Nilgai, Chowsingha, Chinkara and Wild Boar.
Over 300 bird species, both resident as well as migratory, have been recorded in Gir. Vultures are the main scavengers in Gir, and there are 6 species found in Gir. The birds of prey found in Gir include the Shaheen Falcon, Bonelli’s Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Tawny eagle and Blackwinged Kite. In addition, one finds Grey and Jungle Bush Quail, Grey Partridge, Nightjar, Black-headed Cuckoo Shrike, Gray Drongo, Pied Woodpecker, Black Ibis, White-necked Stork, etc in abundance in the wild.
Of the 37 reptiles species found in Gir, marshy crocodiles seen in the rivers and lake of Kamaleshwar Dam are the most unsettling. The snake species recorded in Gir include Python, Common rat snake, Keelbacks, Common Indian Krait, Russell’s viper, Saw-scaled viper and the Indian Cobra. Other reptiles found in Gr include Star tortoise, Monitor lizard, Fan-throated lizard, Calotes, Indian chameleon and Common skink.
Lion Conservation efforts:
Formerly the hunting grounds of the Maharaja of Junagadh, the Asiatic wild lions were on the brink of extinction with an estimated 12 lions left in the wild in 1880 due to rampant trophy hunting. The population was at its lowest. The Nawab of Junagadh recognized the importance of saving the lions and declared the forest as Protected area in 1900. In 1920, the numbers recovered to nearly 50, and by 1936 the numbers had dramatically increased to 250 lions in the wild.
Once the all-powerful Viceroy of India visited Junagadh and made his desire to ‘bag a lion’ known. The Nawab tied to the iron laws of hospitality, and political expediency was forced to accede to the Viceroy’s request. However, he did not wish to lose any of his precious lions in Gir. So, he made secret arrangements to import an African lion. The most majestically maned Lion was presented to the Viceroy for execution. Honour was satisfied on both sides, and goodwill maintained without the sacrifice of state laws or the endangered Gir lions. This story indicates the dedication and resolve of the Nawab in saving the Gir lions, without whom today there might be no lions left in the wild.
In the Post-independence India, the forest was converted into a wildlife sanctuary on 18 September 1965. Since the late 1960’s the lion numbers have increased from under 200 to 523 lions in the wild as per the 2015 Asiatic Lion census report. Adequate protection and better conservation strategies have resulted in the dispersal of wild lions to 21 talukas in 4 districts of Gujarat. The population of lions in Junagadh District is 268, Gir Somnath District is 44, Amreli District is 174 and Bhavnagar District is 37.
Sasan Gir village, the point of entry for the Gir national park and Safari is connected by rail and by road.
By Road: State highways connect to Gir from Junagadh, Veraval, Amreli, and Una. State Transport buses make the trip between Junagadh (2 hours from Sasan Gir) and Veraval ( 90 minutes from Sasan Gir) via Sasan Gir 4 times a day.
By Rail: A passenger train runs every day between Junagadh and Delvada ( near Diu ) and passes through Sasan Gir. The train departs Junagadh at 7:15 am, reaches Sasan Gir at 9:57 am and Delvada at 1:20 pm. On return the train departs Delvada at 2:25 pm, passes through Sasan Gir at 5:57 pm and reaches Junagadh at 8:35 pm. In addition two trains run between Sasan Gir and Veraval, leaving Veraval at 9:45 am and 1:45 pm respectively. The journey from Veraval to Sasan Gir by train takes approximately 90 minutes.
By Air: The nearby airports to Sasan Gir are Rajkot, Bhavnagar, and Diu. From, either of those cities one can take a private vehicle to Sasan Gir.