Gir National Park attracts droves of visitors to see the Asiatic lion in the wild, as it's the only place in the world where these creatures are now found. Once almost hunted to extinction, numbers have recovered well due to conservation efforts. The park's core zone, which extends for almost 260 square kilometers, was declared as a national park in 1975. However, the sanctuary was set up a decade earlier, and lion numbers have been increasing since then. The park's forested hilly terrain makes it a preferred habitat for the jackals, leopards, antelope, and deer that also live there. It's home to crocodiles, and over 300 species of resident birds as well.
In the south west part of Gujarat state, 360 kilometers from Ahmedabad, 65 kilometers from Junagadh, and 40 kilometers from Veraval. It's inland from the beaches of Diu. The entrance to the park is located at Sasan Gir village, and this is where the park reception and orientation center is (next to the forest department's official Sinh Sadan Guest House). There's also a Gir Interpretation Zone 12 kilometers west of the village, at Devalia. It's a fenced off area of around four square kilometers that contains a variety of wildlife, including lions. A bus takes visitors on a 30-40 minute tour of it.
How to Get There:
Junagadh is the most common approach to the park. The railway station there receives trains from Ahmedabad and Rajkot, and major cities interstate. Then, it's an hour and a half by road to Sasan Gir. Via Veraval, it's one hour. If you don't want to take a taxi, pubic buses run regularly to Sasan Gir from both places during the day. The park is also easily reachable from the beaches of Diu, which are around two hours drive away. Alternatively, many people prefer to take a private bus to Sasan Gir from Ahmedabad as it drops them right next to the Sinh Sadan Guest House and reception center. Hence, it's more convenient than the train. The journey takes seven hours, and buses can be arranged from the the private bus stand near Paldi bus stop. There's no need to book in advance.
When to Visit:
The most popular time to visit Gir is from December to March. However, it can get very crowded during peak times with long waits. You're more likely to see wildlife, such as lions, when it's hot (from March to May), as they come out to get water. The best safari to go on is undoubtedly the first one of the morning, when the lions are most active. They tend to sleep for the rest of the day and don't move around much! Weekends and holidays are to be avoided due to the crowds and higher fees charged.
Gir National Park is open from mid October until mid June. There are three safaris a day at Gir. They start at 6.30 a.m., 9.00 a.m., and 3 p.m. The Gir Interpretation Zone is open Thursday to Tuesday (closed Wednesday), 8.00 a.m. until 11 a.m., and 3.00 p.m. until dusk.
Entrance Fees and Charges:
The Gir entry fee, which grants visitors a permit to go inside the park, is payable per vehicle, with up to six occupants in each. The cost depends on the day you visit, with weekends and major public holidays being the most expensive. For Indians it's 400 rupees from Monday to Friday, 500 rupees on Saturday and Sunday, and 600 rupees on holidays such as Christmas, Diwali
, and Navaratri
. Foreigners pay $40 during the week, $50 on weekends, and $60 on holidays. You'll also need to pay for a guide to accompany you inside the park (100 rupees), and the cost of hiring a jeep (around 1,300-1,500 rupees). The fee for the Gir Interpretation Zone is 75 rupees for Indians and $20 for foreigners. Although fees are quoted in $US, they must be paid in rupees.
If you're part of a group, sort your jeep hire out first. Jeeps can hired from hotels and guesthouses, or the park reception center. Entry permits for the park are issued at the reception center. If you're traveling alone, you'll usually find a spare spot in a jeep on offer there, and you can share the costs with the other occupants.
Only a limited number of permits are issued per day (the has been raised from 30 to 150 to help meet demand). Around half of them are reserved for people who have booked in advance, and are staying at Sinh Sadan and other registered hotels (the hotels will take care of obtaining your permit, for a fee). Hence, if you haven't booked, it's best to be at the permit office well before it opens in the morning. Otherwise, you'll find yourself in a long line and you may even miss out on a permit, especially during peak times. The permits are processed in batches before each safari, with a substantial break in between. Processing for the 6.30 a.m. safari starts half an hour before. However, the queuing up begins as early as 4 a.m.! According to locals, during peak times, this stretches to midnight.
There are eight safari routes inside the park. They're randomly assigned by the computer for each permit. Certain types of private vehicles are allowed in the park but only if they use petrol.
Where to Stay:
The government owned and operated Sinh Sadan Guest House represents the best value for money. The rooms are inexpensive and the garden ambiance appealing. Rates are from 500 to 1,500 rupees a night. However, it's a challenge to book. Reservations need to be made a month in advance. Phone (02877) 285540 but be persistent, as the number is often busy. After booking, you'll need to fax application and ID, confirm they've received it, and then send check or demand draft for payment. The Taj Gateway Hotel
shares the same fabulous location and is an excellent choice if you have the budget for it. Another hotel that's worth splurging on is the Fern Gir Resort.
A bit cheaper, the Maneland Jungle Lodge
, around three kilometers from the park entrance, is popular. Gir Birding Lodge
is a good choice for those into birding, as bird and river walks are offered. It's located not far from the park entrance. If you're looking to save money and don't mind staying a bit away from the entrance, there are plenty of decent and inexpensive hotels on the way to the Gir Interpretation Zone at Devalia.