Gir National Park - A Complete Travel Guide
One of the oldest and most visited wildlife sanctuaries in India, Gir National Park & Wildlife Sanctuary is the only remaining abode of the Asiatic lions. The national park, also known as Sasan Gir, is located about 37 miles southeast of Junagadh, a district in Gujarat. Sasan Gir village is the official entrance of the sprawling Gir forest. The park covers a total area of 1412sq km, out of which 258sq km forms the core part of the national park and the rest 1153sq km is the wildlife sanctuary.
In the 19th century, indiscriminate hunting expeditions by the Indian rulers and British colonists led to a drastic decrease in the population of the Asiatic lions. At the start of the 20th century, only a dozen lions were left in the Gir forest. Rulers of Junagadh, supported by the Britishers, then took the initiative to protect the endangered species. In 1969, the Indian government came forward to protect the threatened species and declared the area as a sanctuary. Subsequently, in 1980, it was acknowledged as a national park.
The population of the Asiatic lions in the Gir forest was 359 in 2005. The government banned hunting and poaching in the area. The conservation efforts bore fruits and the number of lions increased significantly. In 2015 there were 523 lions in the Gir forest. According to the figures released by the Gujarat state in 2020, there are 674 lions in Gir National Park as of now. The park is today known as the only protected area in the world where the Asiatic lions exist.
How to reach the Gir National Park?
By Air – There is no direct flight to Gir. The nearest airport is located at Diu, which is situated 92kms away (2 hours’ drive) from the reserve region. Rajkot is the next closest airport and is around 160kms (3.5 hours’ drive) from Gir. You can find direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Rajkot. Diu is not so well-connected.
By Rail – There are regular trains from Ahmedabad and Rajkot to Junagadh (65kms from Gir) and Veraval (45kms from Gir). After reaching Junagadh /Veraval, you have to take a taxi or bus to Sasan Gir. You can find trains (meter-gauge line) running daily from Junagadh and Veraval to Sasan Gir station, but the timings may clash with your jungle safari schedule.
By Road – As mentioned before, Gir National park is 60kms from Junagadh and 360kms from Ahmedabad. You can find a bus or a taxi to reach the Sasan Gir area from most parts of Gujarat. There is a number of private and government-owned vehicles that can drop you at the nearest access to the sanctuary. Put Sinh Sadan on the Google Map to find the exact location of the park’s entrance.
Best time to visit the Gir National Park?
It can be very hot in April and May, but this period is the best time for sighting the Asiatic lions. Artificial water bodies are created all over the forests to provide the animals with easy access to drinking water. This makes it easier for the visitors to find the elusive mammals, but the heat (it can touch 45°) can be unbearable. It would be prudent to visit the Gir National park from November to March when the weather is cool and pleasant. During the end of December and beginning of January, it gets very cold at night. The park remains closed from mid-June to mid-October every year due to the monsoon season.
Wildlife in Gir National Park?
The main attraction of the Gir National Park is the Asiatic lion, as it is the only place in the world where they exist now. Besides these beautiful creatures, the visitors can spot 2375 other types of fauna in the Sasan Gir. The most spectacular and popular species include Indian leopards (more than 300), striped hyenas, crocodiles, cobras, reindeer, sambar, jackal, fox, vultures, Indian Mongoose, wild boar, porcupine, Monitor lizard, jungle cats, eagle, owl, and many more rare species. All in all, the wildlife lovers are in for a memorable experience in the densely forested hills, plateaus, and valleys of the Gir forest.
How to plan for Jungle Safari in Gir National Park?
For visiting the jungle, you need to pre-book your Jungle safari well in advance. The permits are available online only and can be booked at girlion.gujarat.gov.in. You will need your identification details to book a safari. If you are an Indian citizen, the permit is going to cost you Rs.800-1000 for up to 6 persons. For foreigners, the entry fee for 6 persons is Rs.5600-7000. Besides this, the guide and open SUVs are available on spot and would cost you anything between Rs.2100-2400. Once you get a permit, you must reach the starting point half an hour before the safari for verification. They will check the ID proof of the member who made the online booking and give you the permit for safari. Private vehicles are not allowed in the jungle and a maximum of 6 persons are allowed in one jeep. In short, a Gir Jungle Trail would cost you
- Up to 6 persons: Rs3800 – Rs4800 (Indian Residents)
- Up to 6 persons: $200 – $240 (Foreign Residents)
There are 13 routes in the jungle that intermingle with each other at different points. You are pre-assigned a route by the forest authority and you have to follow the same route. The earlier you go, the more likely you are to getting a better route.
Approximate timings of Jeep Safari – The forest is open from Monday to Sunday. The duration of the safari is three hours. There may be slight variations in safari timings depending on the season.
Morning: 6:30 am to 9:30 am & 8:30 to 11:30
Evening: 3 pm to 6 pm
What are the chances of spotting the Asiatic lion in Gir National Park?
Local guides claim that you will spot a lion 80% of the time. However, the kind of sighting will vary according to the routes, time, and season. Try to book early morning safaris as lions are active at that time. During the day, they are usually sleeping in the bushes and can only be seen from a distance. The second option should be the evening safari and the last option the 8:30 am one. If you are visiting the park from March-May, the chances of seeing the lion are very good. The giant beasts wander about in search of water and that is your chance to spot them. The probability of spotting the lions with cubs is also good during summers.
Lions are often tracked with the help of a rescue team. They would find out the exact location of the lions and spread the word. You would soon see the jeeps clustering near the lion’s whereabouts. Unlike the African lions, Asiatic lions don’t live in large groups so you are likely to see 1-2 lions together versus a pride we normally see in African jungles.
In case, you are unable to get a permit or spot a lion during a jungle safari, you have another option. Go to Devalia Safari Park – a fenced part of the sanctuary where the rescued animals are kept. The sightings are 100% guaranteed, but it is more like a zoo. You don’t need to book beforehand and you are taken around in a bus.
Tourist Attractions in Sasan Gir?
In case you are staying in Sasan Gir for a couple of days and have some time between safaris, you can visit the local attractions like Kamleshwar Dam, Crocodile Breeding Farm, Tulsi Shyam Temple, and Zamzir Waterfall
If you have come this far and can afford to linger, it makes sense to visit nearby attractions.
- Somnath – It is believed to be the first of the 12 jyotirlingas of Shiva. It is a very important pilgrimage and tourist destination of India. Bhalka Tirth, Triveni Tirth, Prabhas Patar Museum, and Somnath Mahadev Temple are worth-visiting in Somnath. Somnath is around 70kms away from Sasan Gir
- Girnar – Situated 60kms from Sasan Gir, Girnar is one of the most ancient and sacred pilgrimages for the Jain community. Not only did Jain Tirthankara Neminath attain Nirvana at Girnar, but Hindu Lord Dattatreya also performed penance on the top of the hill. Due to its religious significance, several Jain and Hindu temples are built on the ridges and summit of the 3660-ft long hill. Previously, you had to climb 9,999 steps to reach the final summit, but now a ropeway has been started which drops you at Ma Ambaji temple that is located midway at 5000 steps.
- Diu Island – A popular beach destination, Diu is located 95kms from Gir. The island is popular for Diu fort, Naida Caves, St. Paul’s Church, Diu Museums, Panikota Fort, and multiple beaches.
Accommodation at Sasan Gir?
If you are looking for a luxury stay, you have three options. Woods at Sasan, The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest by Taj, and The Fern Gir Forest Resort. Woods at Sasan is the most expensive but has rave reviews. It is a contemporary new hotel with manicured gardens and lots of activities to keep you entertained. Taj hotel has the advantage of being located on the edge of the Gir forest and comes with the famed Taj hospitality.
Looking for budget accommodations? Check out Asiatic Lion Lodge, Gir Pride Resort, Hiran Holidays, and Carina Retreat.
Few Useful Tips for Gir National Park:
- If you are visiting the park during winters, carry sufficient warm clothes. During the early morning safari, you will need gloves, caps, scarves, and jackets. Wear layers that can be removed, as it starts getting hot during the day. Cover your faces and head with scarves and hats as you will soon be covered in dust
- The driver will stop the jeep once during the safari so that you can use restrooms. They have built portable washrooms in strategic locations for the convenience of visitors
- Carry your ID proofs with you, as they are checked at the safari gate
- Wear clothes in browns, greens, and other neutral shades that blend with the surrounding jungle.
- You have to pay Rs.200 to carry a professional camera inside the jungle. For foreign national, the charges are $20
- Plastic bottles, plastic packets, etc. are not allowed in the park. You will get thirsty during the safari, so carry water in steel bottles.
- It can get bumpy during the long drive and your mobiles, sunglasses, wallets may fall off from the vehicle. So, plan accordingly.
- Sunscreen, binoculars, comfortable walking shoes, extra clothing, cameras, etc. should be added to your packing list.
- Liquor is prohibited in the state of Gujarat and smoking is banned inside the park.
- Do not irritate or disturb the animals.
- Hiking, camping, and picnicking are not allowed within the park.
- You will find a few restaurants in the region, but all of them would be serving Gujarati or Indian cuisine.
Any more questions? I would be happy to answer them via the comment section below.