Gir National Park and Sanctuary are one of India’s finest wildlife sanctuaries located in an area of 1300 sq. km. of lush deciduous National Park., It is the final sanctuary of the rare Asian lion which trekked freely two centuries ago throughout Middle East and North and East of India.
Over the years, especially during the British rule, lions were hunted mercilessly by the British officers supported by the obliging Maharajas and Nawabs. Every Maharaja was glad of the number of lions or tigers he killed during his lifetime.
The famine of 1899 decimated the lion population so badly that Lord Curzon canceled his shoot in Gir National Park where he had been invited by the Nawab for a ‘Shikar’. Lord Curzon also advised the king to protect the remaining lions.
It became a major tourist attraction of India. The Government of India ie to the rescue of the lions when it banned lion hunts altogether in the mid-1960s. Now the Gir Forest is open only for photo-safaris. You can shoot the lion only with your camera.
Gir National Park – Into the Wild.
The Gir National Park Department organizes “Lion Shows” as part of conducted tours by jeeps. They make sure that you can see the lions at close range as they send trackers early morning on a mission to locate large groups and tempt them with live baits. Advance arrangements are necessary, preferably through your Indian travel agent.
If you wish to explore the Sanctuary on your own, jeeps can be tea with a guide. The cost is reasonably low, including per kilometer for the hire of the jeep with the driver.
Within the forest are the TULSISHYAM HOT SPRINGS in a scenic setting Here you can bathe in natural sulphur springs. It is about 90 km from the entrance to the sanctuary.
The forest area itself has shrunk by half since the turn of the century and what remains is the Gir National Park with a core area of 116 sq miles (300 sq km) which has been declared a National Park.
It is no longer connected to even the Girnar mountain where, until recently, lions were often reported on the outskirts of Junagadh city. Sasan Gir, with a forest rest house, is the headquarters of the Gir National Park.
The Gir National Park is a mixed deciduous type of forest with teak, ber, a flame of the forest.
A variety of acacia particularly babul and an occasional banyan tree. It is a hilly tract with many rivers and offers to the visitor long pleasant drive of quiet beauty
At the turn of the 19th – 20th Century there was a disastrous famine which lives in local memory as the “chappaniyo kal.” The lion’s prey population fell drastically and lions took to man-eating and their numbers declined drastically. It is believed that they were on the verge of extinction in 1913, with only about 20 animals left.
However, the Nawab of Junagadh, in whose domain most of the Gir forest fell, protected them vigorously and since independence in 1947 protection has continued, and lion hunting has been totally banned home of the Asiatic lion, there was an urgent need to establish their status.
The best way to observe lions is, of course, in their natural surroundings at dawn and dusk, when these predators are on the move. This can be done from a car as, owing to the protection given to them, they are not shy of motor vehicles.
Nevertheless, one cannot be certain about seeing them on all occasions. The Forest Department arranges lion shows every Sunday which become a Fair of scores of people watching lions attracted by a buffalo.
It is proposed that the Forest Department should discontinue the lion shows and instead set up a ‘safari park” in a fenced-off area of about 1000 acres (400 hectares) of the forest where seeing lions would be more certain.
The Asiatic lion is slightly smaller than its African cousin and its mane is smaller too.
Nonetheless, a large male lion of the Gir is indeed a sight to behold. A former Nawab, Sir Mahabat Khanji of Junagadh, ordered a series of Gir lion postage stamps for his state way back in 1929, thus making the Asiatic lion the first wild animal to figure philatelically in India.
There have been two attempts in the past at translocating lions both of which failed in the long run. The Gujarat State Government now proposes to establish a second home for lions in the Barda hills near Porbandar.
It is proposed to set aside a 70-sq-mile (180-sq-km) area for the purpose. The success of this enterprise will depend on the availability of prey animals and sufficient area for the lion population to take root undisturbed.
It was the obvious lack of these conditions which saw the end of the lions in this area some 80 years ago. Today the Barda hills area is no longer connected to the Gir as was the case then.
Man vs Wild.
The Gir National Park is famous for its cattle herders, the Maldharis, whose buffaloes form a substantial part of the lions’ food. These herdsmen live in small thorn-fenced set elements called names, which are well worth Visiting.
Extremely hospitable by nature, the Maldharis are herders whose life has changed but little over the years and their folklore and traditions are a unique record of coexistence of human beings with lions.
A major problem of the sanctuary continues to be the human population and their cattle herds, despite certain steps being taken to meet this situation.
For example, a rubble wall around the sanctuary prevents some herdsmen and their cattle from entering the sanctuary, but sizable human and cattle populations remain within it.
The cattle population within the sanctuary is estimated at 20,000, and these compete for food and territory with the wild ungulates.
Because of such disturbances, one does not in the Gir National Park, see sambar, chital, nilgai, etc. in such numbers and concentrations as one does in better-protected sanctuaries and national parks.
Actually, cattle form a very substantial part of a lion’s diet today, and, in seeming paradox, unless the Maldharis and their cattle are progressively removed.
The Gir’s natural prey population cannot increase; in fact, it will continue to remain under constant threat of epidemics and a sudden drastic reduction in numbers.
When to Visit Gir National Park.
The Gir National Park usually remains closed from June to October and the best time to visit the forest is between December and March. The summer temperature can be as high as 104°F (40°C) while in winter it can be as low as 43°F (6°C).
The sanctuary is open from mid-October to mid-June. November January and February are the best months to see the lions.
The Gir National Park has a wide variety of wildlife. Among them, besides the lion, are wild boar, bear, panther, antelope, hyena, leopard and the Indian Chowsingha the 4-horned antelope.
During monsoons, you can see in the forest some 200 varieties of birds.
06:30 AM to 08:30 AM,
08:30 AM to 10:30 AM and
03:00 PM to 05:30 PM.
How to Reach There?
By Air: The nearest airport is located at Diu at the distance of 91kms from the reserve range and Rajkot will be next convenient airport to Gir spotted at a distance of 160 km. From Mumbai, the visitors can take the daily flights to these two destinations towards Gir.
By Rail: One can visit by rail to Junagadh from Ahmadabad or Rajkot and then take a 64 km road trip on bus or taxi to Sasan Gir.
By Road: Gir National Park is 59 km from Junagadh, the most common base for making a visit, and 361 km away from Ahmadabad.
The main center is at Sasan Gir and has a forest guest house managed by the park, just opposite the railway station.
Entry Fees and Charges.
Visitors must obtain an e-permit, which gives access to Gir National Park, for the Gir Jungle route. The permit is issued per vehicle, with up to six occupants. The cost depends on the day you visit, with weekends and major public holidays being the most costly.
Entry fees are as follows.
Monday to Friday: 800 rupees for Indians and 5,600 rupees for foreigners.
Saturday and Sunday: 1,000 rupees for Indians and 7,000 rupees for foreigners.
During Festival Days (Christmas, Diwali, and Navaratri) and Vacation time:1,000 rupees for Indians and 7,000 rupees for a foreigner.
During festival periods, for which the higher charges apply, extend for about two weeks from the festival dates.
You’ll also need to pay for a guide to accompany you inside the Gir National Park (400 rupees). the rate of hiring a jeep (about 1,700 rupees, available at the entrance),
DSLR camera charge (200 rupees for Indians and 1,500 rupees for foreigners).