Ever wish to see a lion up close and personal? No, it won’t eat you and you can still be close to it. For a thrilling and maybe once-in-a-lifetime experience wherein you see lions roaming around free, come to the Gir Forest. This dry, deciduous forest is located about 65 km southeast from the historic Junagadh city of Gujarat.
Gir forest is the only place in the world, besides Africa, where you can see Asiatic lions (called “Babbar Sher” in Hindi).
Gir Forest, also called Sasan Gir, was declared a wildlife sanctuary by the government on September 18, 1965. The objective was to preserve the Asiatic lion species. The forest is spread in an area of 1412 sq kms. Out of this, 258 km is the core National Park area.
Indiscriminate hunting of lions by the British and the then royals had led to the decline of their population. They were already extinct in other parts of the Asian continent.
By the end of the 19th century, only 13 lions were left in India. They were all at the Gir Forest, which, at that time, was the private hunting ground of the Nawab of Junagadh. The drastic decline in the lion’s population perturbed the Nawab and he set up a sanctuary.
Later, the officials of the Department of Forest put in efforts to protect one of the most endangered species of the world – the Asiatic lions.
In 1912, the population of Asiatic lions was just 13. By 2015, the population, as per the 14th Asiatic Lion Census, was 523. Lion counting is done every 5 years.
The chief attraction of the Gir Forest are the Asiatic lions or “Babbar Sher.”
Apart from this, the forest houses about 300 leopards. This includes desert cat, jungle cat, and rusty spotted cat.
You can also spot Indian cobra, sloth bears, Indian mongoose, striped hyenas, Indian palm civets, golden jackels, ratels, nilgai, chital, sambar, chinkara, wild boar.
The world’s one of its kind four-horned antelope is found here. It is locally called Chowsingha. “Chow” means “four” and “singha” means “horns.”
Gir forest also has the marsh crocodile or the mugger. In 1977, Gujarat State Forest Department had carried out the Indian Crocodile Conservation Project under which they released around 1000 muggers into the Kamaleshwar Lake. Crocodile Breeding Farm is situated nearby the forest.
Gir Forest is the home of 300 bird species. The Indian Bird Conservation Network has declared this area as an important bird area. You can easily spot a crested hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle, and even the endangered bonelli’s eagle.
The forest is heaven for over 40 species of amphibians and reptiles. Apart from the mugger, you can find various species of snakes such as the King Cobra, saw-scaled viper, Russell’s viper, and Krait. Muggers can be found abundantly at Kamleshwar Lake located inside the sanctuary.
Cyclone Tauktae, which had wreaked havoc in Gujarat in May this year, uprooted lakhs of trees in the Gir Forest. However, the lions were safe in their sanctuary. According to Forest Department officials, the operation to lift the uprooted trees is on and it may take some time to complete it.
Why You Must Visit Gir Forest
Well, who doesn’t want to see Asiatic lions, that too, in their natural habitat, eh? Gir forest is paradise for wildlife lovers, photographers, bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, and anybody who wants to spend some time with the wild animals and birds in the lap of nature.
Things To Do
You cannot roam around the place just like that. A guided safari tour is the best thing to do here. You can also take an exclusive lion tour or bird watching tour.
The Gir Interpretation Zone stays open from Thursday to Tuesday from 8 am to 11 am and then from 3 pm until dusk. The park administration organizes three safari tours for tourists.
- First safari tour starts at 6:30 am
- Second safari tour starts at 9 am
- Third safari tour starts at 3 pm
All safaris feature 7 designated routes. A guide is present in all the safari tours.
- Kankai Mata Temple:
While on a tour, you must also visit Kankai Mata temple, which is located at the heart of the sanctuary. Please visit the temple only during the day.
- Tulsishyam Temple:
Tulsishyam temple is situated in the Gir forest, some 30 km from the town of Una in Junagadh district. The temple is famous for its hot water springs, which find a mention in the puranas as “taptodak.” As per historic reports, the temple is 1000 years old and dedicated to Lord Krishna.
- Girnar Hill:
Girnar Hill is one of the most special places to visit for Hindus. This is an ancient hill, 3672 feet high, located 5 km east from Junagadh city. It has 9,999 steps. It features 866 Jain and Hindu temples, including the famous triple temple of Mallinath, Goraknath temple located at the highest peak, and the Ambaji temple.
- Shakarbaugh Zoo
Shakarbaugh Zoo is located in Junagadh city and is the oldest zoo in Gujarat state. It was opened by the Nawab of Junagadh to control poaching of the Asiatic lion. Don’t miss the zoo museum while you are inside the zoo.
While you are in Gir forest, do not miss visiting the famous and enchanting Somnath temple, which is just around 50 km from Gir National Park and takes only an hour by road to reach the temple. It is located at the coast of Arabian Sea. You can easily find buses plying on the route.
Accommodation is no problem in Sasan Gir. You can find a range of hotels and resorts in and around the sanctuary.
Essentials To Carry
- Light clothing, as Junagadh has a warm climate. Winters are pleasant here, not freezing.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Food and water during the safari, as the forest has no eating outlets.
How to Reach?
To reach Sasan Gir, you must first come to Junagadh. This is the best route. Junagadh is well connected through rail network with important cities of Gujarat like Ahmedabad, Rajkot, and others. Gir forest is one and half hour distance from Junagadh railway station.
People coming from outside Gujarat can come to Ahmedabad or Rajkot through train or flight. From Rajkot, you can either take a local train or bus to Junagadh. Rajkot is 105 km from Junagadh (2-3 hours). You can also land at the Diu airport from where it takes around 2 hours to reach Sasan Gir (110 km).
Best time to visit Gir forest is in winter. The Gir National Park is open for tourists from October 16 to June 15.
Time to fix your date with the lion!