Gir National Park: The Complete Guide

Lions at Gir National Park

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Gir National Park

Address
Gujarat, India
Phone +91 2877 285 540

Gir National Park is located in the state of Gujarat in west-central India. Here, 545 square miles (1,412 square kilometers) of hilly, dry scrubland serves as a wildlife sanctuary for the Asiatic lion (the only place in the world where these creatures still exist). Once almost hunted to extinction and listed as critically endangered in the year 2000, Asiatic lion numbers have recovered well due to conservation efforts that date back to 1965. According to a recent census, the total population of lions residing in Gir National Park numbers 674.

Gir's specific ecosystem makes it a preferred habitat for other animals, as well, like jackals, leopards, antelope, and deer. The seasonal rivers and four human-made reservoirs here are home to crocodiles. These watering holes attract over 300 species of resident birds, as well. Droves of visitors flock to this park each year (even though it's considered an expensive trip) to attend a bucket list safari tour that puts them face-to-face with Asiatic lions in the wild.

Things to Do

Most people come to Gir National Park to see the park's two most prized predators: lions and leopards. They embark on jeep safari tours, complete with guides, that take them on one of the pre-determined safari routes in the park. A three-day safari, which includes lodging, delivers maximum opportunities for wildlife viewing, as this multi-day experience is timed perfectly.

You can also access the park with a private vehicle (for a fee), but certain restrictions apply, and you still must hire a guide. Or, you can also opt for a shorter, guided minibus tour that takes you through the park's Interpretation Zone, a fenced-off compound located off-site. This option allows you to view a cross-section of the park's of wildlife, including lions, within a 20- to 30-minute drive.

Avid birders flock to Gir to discover the area's 300 species of birds, including the critically endangered white-backed and long-billed vultures. A two-day birdwatching tour, guided by local experts, can accommodate as little as two people, as well as larger groups.

Lastly, mingle with the distinctively dressed Maldhari (a tribal herder community). Only approximately 1,000 native people still live on the grounds of Gir National Park, as the large predators consume about one-quarter of their livelihood of cattle and buffalo.

Unfortunately, hiking is not permitted in Gir National Park. There are no trails within the sanctuary due to the prevalence of lion and other predator encounters.

Jeep Safari Tours

The Asiatic lion is a sure sighting on a jeep safari tour. Encounters with the Indian leopard, jungle cat, hyena, desert cat, honey badger, and mongoose are also prolific. Trained drivers and guides will take you on one of eight driving routes in the park where you may also see blackbucks, boar, chinkara, chital, and the rare four-horned antelope.

In order to hire a jeep (gypsy), you must first buy a permit for either Gir National Park (Gir Jungle Trail) or the Gir Interpretation Zone (in the neighboring Devalia Safari Park). Permits can be obtained in advance and must be presented at the reception center in the government-owned Sinh Sadan guesthouse (the safari entry point). Arrive around 30 to 45 minutes before your scheduled safari departs so that you have plenty of time to check-in and meet your guide and vehicle.

Upmarket hotels also conduct their own jeep safaris, albeit at a higher rate, and will take care of all the arrangements, including bookings and permits. This preferable option, particularly for foreigners, takes the guesswork out of the inevitable itinerary challenges that may come with a DIY adventure.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are several lodging options both at the park's entrance and just outside the park's boundary. If you're looking to save money and don't mind staying farther away, choose from a few inexpensive hotels on the route to the Gir Interpretation Zone.

  • Sinh Sadan: Located at the entrance to the sanctuary sits Sinh Sadan, the park's most economical lodging option and the place where the local tourists stay. The guesthouse is nestled among lush gardens, and rooms offer a choice of air conditioning or not. Do note—this lodging option is a challenge to book, as reservations need to be made within one month of travel and can only be taken by phone or fax. Also, rates here are higher for foreigners.
  • The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest: This hotel offers a more luxurious stay right on the outskirts of the Gir Forest. Here, you can enjoy rooms and luxury suites—some with a view of the river or the garden—which include en-suite bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, and a spacious balcony. An on-site spa and fitness center helps you unwind after a long day of safari-touring, and the hotel's restaurant serves regional, home-style cuisine.
  • Woods at Sasan: Mindful travelers may want to consider a stay at the eco-conscious Woods at Sasan. This lodging option is ideal for safari-goers looking for a wellness experience, as it specializes in personalized Ayurvedic treatments and yoga. The carefully curated property offers stand-alone studios and villas with up to three bedrooms, situated in an 8-acre mango orchard on the fringe of the forest.
  • Maneland Jungle Lodge: Located about two miles from the park's entrance is the popular and inexpensive Maneland Jungle Lodge, which features a grand lodge and 17 jungle cottages. Choose from deluxe rooms or a deluxe villa, all with air conditioning, and enjoy locally sourced and homegrown organic delicacies at the hotel's restaurant.

How to Get There

Gir National Park is situated in the southwest part of Gujarat state, 360 kilometers from Ahmedabad, 65 kilometers from Junagadh, and 40 kilometers from Veraval. The entrance to the park is located at Sasan Gir Village and includes the park's reception and orientation center. The Gir Interpretation Zone is about 7 miles (12 kilometers) west of the village, at Devalia. And, the nearest major airport is in Ahmedabad, about seven hours away, with smaller airports in both Rajkot (three hours away) and Dui (two hours away).

The nearest train station in Junagadh offers the easiest way to access the park. Trains run directly from both from Ahmedabad and Rajkot, and then it's an hour-and-a-half drive to Sasan Gir. You can hire a taxi from the train station, or public buses run regularly to Sasan Gir.

Alternatively, you can book a private bus from Ahmedabad to Sasan Gir and have it drop you right next to the Sinh Sadan guesthouse and reception center. It's more convenient than the train, but the journey takes seven hours.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The most popular time to visit Gir National Park is December through March. However, it can get very crowded during these peak times, rendering long waits. Alternatively, come during the hot and dry season (from March through May), as animals are easily spotted during this time when they congregate near the water's edge.
  • Embark on a morning safari when the lions are the most active. Lions tend to sleep throughout the day and are harder to spot on a mid-day tour.
  • Gir National Park is open from mid-October until mid-June, with jeep tours starting at 6:30 a.m., 9 a.m., and 3 p.m. The Gir Interpretation Zone is open year-round, Thursday to Tuesday (closed Wednesday), 8 a.m. until 11 a.m., and 3 p.m. until dusk (around 5 p.m.).
  • Safari bookings can be made through the park up to three months in advance, and within 48 hours before a scheduled tour. Only 30 vehicles are allowed in the national park at a time, so permits for the Gir Jungle Trail are limited and can only be booked online.
  • The eight safari routes are randomly assigned by a computer (along with a driver and guide) when you present your permit. Vehicles must all move in one direction along the route, without reversing or diverting.
  • E-permits to Gir National Park are issued per vehicle, with up to six occupants. The cost varies, depending on the day of the week, with weekends and public holidays being the most expensive.
  • If you're planning a DIY experience, prepare to pay for a guide to accompany you inside the park, a jeep, and DSLR camera charge. (The camera fee for foreigners is unreasonably high. As a result, many find the experience to be disappointing and not worth the money.)
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Gir National Park: The Complete Guide