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.
According to the latest census in 2015, the number of Asiatic lions in Gir and the surrounding area has increased by 27% since 2010. The total lion population has been recorded at 523, consisting of 109 male lions, 201 female lions, and 213 sub-adults and cubs. A total of 268 lions were sighted in Junagadh, 44 lions in the Gir-Somnath district, 174 in Amreli, and 37 in Bhavnagar.
Gir'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.
Gir National Park is situated 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, also known as Devalia Safari Park, 12 kilometers west of the village, at Devalia. It's an enclosed 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 Devalia Safari Park is open all year round, from Thursday to Tuesday (closed Wednesday), 8.00 a.m. until 11 a.m., and 3.00 p.m. until dusk.
Entry Fees and Charges
A Gir Jungle Trail entry fee, which grants visitors a permit to go inside Gir National Park, is payable per vehicle with up to six occupants. The cost depends on the day you visit, with weekends and major public holidays being the most expensive. Rates are as follows (see notification):
- Monday to Friday: 800 rupees for Indians and 4,800 rupees for foreigners.
- Saturday and Sunday: 1,000 rupees for Indians and 6,000 rupees for foreigners.
- Festival Days (Christmas, Diwali, and Navaratri): 1,000 rupees for Indians and 6,000 rupees for foreigner. Note that the 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 park (200 rupees), the cost of hiring a jeep (1,500-2,000 rupees, available at the entrance), and camera charge (200 rupees for Indians and 1,200 rupees for foreigners).
Foreign tourists need to be aware that it is costly to visit Gir, and that the camera fee is extremely (and unreasonably) high. As a result, many find the experience to be disappointing.
The fee for the Gir Interpretation Zone (Devalia Safari Park) is as follows:
- Monday to Friday: 150 rupees for Indians and 2,400 rupees for foreigners.
- Saturday and Sunday: 190 rupees for Indians and 3,000 rupees for foreigners.
- Festival Days: 190 rupees for Indians and 3,000 rupees for foreigners.
Online Booking of Safaris (E-Permits)
Safaris of both Gir National Park (Gir Jungle Trail) and Gir Interpretation Zone (Devalia Safari Park) can be booked online here. The earliest that bookings can be made is three months in advance, and the latest is 48 hours beforehand.
As from November 2015, all bookings (e-permits) for the Gir Jungle Trail 6 a.m safari slot must be made online. This decision was made to prevent the huge rush for permits and touts from selling permits to visitors.
Only a limited number of permits are issued per day. Apart from the 6 a.m. Gir Jungle Trail Safari, 50% of permits are issued at the park's reception center. If you haven't booked in advance, it's best to be at the permit office 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.
If you're part of a group, sort your jeep hire out first. Jeeps can hired from hotels and guesthouses, or 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.
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, at the safari entry point, 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. If you can't get accommodations there, try the budget Hotel Umang nearby. It's bookable online.
A bit cheaper, the Maneland Jungle Lodge, around three kilometers from the park entrance, is popular.
An excellent eco-friendly option is Asiatic Lion Lodge. It opened in early 2014 and is the first eco-tourism project at Gir.
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 many decent and inexpensive hotels on the way to the Gir Interpretation Zone at Devalia.