Gir is one of India’s oldest sanctuaries and is synonymous with the majestic Asiatic lion. Gir, the royal kingdom of the Asiatic lions is the perfect dwelling place for most of the wildlife creatures and with the presence of great environs and topography thronging along this region, the area has really got its true importance.
Also known as Sasan-Gir, or Gir forest, this is a forest and wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat, established in 1965. The Government of Gujarat has declared an area of 1412.1 sq km as Protected Area (PA) which comprises 258.7 sq km as National Park and 1153.4 sq km as Sanctuary. Besides this 470.5 sq km of forest area forms a buffer zone as reserve, protected and unclassified forest. Thus, a total area of 1882.6 sq km makes up the Gir forest.
Before independence, the Gir National Park was the hunting ground of tigers and lions for the Britishers accompanied by several Rajas and Maharajas of the region. By the time to save the more vulnerable acts like hunting and poaching, the Government of India banned the hunting process in the area in the year 1960 and today with an approachable count of increase in lions the area is only available for photo safaris. Today the park is recognized as one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species. The various initiatives and efforts by the Indian Government and the NGOs brought many changes in the population of the Asiatic lions in the years.
The largest compact tract of dry deciduous forest in the country, Gir has evolved to host a very stable ecosystem with tremendous regenerating, self-supporting and self-sustaining capacity due to its richness of biodiversity: 606 different plant species, 39 species of mammals, 37 species of reptiles and over 300 species of birds and more than 2,000 species of insects. A breeding ground for migratory birds, the avifauna of Gir includes a variety of raptors and many other significant species, including Lesser florican, Osprey, Indian pitta, Red-headed vulture, etc. It also supports a variety of reptiles, including the Indian python and the Indian star tortoise and possibly one of the highest populations of Marsh crocodile in the country. Gir also has one of the densest concentrations of leopards in India. The real feather in Gir is the presence of the Asiatic lion. The attraction of these ironic species coupled with the aesthetic beauty of the area and the close proximity to the Somnath temple, has made Gir a popular tourist destination.
The land of the Asiatic lion is the ideal reserve for the tremendous varieties of wild creatures to roam freely and safely. The group of the carnivores in Gir is truly comprised of the presence of Asiatic lions, Indian leopards, Indian cobras, Sloth bears, Jungle cats, Golden jackals, Indian palm civets, Striped hyenas, Indian mongoose and Ratels. Desert cats and Rusty-spotted cats exist but can be rarely seen.
The main herbivores genres of the residents of Gir are Chital, Nilgai, Antelope, Sambar, Four-horned chinkara and Wild boar. Blackbucks from the surrounding area can be occasionally identified in the sanctuary.
The group of smaller mammals will also include Porcupine and Hare where Pangolin is rare in Gir sanctuary. Being adopted under the Indian Crocodile Conservation Project in 1977, the Gujarat State Forest Department has used the reserve area where the area is also flourished with more than 300 species of birds. The scavenger group of birds has 6 recorded species of Vultures. Some of the typical species of Gir include Crested serpent eagle, Brown fish owl, Crested hawk-eagle, endangered Bonelli’s eagle, Rock bush-quail, Indian eagle-owl, Black-headed oriole, Pygmy woodpecker, Crested treeswift and Indian pitta.
In Gir, most of the area is comprised of rugged hills, with high ridges and densely forested valleys, wide grassland plateaus, and isolated hilltops. Around half of the forested area of the park is being stuffed with teak forest, with other floral varieties like khair, dhavdo, timru, amla, and many others. The other half is non-teak forest, with samai, simal, khakhro and asundro jambu, umro, amli, vad and kalam; mostly broadleaf and evergreen trees. The river Hiran is the only one to flow year-round; with rest of the inflows being seasonal. There are also areas of the park with open scrub and savannah-type of grassland.
Attractions in Sasan Gir
Kamleshwar Dam: This is the most requisite dam in the area being built over the Hiran river. Located inside the vicinity of Gir National Park, the Kamleshwar Dam actually serves as a lifeline of the reserve area where the tourists can find great varieties of marsh crocodiles.
Tulsi Shyam Temple: This is a famous temple in the area dedicated to Lord Krishna. People make a sure shot visit to this temple where major hot springs near to the temple are the other major attraction.
Crocodile Breeding Farm: The Crocodile Breeding farm near the Sasan Gir Reserve is an appealing place to learn about the breeding of the crocodiles.
Nearby Places to Visit
Somnath: This is one of the holy shrines of Lord Shiva being considered as one of the 12 jyotirlingas and is an important pilgrimage for Hindus where its riches were ransacked by invaders. The Prabhas Patan Museum has interesting architectural fragments and sculptures from the ruined temples. Somnath also has Lord Krishna’s cenotaph and bathing ghats at Triveni Tirth, a medieval Sun Temple, the historic Ahilya Temple, Bakhla Tirth where Krishna is said to have met his end and a cave temple.
Dwarka: At the distance of 225 kms from the reserve, Dwarka is one of the Char-dham yatras (four holy abodes) and one of the seven holiest cities of Hinduism. Dwarka has an important Krishna Temple, an attractive 12th-13th century Rukmani Temple, Sankracharya’s Math and the Nageshwar Jyotirlinga as its major attraction.
Veraval: Distance of 36 kms from the sanctuary, this is a fishing port of Veraval, known for its dhow-building yard where massive hand-built seaworthy vessels are made. This was once a port of the Nawab of Junagadh that holds old gates and historic buildings.
Jetpur: Jetpur is about 90 kms from the reserve area and is known as textile town being famous for its block and screen printing workshops and is an ideal place for shopping.
Girnar: Girnar at a distance of 60 kms from Sasan Gir is a 3660 feet long hill that rises on the outskirts of Junagadh with temples on ridges and on the summit. The presence of 12th century Jain temples at its heights is the major attraction of the location, being studded with exquisite carvings.
Diu Island: Diu Island at a distance of 95 kms was once ruled by the Portuguese and is now a Union Territory. The island is popularly known as a beach destination with the presence of a 16th century Portuguese fort, the impressive St Paul’s Church, Diu Museum and old houses. Flamingos, storks and waders can also be seen at the creeks of Diu.
To have a fantastic safari experience at Sasan Gir, the privilege of jeep safari with an assistance of a guide is beneficial. The Gir Forest Department also organizes “Lion Shows” for much fun. They make sure that you can see the lions at close range so they send trackers early morning on a mission to the located places and tempt them with live baits.
Other Attractive Activities
• The Maldharis Tribe Visit: The Maldhari tribe lives in the Gir forest peacefully with the lions. These tribesmen spent the better part of the year moving from one pastureland to another while their cattle graze on the grasslands. They earn their livelihood by milking the cattle and selling milk as well as milk products in the nearby markets. You will certainly come across some of their huts when you visit the Gir forest.
• Crocodile Breeding Center: It is a unique place in Sasan Gir where you can see adult and baby crocks, being bred here for restocking the sanctuary. Have your camera ready as the crocodiles are highly elusive when humans approach, therefore click them when they are basking in the sun. Be careful of coming near to water bodies here, as the crocodiles when in water look like floating logs from a distance, so it is always to keep a safe distance while watching them.
• Bird Watching: Gir is also home to more kinds of birds than any other park in Gujarat, yet somehow is not known for its birdlife. While it may not have the half-million flamingoes found in Kutch during breeding season, Gir is home to over 300 species of birds, many of which can be seen year-round, from the Malabar whistling thrush to the Paradise flycatcher, from the crested serpent eagle to the king vulture, from pelicans to painted storks. Usually the winter months of December and January are the best time for bird watching and hundreds of birds migrate from Europe.
• Devliya Safari Park: It is also known as Gir Interpretation Zone. This park is 13 km distance from Sasan and comprises of 412 ha chain link fenced area, carved out as a distinct eco tourism zone. It provides whole wildlife experience to tourists and reduces tourist overload from Gir National Park. Sighting of Asiatic lion and other wild animals of Gir are easy, within a short time span and at cheaper charges.
• The Siddis Tribal Visit: The Siddis are largely settled in the villages of Sirvan and Jambur in Talala taluka, adjoining the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, the last shelter of the Asiatic lion. Gir is unique as it offers the rare combination of lions and an African tribe outside of Africa. It is hardly 10 to 15 minutes drive from Gir Sancuary main gate to reach there.
How to Reach
By Air: The nearest airport is located at Diu at the distance of 92 kms from the reserve area and Rajkot will be next convenient airport to Gir located at the distance of 160 kms. From Mumbai, the tourists can catch the daily flights to these two destinations towards Gir.
By Rail: One can travel by rail to Junagadh from Ahmadabad or Rajkot and then take a 65 kms road trip on bus or taxi to Sasan Gir.
By Road: Gir National Park is 60 kms from Junagadh, the most common base for making a visit, and 360 kms away from Ahmedabad. The main centre is at Sasan Gir and has a forest guest house maintained by the park, just opposite the railway station.
Where to Stay
For the best accommodation facility at the Sasan Gir Reserve area many impressive lodges and resorts are available to make the wildlife journey more explicit. These lodges are credited with salubrious facilities and services to make your wildlife tour enjoyable and memorable.