The Asiatic Lions only home is in Gir National Park Gujarat. There are around 520 Lions, Lioness and cubs in the wild of Sasan Gir National park. I have been to Gujarat a few times and during one of my trip, I went to Sasan Gir to see the Lions in the wild. Watching a wild animal in its natural surroundings has its own charm. If it’s a big cat like Lion or Tiger then excitement increases much time.
My experience at Sasan Gir National Park Safari
We reached the Sasan Gir town by late afternoon and we decided to do an early morning safari following day. It is recommended to do early morning or evening safari because they are nocturnal animals. During the morning and evening, they are on move busy eating or moving to water sources. As the sun rises and temperature increase they prefer to rest in shades.
I could not make an online booking because there was some issue with the website when I decided to travel to Sasan Gir. But I made a mistake and did not ask my resort to book a safari for us. When I reached in Sasan Gir, I have only one option left i.e. to reach the booking office of Gir National Park at 5.00 AM to book a safari for 6.00 AM.
There were some people at the gate and they allowed inside the main gate. The booking counter opened after 5.30 PM. We were lucky to get safari as required but sometimes its difficult to get a booking. Book a safari in advance to avoid any trouble at a later stage.
They allow the private vehicle inside the Sasan Gir national park core area but it should be a Euro 3 amenable petrol vehicle. We decided to go by jeep, which can accommodate up to 6 people. We were two and got the whole jeep to our self. I personally feel there is no fun in going for a safari in a closed vehicle, the open jeep has its own charm in the jungle.
They allowed us inside the Gir National park at sharp 6.00 AM. We hired a guide, which is mandatory for all safaris in the park.
We drove only for a km into the park and our guide started pointing towards pugmarks on the side of the trail. He told us that pug marks belong to an adult lion, as usual, I got excited at the chances of spotting a Lion. We moved slowly for some time but there was no sign of any wildcat.
After visiting Sariska Tiger reserve, Panna Tiger reserve, Corbett Tiger reserve, and Ranthambore Tiger reserve, I have learned one thing. As soon as you are few hundred meters into the park, the guide will stop the vehicle and show pug marks of wild cats. In most cases, I didn’t see any Tiger or Leopard after spotting the pugmarks. After my experience of safari at different places, I feel this is a technique to create excitement among people and nothing more.
Noticing our disappointment, guide assured that we are driving towards an area where he spotted 3 adult lions a day before.
As we were driving in the jungle, our guide showed us huts of Maldharis people, who live in the Gir forest area from centuries.
We reached the male Lions territory and drove around for some time but noticed nothing. The vegetation was a bit dry even though it was months of November. We spotted a few wild animals and there was nothing much.
Our guide noticed a forest guard of “Siddi” tribe and asked him about Lions. They spoke in local language Gujarati and we understood only half of the conversation. He told he had not spotted any Lion since morning.
Our hopes to watch a Lion in the wild were dying with the passing time because we were inching towards our time to exit the Gir national park. To be honest, there was nothing much to see in terms of animals and vegetation.
As we were driving in the park without any purpose, a forest guard stopped our jeep and explained something to the guide. Our guide informed that there is Lioness in a nearby forest with her cubs. We reached the area and found a few forest guards. They confirmed there are two Lioness with cubs and they are enjoying their hunt. The Lioness and cubs were little inside the cluster of trees.
The forest guards noticed our enthusiasm for Lions and instructed the driver. Finally, we were few meters away from the Lioness and cubs. One Lioness was resting and another one was enjoying her meal with the cubs. They were making purring sounds, which were exciting as well as scary. We watched them for some time and then moved back because other vehicles also came after getting the news of Lioness & cubs in the area.
It was an exciting experience and feel. After that, we drove here and there in the forest for the next 30 minutes but found nothing.
We didn’t see a male Lion but we were lucky to see Lioness and cubs.
After finishing our Gir national park safari, we started for our next destination Somnath.
Some facts about Sasan Gir National Park and Information
The Sasan Gir national park is also known as Gir National Park. Before independence, it was the private hunting ground of Nawabs of Junagarh. In 1965 the government declared it protected the area for Lions. The 258 square km was declared fully protected as a national park and 1,153 square km was declared a wildlife sanctuary.
At one point in time there were less than two dozen Lions left in this century but after efforts of government with NGO’s, now Sasan Gir National park has 520 Lions/Lioness/cubs. The lions found in India are known as Asiatic lions and they are comparatively less muscular and smaller in comparison to African lions.
Sasan Gir national park is the only natural habitat of Asiatic Lions in Asia. There are four reservoirs in the area at four dams, these full fill the water requirement of national park. But in summer months or when there is less water due to drought, forest department make sure that there is water available for animals.
Other than an Asiatic lion, Sasan Gir national park has Indian leopard, jungle cat, hyena, jackal, mongoose, cats, chital, nilgai, sambar, four-horned antelope, chinkara, blackbuck and wild boar.
As I mentioned above, I have seen some huts of Maldharis in the core area of Gir national park. They are nomadic people, who are living here from centuries and refused to leave the forest after the government’s initiative to protect the area for wildlife. These people live here fearlessly in the jungle.
According to a recent estimate, there are 450 families living in the Sasan Gir national park. They live in harmony with the Lions and other wild animals, which is in a way very interesting concept.
Sasan Gir National park is the only national park in India where the government has employed women forest guards.
Siddis of India in Sasan Gir
Our resort had a dance program in the evening where Siddi people performed the folk dance known as Dhamaal. These people are believed to be bought in India by Portuguese in 17th Century and since then they are living in India.
When I went for safari I noticed there were some of the Siddis outside safari booking office and during the safari I came across a forest guard of Siddi tribe.
The government has taken an initiative to give them jobs and they work in the Sasan Gir national park. These people speak flaunt Gujarati and many of them speak Hindi also. It seems strange initially because the initial reaction is how can African people are speaking the Gujarati language.
The Siddis of India are believed to the descendants of the Bantu people in East Africa. The Siddis are spread along the coast of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh but their maximum population is in Sasan Gir Gujarat.
Siddis are an isolated and reclusive community because they sometimes face discrimination due to their looks. They prefer to live in smaller towns and mainly into agriculture.
After the increase in tourism, some of the Siddi men have made folk dance form Dhamal their profession. In this dance form male dancers, with their bodies and faces painted, move energetically to drum beats. Their moves, style and the rhythm are similar to African folk dance.
Best time to visit Gir national park
The Gir National Park remain closed from 16th June to 15th October every year. The best time to visit Sasan Gir national park is between December to March.
How to do Gir Safari Booking and timing
The number of vehicles allowed in the park every day for each time slots is limited. There are 30 permits for each time slot though on weekend and public holidays, they issue 50 permits for each time slot. There are 7 different zones for safari and these are allocated randomly.
It is better to do online advance booking for safari through the official website of Gir National Park. Or you can always get it done through the resort, where you have the plan to stay during your visit.
There are 3 safaris in Gir National Park.
1.) 6.00 to 9.00 AM 2.) 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM 3.) 3.00 to 6.00 PM
Sasan Gir national park entry fees
Guide and vehicle are allotted at the booking office and you have to pay them separately.
The cost break up is –
* Cost of Permit is same for up to 6 person – 800 INR for Indian and 5600 INR for Foreigners. On weekends and public holidays, it cost 25% extra.
* Guide charges are 400 INR
* Jeep/Gypsy charges are 1700 INR and it can accommodate 6 people.
* A safari cost most economical if you are 6 people together and for a single person, it cost most expensive. Try to coordinate with other people to reduce the cost.
Devalia forest park in Gir Interpretation Zone
This 412-hectare chain fenced area represents ‘Gir in a nutshell’ and covers the wildlife of Gir. Devalia is more like an open zoo, where animals are kept in open and they take tourists in Jeep/Gypsy or buses.
This is not exciting and my advice is to skip this if you have already sighted a Lion/Lioness.
P.S. I have not done this myself and these inputs are from another fellow traveler.
How to reach Sasan Gir
Junagadh to Sasan Gir is 80 Km, Somnath to Sasan Gir is 67 Km, and Diu to Sasan Gir is 65 Km.
There are direct buses for Sasan Gir from all major cities in Gujarat. The buses are the best possible option to reach Sasan Gir.
There are direct trains to Rajkot and Veraval from Ahmedabad but you have to travel by bus afterward.
Where to stay in Sasan Gir
We stayed in Asiatic Lion Lodge, the rooms were big and clean. It is in close proximity of Gir national park.
We had a short trip to Gir National Park and we enjoyed every moment of it.