GIR FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Gir Forest National Park is located in the south west of the Saurashtra peninsula in the state of Gujarat. The National Park covers an area of 1421 sq, kms. There is an additional buffer zone of 500 sq. kms. In 1974 this area was declared a National Park and Nature Reserve. Gir Forest National Park is also known as Sasan Gir.
There are some perennial rivers like the Hiran, Saraswati, Datardi, Shingoda, Macchundi, Ghodavadi and Raval. Out of these rivers, only the Hiran flows year round but the others are full during monsoons only. There are four reservoirs and four dams including the largest dam, Kamleshwar Dam which is dubbed as the ‘lifeline of Gir’.
The lions were the most hunted animals. There were machans, slaves, nawabs and the British sahibs and their shikars. This was the hunting place of the Maharajahs and the British. The British had sophisticated weapons that decimated the lions to the point of extinction. The Nawab of Junagadh supervised the protection of these royal animals. In 1965, Gir was declared a Lion sanctuary.
The Park has densely forested areas with rugged hills with cragged ridges, wide grasslands and isolated plateaus. There are 96 species of trees including the jamun, khair, timru, amla and teak. There are 448 species of flowering plants. The forest has dry deciduous forest. The southern part of the park is flat land whereas the northern part is hilly. The forest falls in the part known as the Deccan Trap which is one of world’s largest volcanic areas. It is also known as one of the largest dry deciduous tracks in the world.
The Park is famous for its Asiatic lions. There are about 359 lions. These lions are not scared of humans. Apart from the lions there are 36 species of mammals like the leopards, jungle cats, jackals, hyenas, mongoose, ratel, pangolin, porcupine and rusty spotted cats, desert cats, civet cats and 33 species of reptiles like python, monitor lizard and the star tortoise. There are 300 species of birds including six recorded species of vultures, rock bush quail, peacocks, mottled owls, paradise flycatchers, owlets, crested serpent eagle , bonnali’s eagle, crested hawk eagle, brown fish owl great horned owl, pygmy woodpecker, black headed oriole and jungle crows. There are crocodiles in the rivers. There are more than 2000 species of insects. The herbivores found there are the Chital, Nilgai, Sambar, Four horned antelope, chinkara, wild boars and black bucks from the neighbouring sanctuaries are also found here. There are primates like the Hanuman Langurs. There are several varieties of deer like the hangul deer, swamp deer and the Sangai deer in the Park.
PLACES TO VISIT
- Crocodile Breeding Centre: This is in Sinh Sadan Lodge at Sasan and is about 10 kms inside, on the Hiran River. This is where the crocodiles are bred and then released in to the wild.
- Kamaleshwar Dam: This dam has the biggest catchment area in the Park. This is 10 kms. inside the Park from the entry gate.
- Tulsishyam: This is 135 kms away from the Park. There is a temple and the acrid smell of sulphur is present in the air near the hot springs.
- Gir Bhimchas: This is a water reservoir. Legend states that this was formed by Bhim for his mother when she told him that she was thirsty.
- Somnath: The temple in the place is legendary. It is only 55 kms. from the Park.
The park is inhabited by Maldharis, a community of graziers. They are a mild set of people who tend to their goats and lead a very simple life.
This Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Day safaris are arranged by the Forest Department. There is a Lion Camp Safari which covers lion sightings. There are several designated tourist trails which can be made with open jeeps. The Interpretation Centre has a 412 hectare zone where, in a chain linked fence, there are live shows of lions. The centre is open from 8 to 11 am and 3 to 5 pm and the entry fee is Rs.50/- for Indian nationals and USD 5 for the foreigners.
WHEN TO GO
The Park is open from October 16th to June 15th every year. Summers are really hot with temperatures running at 450C. The best time to visit is from late November to early March as the temperature at that time will be around 100C.
The entry point to the Park is at Sasan Gir which is at the south western border. The tickets are issued at the reception desk at the Sinh Sadan Guest House in the Forest Department Complex. The Forest Department also arranges for jeep safaris during the day. Open jeeps are also allowed but only with forest guides in it. The Intepretation Centre at Devalia, which is 11 kms. from the Park, also arranges safaris. The entry fees to the Park are: Indians, Rs.35/- for Indians; US$5 for foreign nationals. The vehicle fee is Rs.35/- for India and US$ 4 for foreigners. Guide fees are Rs.50/- for the first 4 hours and Rs.230/- for every additional hour. The hire for a Jeep within the park is Rs.600/- per safari. The fee for still cameras is Rs.50/- for Indians and for foreigners, it is US $ 5. The video fee is Rs.2500/- and US$200. The Park is open from 8 to 11 am and from 3 to 5 pm.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Park is located 415 kms. south west of Ahmedabad. The place is south east of Junagadh, 60 kms. away. The park is 43 kms. north east of Somnath and 60 kms. south west of Amreli. The nearest airport is in Ahmedabad 415 kms and Rajkot, 160 kms. away. The nearest railway station is in Junagadh, 65 kms away. The road from Junagadh is smooth. There are buses also from Junagadh.
There is a guest house within the park. Permission to stay is required and can be availed from Deputy Conservator of Forest, Wildlife Division, Sasan Gir, Junagadh District. The e- mail id is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sasan Gir has a number of government run forest bungalows and a few privately run hotels. These hotels will fit in to any budget but will have to be booked in advance. Some of the hotels are:
- The Lion Safari Camp: The starting tariff is Rs.9000/- for two persons for 2 nights and 3 days. It includes one jungle safari and meals for the day. The place is situated in a charming orchard in Bacheel Village and overlooks the Hiram River. There are 20 luxury tents with toilets and a restaurant overlooking the river.
- Sinh Sadan: The tariff is upwards of Rs.500/-. There are 15 rooms and there is a canteen where the meals are quite economical.
- The Maneland Jungle Lodge: The hotel has self contained bungalows with two rooms and a living room for Rs.8000/-. The tariffs start from Rs.3500/- and is in Sasan.
- Hotel Annapurna: This lodge is opposite the entry to the park. There are 10 rooms and the tariff starts at Rs.350/- but it does not include meals.
- Hotel Rajshree: An economically budgeted hotel, the tariff in the hotel starts at Rs.350/- and is strictly for people who rough it up. There is a restaurant that serves Gujarathi meals.