Sasan Gir National Park & Lion Sanctuary is the last home of the Asiatic Lion. Spread over an area of 1412 square kilometers near Junagadh district in Gujarat, Sasan Gir is a dry deciduous habitat for the lions, dominated by short and gnarled teak trees , thorn bushes and grassland.
Gir has a strange beauty in its harshness. I visited Gir at the onset of the hot and dry Indian summer in early May. Most of the vegetation had turned a golden yellow mixed with shades of brown. In this bleak and dusty landscape one came across a few green oasis’s around the many rivers that run run through Gir. The starkness of the contrast is truly a Gir experience.
While Sasan is rightfully best known as the home of the lion, it is by no means the only inhabitant of the forest. Gir’s bio-diversity rivals any National Park in India and supports over 450 plant species, 32 mammals, 310 birds, 24 reptiles and over 2,000 insects.
If it was not for the lions, Gir would be known as the place to see Leopards, Spotted Deer (Chital), Peafowl and raptors. To sight 2 leopards, in broad daylight, in a matter of 2 days is a rarity in any Indian jungle but not uncommon in Gir. And Gir has over 30,000 Chitals which is an average of 20 animals per sq./km !!
Other mammals a visitor will normally encounter in the forest are Nilgai, Sambar, Chousinga, Wild Boar, Ruddy Mongoose, Langurs, Jungle cats, Striped Hyenas, Indian Porcupine ( I saw a quill), Chinkara and domestic cattle owned by the Maldharis, a unique clan of graziers who live cheek by jowl with the lions together with their famous Gir cattle and buffaloes.
The avian species is well represented and I came across the following : Spoonbill, White Ibis, Black Ibis, Paradise Flycatcher, Honey Buzzard, Redheaded Merlin, Bonelli’s Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpant Eagle, Painted Sandgrouse, Blossomheaded Parakeet, Spotted dove, Spotted Owlet, a variety of Flycatchers , and of course the more common Indian birds
How to reach: Sasan is 100kms from Diu , 160 kms from Porbander and 160kms from Rajkot. All three points are connected by air. An ideal connection from Mumbai ( the nearest metropolis) is Mumbai – Diu by air, Diu to Sasan by road ( 2 hours), Sasan to Porbander by road( 2 1/2 hours) and Porbander to Mumbai by air. Keshod is the closest airfield (70 kms) but is currently closed. Train and bus services are also available and Junagadh and Veraval are the usual start points.The roads in Gujarat are average and average driving speed is 50 kms/hour for most parts.
Where to stay: The Gir Lodge run by the Taj Group ( Tel: Sasan Gir: 91-02871-85501/04 or Fax: 91-85528 ) is inside the forest and provides superior accomodation. The Lodge will normally arrange for your trips into the forest ( open 4 wheel drives) and local trips including Devaliya, a Nature Iinterpretation Centre 12 kms from Sasan. Devaliya is 16 square kms of Gir enclosed by wire netting, trapping inside it a pride of lions and a large number of ungulates.Worth a visit if you do not catch the king in the open forest.
Alternative budget accomodation is provided by the Forest Department which runs the Sinh Sadan Guest House, which has large rooms amidst well-kept gardens.