Located in the far reaches of India, Sasan Gir can seem daunting to visit. Read this now for everything you need to know about getting the best for your experience.
Sasan Gir and the surrounding town of Junagadh are well worth the time and effort to get here. Here you will find India at its most spectacular and its most raw.
Gujarat is underrated and often missed entirely by most backpackers as they pass on their way to more popular states like Rajasthan or Maharashtra, which is a shame. Gujarat has an incredible natural, cultural and historical heritage.
I want to help my readers explore this underdog state and get the most out of their time. I want to discuss what it is like to travel to a little of this enchanting corner of the Indian subcontinent.
By writing this post, I hope to steer more of my readers to Gujarat, as this state is like no other. While it is an expensive state to move around in, I have found it to be well worth every rupee.
Its unique identity, customs, culture, food and wildlife will satisfy whatever you seek on your journey to this incredible country.
Sasan Gir national park is one of a kind, literally! The whole world’s population of Asiatic Lions live in this one national park, around 700.
As well as the stars of the show that people fly from around the world to see you can also find 38 mammals, 300 species of birds, 37 species of reptiles and more than 2,000 species of Insects.
All this incredible diversity is set in a low thorny acacia forest. The local Siddi people will further baffle your orientation as they are clearly of African descent. This fabulous place cannot possibly fail to Impress, and that’s why I am giving a detailed guide to India’s wild west.
700 Lions doesn’t sound like a lot when you consider every last one living here. However, the truth is that it is way more than the park’s carrying capacity.
Crowding leads to conflict between the lions and the local people as they spread their range ever further. These animals will eat domestic livestock and have attacked people numerous times, so you can imagine their presence is controversial. Deforestation only encroaches on their habitat further and is definitely not helping the situation.
There are no plans yet to move some of these magnificent creatures to other national parks. I suspect that’s just greed to monopolise the whole world’s population, so if you want to see them, you must come here.
It is not cheap to visit, but I will do what I can to try and explain how to save a little money. The cost is why not many foreigners come this way, if I am honest.
Asiatic Lions are slightly smaller than their African cousins due to the harsh conditions they endure. They have skin folds that run across their bellies and smaller manes. The real difference is how they live. They live in a matriarchal society, and the usually older female leads the pride.
An Asiatic lion pride are typically related and tends to be smaller than those found in Africa. Males only come to breed, and they compete for their mating grounds. If a competitor takes over another dominant Lions territory, they will kill any offspring to bring the lioness back into mating.
These are the Lions used in ancient Rome’s Colosseums and once roamed to Persia. Towards the end of the British Raj era, there were not more than 20 left on earth, so their story is one of optimism and hope for other species. It shows we can save populations of animals if we try.
David Attenborough has a fantastic documentary on Gujarat’s wildlife, and who doesn’t like him? Here is the link to that. Enjoy.😎
Aside from the Lions, this national park has one of Asia’s most significant collections of carnivores. The 38 species of mammals include the Striped Hyena, Honey Badger, Indian Leopards, ruddy mongoose and some very rare animals such as the Rusty Spotted Jungle Cat.
The birdlife is both apparent and out of this world. There are so many species to feast your eyes on here. Some of my favourites are the Indian Pitta, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Indian roller and any of the six species of vultures found inside the park. For a complete checklist, check out this birders website.
Moving around the area independently is very hard as the government are highly overprotective of safety.
When the Safari starts, it is hard to stop and see anything as the jeeps want to show you lions before the other vehicles scare them off. The jeep drove so fast that I thought we might go back in time as we raced across the bumpy roads until we found our first lions.
Ironically, the lions didn’t care how many jeeps there were, so it all seemed unnecessary. You will be hard-pressed to find a guide who knows about the birdlife as they just want to show you the big hitters, so those walks are a treat.
You will notice a few settlements inside the park and these belong to the Maldhari people, who live a very ancient and uneasy lifestyle with the wildlife inside the park.
Sharing life with 700-odd lions roaming around must be challenging, but they do. Every night their villages are surrounded by a fence of thorns that keeps them safe. Although they lose many animals throughout the year and the locals themselves are attacked sporadically.
I wanted to stay in their villages, but it is costly, and you have to apply for permission in New Delhi. Approximately 450 families are living in this timeless tradition.
The African culture you see has been in India for centuries when an east African princess married the nawab of Junagadh. She bought many local people over to India to act as her bodyguards and lay the railroads. They made a home in villages fringed by the forests of Gir. To find out more, there is a short documentary I highly recommend.
I have covered what you can expect, so now I will talk about how to get here, where to stay and how to save a little bit of money.
Now I have told you how wonderful it is, let us talk about the bad part. The cost of visiting this park is crazy, and there is no cheating as all bookings are made online.
|Days||Particulars||Indian (In Rs.)||Foreigner (In Rs.)|
|Note: In one E-permit maximum of 6 (+1*) persons will be allowed.|
* Only one child between 3 to 12 years will be allowed.
* The permit doesn’t include the Guide charge (Rs. 400 only) and Gypsy cost (Rs. 1700 only), which must be paid separately to respective Guides and Gypsy vehicle owners.
That is the current information from the government website. Please don’t hurt yourself further by using an agent, as they will levy a charge on top.
You will need to do more than one Safari to maximise your chance of seeing the Lions. There is also a 200 rupee charge for a nonprofessional camera. Do a safari on a weekday to save a bit of money, and it is not so busy either.
Do your safaris in the height of summer as there will be less greenery and you can see more wildlife. The heat is intense, so get the early morning or evening safaris when wildlife is more abundant. While costly, the park is dripping in biodiversity and worth the money for any animal enthusiast.
There are many hotels around the national park. However, this post is aimed at those who want to save money. If money is no issue, then the hotel gateway is terrific!
Regarding places to stay on a budget, I found only two options. Those are Nitin Ratanghayara Family Rooms or Hotel Umang.
The rest are geared towards domestic tourists, which is considerably more expensive. The first gets good reviews, but my personal experience was when I got off the bus, I was greeted by very cocky young males who just presumed I was going to stay there and I was, in all fairness. But they were very rude, so I walked to the second.
Hotel Umang was just fine for a night’s rest. The staff was friendly enough, and the food was good. The staff organised walks around, and that maximised my experience in a big way. They want 500 rupees to walk you around the farmland and to a dam, but it is well worth it.
The cost of the comfortable rooms is negotiable. Since they appeal mainly to foreigners and given the cost of the park, it is safe just to walk in and bargain.
Eating non-Indian food is hard here. There are some tasty Dhabas near the bus stop and they are reasonably priced. If you want coffee in the morning, I found Hotel Gateway makes a buffet breakfast that outsiders can pay for.
The hotel is fantastic, and it is not crazy expensive for the food. There is a beautiful garden you can sit and watch the wildlife, and the western breakfasts are excellent. The hotel is a short walk from the bus stop and down a dirt track signposted from the main road.
Buses frequently run from Junagadh to Sasan Gir, and there is also a slow unreserved train that you can take at 5.58 pm. Taxis operate from the train station into town, but I’m not sure why, as it is less than ten a minute’s walk.
Also, the patch of scrubland at the back of the train station is a good place for spotting wildlife, but if you carry on to the road, you may be pulled over because the government is very protective of your safety. Some may say a little too much, in all fairness.
Junagadh is the gateway to Sasan Gir and most travellers whizz past it, which is a shame as this place has plenty of charm.
There are plenty of historical sights and it is the starting point for the sacred Hindu pilgrimage site to the impressive Girnar hill. In fact, the whole surrounding landscape is remarkable. With a complete lack of tourists, there is no hustle, which is refreshing. It leaves you to wander the streets and take in all the sights and sounds of the city in relative peace.
There are plenty of these, so budget a couple of days to look around this small yet exciting town. It may be a small town by Indian standards, but there is plenty to see. Let’s start with the most famous.
The area the fort now sits on was originally built in the era of Chandragupta in 319 bc. It has been built on throughout the ages since then.
There is now a charge to enter the fort: a humble 100 rupees for foreigners and 5 rupees for Indian nationals. The fort contains a mosque, step wells, a city gate and some Buddhist caves that are an additional cost.
These archaeological sights are not maintained at all and are woefully under-loved. It is still a pleasure to visit and well worth the time.
The Mausoleum is a rare example of Euro – Islamic architecture. Relatively unloved, it still stands majestically and looks like something from a fairytale.
The dome and the miners are Islamic, yet the sculptures and the pillars are distinctly gothic, giving this place a very unusual feel. Constructed in 1896, Despite years of neglect and pollution, the elegance of the building is awe-inspiring.
Right next door, this elegant Mausoleum is yet another example of Euro, Islamic architecture. I have never seen anything like it before and it is well worth the walk. It was built by Nawab Mahabat Khan II of Junagadh (1851–82). Notice the delicately carved french windows in the picture above.
Girnar is a group of mountains just outside of town and is an important pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Jains. Some temples and shrines date back as early as the 12th century. To walk alongside the pilgrims is a delight, and your memories of doing so will last a lifetime.
However, I must make it clear this is not an afternoon stroll. There are 10,000 steps to the summit, and you must start to walk at dawn to avoid the heat. Start when it is still dark, as it will take a full day up and down. The entrance to the start of the walk is 4km out of town. Expect to pay at least 100 rupees for a rickshaw.
Photography is allowed along the trail but not inside the temples. There is no cost for you to walk the route.
I feel obliged to warn you that it is no small undertaking and I would strongly recommend you have a reasonable fitness level to try it. It’s 10ooo steps up a mountain, after all.
There is one clear winner for me, and that’s Geeta lodge. It serves Vegetarian Gujarati food and allows you to sample some of the local flavours.
The food is perfectly cooked, and there is a lot of it! All are served by an army of waiters keen to ensure you have a pleasant experience. I strongly recommend it if you get dessert for a few extra rupees. This place is hugely popular with locals and it’s not hard to see why.
There are lots of dhabas around the train station that provide the usual meals and I’m guessing they will do just fine.
You have to be a little selective when choosing a place to get a night’s sleep here, as many of the cheaper hotels attract a very dubious clientele as they often double up as brothels. I stayed in Gautam Guest House on Kalwa Chowk; This is the best economical option in town.
I found it clean with friendly service, albeit a very basic place. They do not have a website, so I cannot provide a link. A Rickshaw from the train station or bus stand should never be more than 60 rupees.
Another more upmarket option is the lotus hotel on station road. It is a bright, clean hotel but will cost at least three times as much for a night’s sleep than the Gautam guest house.
Gautam guest house will set you back a few hundred rupees whereas the lotus hotel will cost at least 2000 rupees as it is popular with the well-heeled local pilgrims. But then again, Gujarat lacks its neighbouring states’ whole budget hotel scene. In all fairness, the hotel is sparkling clean and offers a high level of comfort in a safe environment.
The ST bus stand has frequent departures in all directions across the state. My advice is if you turn up late, stay in the more expensive hotels with 24-hour check-in to save you from having to wander around in the dark. I do not recommend you do that!
The bus service is punctual and efficient. But if you are looking for the comfort of long haul busses, a few companies offer their services around the train station. They will, of course, cost a little more but are much faster.
Junagadh rail station has a computerised booking office. An important note is that it is not a destination you can use the tourist quota for, so book in advance unless you want to travel in an unreserved class. There is only a limited number of trains that stop here.
A reliable train is the Jabalpur express ( number 11463/5.) It leaves at 11.10 am and stops at Rajkot and Ahmedabad seven and a half hours later. A second-class train is also going to Sasan Gir and Diu, although this is a prolonged service. Train number 52952 leaves Junagadh at 7.15 am.
I think it is not hard to see what the benefits are to take the time and come and explore this beautiful place yourself. You will find it all here whether you are looking for culture, history or wildlife. What’s more, you will find it with virtually no other western tourists, so you can start to create your unique path in this underrated yet undeniably charming state.
I have tried to include as much information as possible to make it as pain-free as possible to visit. I hope you all found this helpful post and as usual, if you have any further questions or comments, just leave them in the section provided, and I will get back to you.
There are no tigers here and for those of you who want to include the chance of spotting these magnificent beasts on your Indian wildlife odyssey, why not check out my guide to Ranthambhore? It is in another state but easily compatible with a bit of dedication and planning.