Gir forest evokes the same thrill among adults and schoolchildren as it is the only natural habitat of Asiatic lion in India. Incidentally, Gir is also the only place in the world where lions are found in the wild outside Africa.
These unique features make Gir the top destination for travellers. A visit to Gir would also make a person from Kerala wonder why lions are absent in the state's forests, that are rich in fauna.
Gir national park is situated in the Junagadh district of Gujarat. It was notified in 1975 to protect Asiatic lion. The forest, which was the favourite hunting ground of the Nawab of Junagadh, is also known as Sasan Gir. A deciduous forest, Gir hosts animals such as wild boar, nilgai, sambar, four-horned antelope, chinkara deer, striped hyena, langur, hedgehog, hare and black buck, apart from lion. In addition, mugger crocodiles and numerous reptile species are present in the sanctuary.
Another attraction of Gir is the reservoir of the Kamleshwar Dam which is a paradise for birdwatchers. Migratory birds such as flamingo and pelican arrive here during winter. The reservoir also has the distinction of having the presence of the largest population of crocodiles in India. During the latest census, around 350 crocodiles were counted.
Yet another interesting aspect of Gir is the sight of villages around the sanctuary where people of African origin live. In places such as Talala, there are settlements and streets where only Africans reside. A visitor to such areas would feel like having reached some remote village in the African continent. As per historical records, the residents of these villages where brought as slaves from Africa during the Mughal period.
The Gir national park remains closed to visitors from mid-June to mid-October during the monsoon. It opens by Diwali and hundreds of tourists arrive during the festival.
Seven rivers, including Hiran and Godavari, either flow through the Gir forest or originate from here. The forest comes alive with greenery during the monsoon but turns dry when summer set in. The barren forest takes on a grey appearance during the hot season; however, it is easier to sight lions during summer.
Gir is 350 km from Ahmedabad and travellers make it a point to visit the Somnath Temple and Diu near the forest before heading back. While Somnath is a pilgrimage centre, Diu is a beachside destination. Accommodation ranging from homestays to high-end hotels is available at all these places.
A railway track passes through 12 km of Gir forest. It is the Junagadh-Veraval metre gauge line.
While booking for a trekking through the Gir forest, remember that it can only be done online. The safari is available from 6.30 am and covers specific routes in the forest in a Gypsy. The duration of the trips is three hours. However, private vehicles are not allowed into the jungle tracks. There is another 12-km path where private vehicles, including two-wheelers, can pass but special permission is required here too.