If the green environs of the lush forests in India fascinate you, a visit to Gir in Gujarat, popularly known for its Asiatic lions, is a must
Gir is a wildlife sanctuary located in Talala Gir, Gujarat. This animal retreat, also known as Sasan Gir, is around 43 km from Somnath. The Government of India declared it a wildlife sanctuary on September 18, 1965. The home of the mighty Asiatic lions, the Gir National Park is the only place in Asia where lions wander freely in the wilderness.
Spread over 1,400 sq. km, Sasan Gir is undoubtedly the ideal destination for wildlife, environment and travel enthusiasts. This deciduous forest, scattered with shrubs, grasslands and diverse flora and fauna, boasts an increase in the lion population with consistent efforts of the government, NGOs and activists. Today, the count stands at over 600 lions, an increase from the 523 counted in 2015. The place has seven perennial rivers passing through: Godavari, Hiran, Shetrunji, Machhundri, Raval, Shingoda and Datardi. Gir’s climate is welcoming throughout the year with an average temperature ranging from 22-25°c.
The Nawabs of Junagadh and British officials often hunted these lions earlier. However, after 1900, the Nawabs undertook conservation efforts to restore the Asiatic lion population, and the Government of India declared Sasan Gir a wildlife sanctuary in 1965.
Gir is one of the wildlife sanctuaries that have caught the attention of not only wildlife enthusiasts but also of people of diverse interests. Besides Africa, Gir is the only place on earth where one can find lions roaming freely. But lions are not the only inhabitants of this sanctuary. Gir is also home to black bucks, wild ass, foxes, leopards, jackals, hyenas, black cobras, marsh crocodiles, kraits, long-billed vultures, woodpeckers and many other birds and animals. Gir has about 2,375 distinct reported species of fauna, which include about 300 species of birds, 40 species of reptiles and 1,800 species of insects.
A Green Zone
Gir is not known just for its varied fauna; even its flora is breathtaking. It reportedly has more than 400 species of flora. Gir is western India’s largest deciduous forest, with a large variety of plants. It is dotted with semi-evergreen and evergreen trees, rocky hills, grasslands and scrub jungles. The vegetation of deciduous forests includes teak, several species of acacia, ber, jamun, ziziphus, tendu and more. Other plants found here are sirus, prosopis, cacti and various species of grass.
Living with the lions
Apart from the big cats, Gir is also home to a small human population. The Maldhari tribe has been peacefully coexisting with these lions for centuries at the settlement of Dudhala Nes, situated deep within the Gir forest. The Wildlife Institute of India study, ‘Living with Lions: The Economics of Coexistence in the Gir Forests, India’, reveals that Gir Maldharis do not view lions as a threat. A major part of the lion prey base is the livestock of Maldharis while the community gains from free access to forest resources.
Their livelihood depends mainly on livestock, and they follow a simple village lifestyle. Commonly herdsmen, they start early in the day and are back home before dawn, when the Asiatic lions come out in search of prey. Their houses can be easily spotted and are without a permanent fencing, despite the scare of lions. They protect their houses with small thorny bushes of babul trees, which are readily available in the forest.
Entry to the jungle is only through government permit. A safari can be booked online or offline with a reasonable entry fee. The forest department also provides guides for a better experience of the jungle safari, which can be enjoyed from 6 am to 9 am, 9 am to 12 noon, and 3 pm to 6 pm. Gir also has an enclosed zone, where safari tours are conducted. The Devaliya Safari Park offers a wildlife safari with a beautiful background in just 20–30 min. The visitors are taken across a cross section of the Gir National Park for a wildlife tour where they can also see Asiatic lions.
Apart from wildlife, Gir is also a vital pilgrimage centre with several temples in the vicinity. One of the main temples is the Bhavnath temple, which witnesses a heavy flow of tourists during Shivratri. The Girnar Hills, another significant pilgrimage spot for Hindus to perform parikrama (circumambulation), is 50 km from the wildlife sanctuary. The forest department also organises traditional music programmes.
Words: Alankar Chandra