I was looking for a new place to tie in with the annual visit to Goa and then this report on Gir came my way encouraging me to drop all hesitation and experiment with Gujarat. I asked the writer of the report a few questions about how and how much, scanned the Net for everything aligning with Gir and figured that there was much that I’d know only after making my trip. This post is meant to cover some of the regular questions that would come up for new travelers so they can take tips from my experience and plan their trip to Gir more confidently than I did.
How to reach Gir
Those in Mumbai can find direct flights to Diu (2.5 hours from Gir) or Rajkot (3.5 hours from Gir) but from Delhi, I had fewer choices. Train bookings to Junagadh (1.5 hours from Gir) weren’t available even a month before the date of travel so I booked us via Ahmedabad (7 hours from Gir). An early morning >2-hour flight to Ahmedabad, followed by 7 hours by taxi proved almost painless even in Gujarat’s 43 deg celsius heat. The taxi was booked using a Gurgaon based travel agent whom I generally use for well-strung travel plans for friends keen to travel to unknown places within the country.
Earlier, I’d hoped to find a comfortable bus service from Ahmedabad to make that stretch economical but my phone/email enquiries to bus services/travel agents in Ahmedabad convinced me to steer clear of buses. Buses operating were either non-AC or many terminating at Junagadh. Redbus.in showed a direct bus service but, after many confused status messages on its availability, informed on the phone that there was no service available for the time.
It proved to be advantageous to have a taxi at our disposal through our stay at Gir to go for meals outside, cover Somnath Temple in Verval on the way back to Ahmedabad, confidently reach the airport in time for the flight out of Ahmedabad, and see the city of Ahmedabad in the few hours spent there. All this would have become a big challenge if a bus service was used to and from Gir.
Stay Options in Sasan Gir
After reading through a couple of online reports on the Net, I’d zeroed in on Sinh Sadan, Anil Farms and Gir Birding Lodge, in that order, for our use.
Sinh Sadan had a couple of favourable reviews on the Net so despite being a Government guesthouse, I tried everything possible with my organizing and persuasive skills to book us there! Knowing that safari bookings happened at the Guesthouse reception itself, it made much sense to live around it as one’s wait for the morning safari booking began at 5:15 am. Tariffs of the 3 places also helped decide in favour of Sinh Sadan: its AC room cost Rs1500/night without meals; Anil Farms quoted Rs3500/night with meals and Gir Birding Lodge would have worked to close to Rs5,000/night with meals.
Another determinant for settling for Sinh Sadan was the fact that the other two places charged a premium of at least Rs800/safari over the actual expense. I was interested in trimming off all the unnecessary expense that I could easily avoid.
On our drive through the town, we noticed a couple more stay options that I’m sharing for one’s research: a hoarding sign mentioned Vanvaso and a nicely spread out hotel called Fern was under construction. Club Mahindra seems to have a good place there too.
How to book a room at Sinh Sadan
Booking a room at Sinh Sadan requires a certain method and a level of determination. The following pointers are based on my experience of dealing with its reservation staff over about 7-8 weeks.
Please remember that:
. room bookings are accepted on the phone only about 10-12 days before the date of stay
. on the phone, if a room is said to be available, a formal request is to be faxed to Reservations
. bookings are confirmed only after a demand draft of Rs1500 is received by Reservations
. even after all the follow up, bookings are confirmed only for upto 3 nights of stay
. demand drafts are to favour RFO Guesthouse Sasan Gir and be payable at the State Bank of India, Talala (incidentally, SBI’s branch database has the name entered as Talaja!)
. the applicant has to do the required phone-follow up at every step as Reservation staff doesn’t call back
The address of Sinh Sadan is simply Sasan Gir 362135, Gujarat; Phone/Fax: 02877-285540
Is Sinh Sadan a nice place to stay
Mostly, it isn’t, I’m afraid.
The only three aspects that work in its favour are that: it offers airconditioned rooms at less than half the price charged by private hotels; the safari booking counter is most easily accessible to residents than outsiders at 5:15 am; private hotels charge a premium on each safari without revealing those details to guests–that one needn’t pay by booking safaris directly.
Aspects of Sinh Sadan that require much overlooking and indulgence:
Cleanliness and hygiene: The room linen isn’t changed as a rule on an occupant’s exit–our bedsheets looked somewhat crushed while taking the room and weren’t changed even upon requesting; even after paying the required charge of Rs100, I’d to pay extra tips to get a spare mattress, clean sheets, blankets and towels. All 3 blankets were torn in places. I’d to absolutely insist on a set of clean sheets to line them; the cleanliness level of the otherwise tiled bathroom and its western pot was poor and required a renewed resolve to use the facility; grimy dustbins and poor sweeping of the room often increased one’s discomfort over being in the room too! The room was equipped with a 29″ TV airing 100 channels but I hope the RFO realises before long that clean linen/washroom and responsible staff would help guests much more than a TV!
Food and refreshments: Food is laid out buffet style in a common dining hall but every meal requires one to repeatedly tell the Incharge about one’s plan to eat the next meal there or the food isn’t cooked for that guest; food is simple and vegetarian but nice to taste if one doesn’t peek too deeply into the kitchen or its counters or floor; bed tea is promised but doesn’t reach before 6.30 am—the time to be at the Sanctuary gate. For dinners, one must get the word to the Incharge by 5.00 pm and secure his nod. Breakfast of poha, toasts, butter+jam, plain paranthas+dry aloo sabzi is served on one’s return from the morning safari around 10 am. One can drop any of these items from his breakfast but not expect anything other than them. Pot of tea or coffee is part of a reasonable breakfast charge of Rs40/person. Lunch or dinner comes at Rs80/meal per person and constitutes rotis, 1 curry dish, 1 dal, rice, salad and paaper.
Tips: Most services require regular tipping to keep motivation levels high or one is left wondering about most basic facilities.
So, I’d say that one would do well to stay elsewhere and let that hotel offer a better experience of Gir. Or, approach Sinh Sadan without any illusions about its facilities and instead spend the money saved on making multiple visits to the sanctuary.
What are the safari timings for Gir Sanctuary
Safaris are conducted thrice a day at:
What does a safari cost
The Gir Forest Booking Office takes:
Rs400—per applicant (representing a group of upto 5 adults)
Rs100—per camera above 7.1 megapixels
Rs100—per guide, who must compulsorily accompany each vehicle, is to be paid to the guide separately.
These charges are for Indian nationals.
Additionally, every group entering the sanctuary has to take an open gypsy from a service operated by the local gypsy union at a charge of
One gypsy can take upto 5 adults so small groups are at liberty to include other individuals to total to 5 but names of all the visitors to the sanctuary must be entered in the request form being submitted at the booking window.
We learnt that private Euro III vehicles are also allowed inside the Sanctuary and saw some inside. But we also witnessed rows over what constituted Euro III vehicles!
My own suggestion on vehicles is to stick with open gypsies to have a clear view of the forest and its inhabitants, and allow the benefit of one’s travel to Gir to the local tourism industry.
The total expense for a single safari comes to Rs1400 that includes Rs100 for one camera.
How are safaris to Gir Sanctuary booked
The booking office is inside Sinh Sadan in the first building one encounters on entering the compound. It opens an hour before the above safari timings. It’s advisable to reach its window about 1.15 hours in advance. Please carry a pen, the requisite cash and a photo id to make a safari booking. Once the window opens, request forms are handed by an officer that must be filled and submitted with cash. A slip is issued by the officer mentioning the route allocated that must be handed to the next gypsy driver in the queue. The slip also mentions the guide’s name assigned to each group. Guides and drivers are seen waiting around the booking window. Upto 30 vehicles are permitted on each of the 7 routes inside the sanctuary.
If you intend to make multiple visits to the sanctuary and are fortunate in connecting with a good driver on your first drive, it’d serve you well to stay with him. A resourceful driver can help arrange a knowledgeable guide and sometimes a route conducive for lion sightings.
We made 4 safari visits to the sanctuary and found our driver of the first safari sensible enough so requested him to be around for our subsequent visits. Our first guide didn’t know even as much as the driver did about birds of the sanctuary but with the help of the driver, we were able to find a guide with excellent spotting and identification skills of birds for later visits. That made each drive into the sanctuary rewarding, whether or not a lion was easily spotted.
In our case, each of our 4 drives over 3 hours each, showed us at least one lion. We were told that even though the sanctuary is said to have about 300+ lions, it isn’t necessary to have the privilege of always spotting one.
Tips to Driver/Guide
The sanctuary rule doesn’t necessitate tipping the jeep driver, and the guide’s remuneration of Rs100 has to be given to him directly and not at the booking window. If you intend to make multiple visits to the sanctuary, however, it’d help you to reward your driver appropriately. A happy driver helps connect you to a sensible guide and the latter makes efforts to understand your directions and remembers them on each successive drive inside the sanctuary. I learnt that drivers are paid poorly (as low as Rs2,000/month) by vehicle owners so instead of only tipping the guide, we felt that we owed much of our successful sightings to the driver and rewarded him separately.
Eating outside your hotel in Gir
Anil Farms or Gir Birding Lodge have tariffs inclusive of meals so their guests don’t have to hunt for food outside. If you do manage to stay at Sinh Sadan or another smaller guesthouse, it’d help you to know that the cluster of 7-8 shops outside Sinh Sadan offers some water and snack options. If we hadn’t met a helpful Samaritan, we’d have ended up eating food at one of the 2 small eateries in this clutch on one of the 3 evenings (when the Sinh Sadan gave a story about not being able to provide lunch or dinner) but his encouragement to try Green Park, some 6 km back towards Junagadh, helped, and we got nice and clean Gujarati thaalis there. There’s also Sukhsagar prominently visible on the main road that offers snacks–we tried their branch only in Veraval. Upon calling, Anil Farms welcomed us over a meal but it was some distance off the main road so we didn’t get around to going there.
And, now some resources to equip you with just some more information…if you’ve been to Gir, do let me know what it was like for you.
An enjoyable report on Gir
A report on the experience of staying at the Anil Farm House
Complete Gir birding checklist
Sinh Sadan, Sasan Gir 362135, Gujarat
Reservation staff: Bhavesh/Vinubhai Chohan
Gir Birding Lodge: http://www.girnationalpark.com/tariff.html
Pradeep Kumar, Manager, Mobile: +91 9723971842
Anil Farms: http://www.girjungleresort.com/index.html
BHALCHEL (GIR) Ta. Talala, Dist. Junagadh Gujarat Pin Code: 362135
Mobiles: +91-98790-01098, 9426995315