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Thursday October 23rd 2014

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Gir Sanctuary: How to go about it

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

Manicured lawn in 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.

Our room at Sinh Sadan

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:

Safari booking window

06:30—09:30 hours
09:30—12:30 hours
15:30—18:30 hours

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

Rs800—per gypsy

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.

GIR RESOURCES:

An enjoyable report on Gir
http://www.indiamike.com/india/indian-wildlife-and-national-parks-f74/lions-in-gir-trip-report-t129327/

A report on the experience of staying at the Anil Farm House
http://www.ghumakkar.com/2009/12/14/lessons-of-life-at-anil-farm-house-%E2%80%93-sasan-gir/

Complete Gir birding checklist

http://delhibird.net/checklists/internal/gujarat/gir.htm

http://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/checklist.jsp?region=INnwgj04&list=howardmoore

Contact details:

Sinh Sadan, Sasan Gir 362135, Gujarat
Phone/Fax: 02877-285540
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
Tel: +91-2877-266590
Mobiles: +91-98790-01098, 9426995315
Email: anil_farmhouse@yahoo.com

25 Comments for “Gir Sanctuary: How to go about it”

  • Ashish Rao says:

    Hi Jyoti,

    This is a very useful article. Does it make sense to stay at Diu, drive to Gir in the morning and get there in time to book the afternoon (3:30PM) safari (therefore, avoiding to stay at Sinh Sadan Guest House)? I am looking at the last week of March.

    Thanks.

    • Jyoti says:

      Sure, it sounds good enough if you’re sure that you’d be okay with just one safari whether or not you spot a lion. If yes, you might want to call Sinh Sadan closer to the day to get an assessment of the rush for the 3:30 safari. And, in any event you may want to get to Gir in time for the 9 am safari so you have 2 chances to look for the animals. Hope this helps decide.

  • kousika says:

    Hi Jyoti,
    Wonderful post and thank you for that. I am plannig for trip to Gir in May this year (4 adults & 3 kids).Is the a/c room in Sinh sadan for 2 people? Can 2 abults+2 kids stay in one room? I would appreciate your response. Thanks.

    • Jyoti says:

      Hi Kousika, I’m assuming that Sinh Sadan will have the same room rules for children as other hotels. In our case, we paid a small amount for a single floor mattress/blanket/sheet/pillow for our teenage son. Be warned that the linen was rather sad looking and had dampened our spirits! You may want to explore other stay options esp if you’re keeping a vehicle for local movements, as you can just drive over to Sinh Sadan for booking your safaris. It’s the first safari that is significant as it helps connect with a driver who helps with subsequent bookings. So staying elsewhere may enhance your experience of Gir.

  • Rashmi says:

    hi guys.. all comments are very useful. i am planning to go der wid ma frnds. when we called in d office for advance booking dey told us fax n id proof. and dey said v have to go der one day before to collect our tickets as we r planning to stay in veraval it is not possible for us to collect tickets. is der any other option for dis.
    note- current booking is done but i just dont want to depend on dat.
    pls reply soon….

  • Harshad says:

    Hi Jyoti, your post is very informative and elaborative. All i want to know, is 5 the maximum cap for a safari in Gir ?? We are 6 of us going to Gir next month and i beleive i read somewhere that 6 people can take a safari, which is the case with other wildlife resorts across India. Please guide.

    • Jyoti says:

      Hi Harshad, From what I remember, upto 5 or 6 people are allowed in a single jeep. To get a clear verdict on this, how about phoning the enquiry number I’ve included for Sinh Sadan. If you leave a comment with that answer, it’d help others too. regards, Jyoti

  • ammy rao says:

    Hii…I want to know the total time of one safari and for three person total cost per safari(including jeep, guide, everything else).
    Thanks..

  • Aarti says:

    Hi Jyoti,

    This account of Gir is extremely useful and combines information that I had to scrape from about 5 different websites. Thanks so much for compiling all this!

    One quick question – how much did the taxi cost you? I’m also planning to go to Gir with a bunch of friends later this year and believe in planning in advance. Your help would be appreciated.

    Many thanks,
    Aarti

    • Jyoti says:

      Aarti, glad to see this primer having helped. I’m afraid, I just don’t recall the money I paid. It was above 5k for sure. How about calling the travel agency and getting a rough sum from them? Petrol/diesel prices have risen since then so the amount would be different in any case. cheers, Jyoti

      • Jin Pyn says:

        Hi Jyoti
        Thanks for the resources. It’s so hard to get true info esp when hotels want to sell you something else. Much appreciated. And most travellers want to pay the right people, make ethical choices. Would it be possible for you to share the contacts of the travel agency you have been using to arrange this taxi and for your travels in India?
        Thanks.
        Best,
        Jin Pyn

  • suharsha says:

    hi
    thx so much..ur blog hs helped a lot in deciding my trip to guj.
    i hav a2 yr son so its a short trip covering ahmed,somnath gir and diu per day.

    mplanning to visit gir in the evening from somnath wher i intend to stay as it is close to veraval.

    can u tell me if i can get a taxi to gir and anytaxis available frm gir to drop us back to somnath aftr the safari at 6.30 p.m.
    also can u tell me hw to go to diu frm veraval by taxi is itpossible..

    i intend to hav only one safari cos of my kid..if lucky may spot a lion..but will b content wth the exper. of moving in a jungle and showing my kid around..will plan a separate trip to gir once hes old enough..

    since v dont hav a choice of routes,driver or guides i suppose its only luck rt?

    also dont these authorities check in advan whc routes has more sightings and then give those routes to tourists so tht they dont leave dissapointed.

    some one told me tht they dont give right routes for teh first timer so that he makes more trips. do u think so?

    thx

    • jyoti says:

      Hi Suharsha,

      I’m glad that you’ve found these posts of of use in planning your trip. With a 2-year old thought, it’s going to be rather tough for you to cope with all the drives and waiting involved. Hope you’ll be carrying enough food and drinks for him to keep him well-fed and hydrated.
      To answer your questions: taxis should be easy to get from Veraval. You’d just need to fix up with that taxi service for carrying on to Diu or returning to Veraval. Latter would be easier to arrange. We didn’t see taxis waiting around in Gir although the hotels do have their vehicles…so it’d help you to keep your own transport. If you aren’t able to track down a local travel agent in Veraval through the Net or your hotel in Veraval sounds clueless about reliable taxis, call up the Ahmedabad based company I’ve mentioned.
      Getting a good route from the Gir ticket counter for the first drive is probably a chance and no strategic thinking. You may want to request Route No.2 but if there isn’t any special checking happening, my impression is that even from Route 3, the driver may just take you to the site of lions falling on any other route. I noticed that the drivers and guides show much determination in arranging a lion sighting just so tourists go with a positive impression of Gir and keep coming back. It may help you to not tell the driver/guide that you won’t be revisiting the Sanctuary so they remain interested in connecting with you.
      Do remember that the jeep would be open so you may want to cover yourselves and the kid adequately as early evening would be getting fairly cold in the forest area.
      All the best and do leave a note on your experience.

      • suharsha says:

        thx jyoti.i wanted to also ask u is it safe to travel in the jungle on a open jeep and also to carry my son along .do they allow kids this young..i think keeping the taxi tht brings us to gir frm veravel for a return travel shud b a good idea rt? is the travel agency u mentioned named night safari. ur blog on ahmed vera part i is not opening..so i dont if if u have mentioed it ther…also whts typeof clothes shud i carry wth me for the whole trip. and any other advisory tips so as to not get mis guided..probably might bother u again if i hav some more doubts..so pls bear wth me since this my first trip out of goa on our own.
        thx

        • jyoti says:

          Yes, it’s safe. The lions we saw looked almost tame. Read all 3 posts of mine (scroll up and down to see all posts if the links don’t work) to get a clearer idea of my experience of that whole journey. Tne travel agent name/site link are included in one of those. The santuary rules or staff dont say anything about kids so it’s upto the grownups to ensure they are held tightly and are properly clad. Like Kanha, the Gir terrain is brown, dusty and rough. We saw many kids in other vehicles but yours is only 2 and this is the onset of winter so calls for more care. Clothes! I suppose a jacket/windcheater and head scarf would help for the sanctuary ride.

  • suharsha says:

    hi
    thx so much..ur blog hs helped a lot in deciding my trip to guj.
    i hav a2 yr son so its a short trip covering ahmed,somnath gir and diu per day.

    mplanning to visit gir in the evening from somnath wher i intend to stay as it is close to veraval.

    can u tell me if i can get a taxi to gir and anytaxis available frm gir to drop us back to somnath aftr the safari at 6.30 p.m.
    also can u tell me hw to go to diu frm veraval by taxi is itpossible..

    i intend to hav only one safari cos of my kid..if lucky may spot a lion..but will b content wth the exper. of moving in a jungle and showing my kid around..will plan a separate trip to gir once hes old enough..

    since v dont hav a choice of routes,driver or guides i suppose its only luck rt?

    also dont these authorities check in advan whc routes has more sightings and then give those routes to tourists so tht they dont leave dissapointed.

    some one told me tht they dont give right routes for teh first timer so that he makes more trips. do u think so?

  • Ann Gifford says:

    Hi, Jyoti!

    I admire your perseverence in making this booking!

    Gir sounds great and I would love to see lions in the wild. One day, perhaps. We are going to the States in August and Ghana at Christmas.

    Best wishes as always,
    Ann

    • jyoti says:

      Hi Ann,
      Yes, every once in a while I surprise myself with my determination :)

      If you should ever consider Gir, I’d work with you on the specifics but broadly, you could cover Diu (I hear it’s like Goa but less developed), Gir, Jamnagar and Little Rann of Kutchh. Staying with the company Asian Adventures, that runs Gir Birding Lodge and several other birding-accented small resorts all over North India, would make it much smoother for you to experience this terrain. Their prices would be like Backwoods but the experience also less painful.

      I suppose you’ve been to the States before. Do post your thoughts on your Ghana experience.

      best, Jyoti

  • Kartikeya says:

    Hi
    a very informative, honest and “live” write up, as usual. Congratulations and thanks. The flip side is that it has made Gir somewhat uninviting :(. I have been planning a Diu trip (with Gir and obviously Somnath being part of the proposed itinerary) for sometime now, did carry out some net search but am yet to take the plunge. Now I am inclined to cut out the Gir part.

    So did you fly to Goa from Ahmedabad? Is there a direct flight?

    I’m off to Goa tomorrow for 3 weeks.

    • jyoti says:

      Hi KK…ever since I’ve brought my focus to this region, I’ve had Diu and Little Rann of Kutchh on my list too.

      Please don’t let my experience turn you off Gir…I’d be adding photos to the Gujarat posts to lure you to its idea once again :) My direction in doing a detailed post has been to prepare people for the pitfalls but get people there all the same. Yes, we did Goa-Ahmedabad by air…you’d figure that from the other 3 posts. The direct flight was only from Spice and that worked for us.

      Looking forward to a couple of posts from you after 3 weeks. Start writing even while there.


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