Fancy an overnight stay in the company of the mighty Asiatic lion from Gir in Gujarat in the heart of London, and waking up to its roar the next morning?
It will soon be possible – bookings are on – after Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh next week unveil a unique £5.2 million project that replicates the village and forest ambience of Sasan Gir, complete with a railway station and shops seen in Indian villages.
Called “Land of the Lions”, the project is the biggest of its kind undertaken by London Zoo, located within the sprawling Regent’s Park. It is part of the zoo’s breeding programme for the endangered Asiatic lion, of which only 500 are reported in the wild.
“Many hotels in London claim to have the best views, but here at ZSL London Zoo we can offer a room with a zoo,” the organisers said before the royal inauguration on March 17 and opening to visitors from March 25.
From May, guests can stay in nine beautifully designed luxury huts in the Gir Lion Lodge.
A pre-opening visit revealed much attention to detail to replicate the sights and sounds of the Gir Forest National Park (Sasan Gir) – the last remaining stronghold of the Asiatic lion.
Project designers travelled to Gujarat for inspiration and much material was shipped from India: rickshaws, bicycles, sacks of spices, rangers’ huts and a truck. The 2,500-sq m exhibit includes a train station, crumbling temple clearing, high street and a guard hut.
Guests and visitors can move around three walkways covered by fine wire mesh as they participate in an interactive adventure that includes helping forest rangers deal with a “lion emergency” in the Gir Forest, and lend a helping hand to the veterinary team that comes to the rescue.
Prominent industrialist Swraj Paul, who helped rescue the financially strapped London Zoo in the early 1990s, told Hindustan Times: “The Gir project is based on the lions of Gujarat and is a great tribute to India. ‘Land of the Lions’ is a wonderful way for people to see Asian lions in an authentic setting and I am sure it will delight children and adults alike.”
The “Land of the Lions” is located next to the statue of Paul’s late daughter Ambika and the Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo which was opened in 1994 in her memory.
Besides the luxury accommodation in Gir Lion Lodge, the guest experience includes a two-course dinner, full English breakfast, and exclusive tours led by hosts. It will be open six nights a week from May until December, with designated family friendly nights and adult only nights to ensure each stay is specially tailored to guests.
The London Zoo, part of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), has close links with the forest department in Gujarat, including a memorandum of understanding to help conserve the Asiatic lion landscape, support capacity building and train the local staff.