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Sasan Gir, located in southern Gujarat, is one of hundreds of tiny Indian railway stations that few people have heard of. Its claim to fame, however, is that it’s the arrival point for anyone travelling to Gir National Park by train. The park is known for one thing in particular, and it’s this that’s resulted in the station being moved from the wilds of western India to the urban jungle of central London.
Well, we say moved – the original Sasan Gir is still where it has always been. The station has, though, been painstakingly recreated at London Zoo – which gives a clue as to why you might just want to steer clear of the platform.
The (extremely pretty) station sits at the heart of the zoo’s Land of the Lions exhibition, which was opened by the Queen in March 2016. And yep, the lions are free to wait for the next arrival on platform 1.
Fortunately, there’s a huge pane of glass separating the platform from the station concourse. Which is just as well, for there’s no way you’d want to cross paths with Heidi, Rubi, Indi and Bhanu – the pride’s solitary male.
Work on the station’s construction started in November 2014, and the end result is hugely impressive. Aside from being a place to watch lions, Sasan Gir is a thrilling place to explore in its own right.
You either approach it at ground level – where the station sits beside a bicycle workshop and the recreated Gir National Park Visitor Centre – or via a lift from the upper level, which takes you to the section of platform reserved for first-class passengers.
The door to the first-class lounge sadly remains shut, but when you turn around you can pretty much walk the entire platform – on the right side of the glass, of course. Behind the window is 20 metres of track and an old cargo carriage, which now serves as a lion perch.
If the lions aren’t around then it’s worth diving into Sasan Gir’s waiting room, which features an authentic Indian Railways bench, a train timetable and a lion-themed display board. There’s an antique clock to gawp at, too.
Head around the next corner and you’ll arrive at the ticket booth, which has two windows. We won’t reveal exactly what’s behind them, but let’s just say they’re not manned. Well, at least not by humans – apparently they’ve popped to the temple.
Wait around for long enough and you’ll hear announcements about which train will be arriving next – perhaps it will be the Delhi via Ahmedabad sleeper, or the Junagadh to Delvada passenger service.
Natalie Latham, one of Land of the Lions’ designers, said that the station and its surrounding area are “inspired by their real counterparts in the Gir Forest and nearby villages.” Walking around, it certainly feels as though you’re in Sasan Gir itself. If you haven’t visited yet, it’s well worth it – even if it’s just to see the station.