A short walk from Regents Park tube station you come across something strange, a quiet dusty Indian railway station waiting for trains that never come. This is Sasan Gir Railway Station, and by rights, it should be in the village of Sasan Gir, in India. So what’s it doing in London.
It’s part of London Zoo’s 2016 refurbishment of the Land of the Lions enclosure and there more for ornamentation to add a sense of local colour to the Indian themed area.
The area cost £5.2 million to design and with four Asiatic lions living here, the design is not a conceit, but an interpretation of Sasan Gir, an actual village in India where around 520 Asiatic lions currently live.
And yes, Sasan Gir has a railway station – and therefore, so does its London equivalent.
It’s a single platform station looking rather weatherworn with a small waiting area for the trains that will never arrive, lined with posters advertising the tourist trains that operate through the Indian wildlife sanctuary.
You’re free to sit here a while waiting for trains that never arrive, although occasionally one of the lions wanders over for a look as well, maybe watch the never-changing signals and maybe peruse the wares from the nearby village.
The lions themselves have a large enclosure to wander, or on my visit, lounge around in, and the humans have an elevated walkway to get around, and an interior room with thick glass windows to get up close to some of them.
The railway station tracks, behind glass walls, are also part of the lion enclosure, so sometimes they will wander over to lounge around on the railway tracks or the old wagons.
A lot of the decoration around the railway station was shipped from Indian – the rickshaws, bicycles, sacks of spices, rangers’ huts, even the truck.
It could be seen as silly decoration, but in fact, the slightly over the top Indian theme is there for a reason. Ask most people where lions come from and most will reply that they come from Africa. The aim of the Land of the Lions is to educate in a very visual manner that lions come from the sub-continent as well.
A few display boards can convey a message that’s too easily forgotten, but the thematic decoration is far better at creating a mental image of lions in lounging around Indian villages and helps to educate people about the challenges of humans and lions coexisting.
The enclosure houses three female and one male lion and the Zoo rather hopes that they will do what animals do, and contribute to a growing population of lions back home.
Do also wander around the corner of the village, which on my visit hardly anyone did, for more railway, and more cute animals, which if it wasn’t for the barrier between would probably be lion snacks instead.
Entry to London Zoo is limited at the moment to a quarter of the normal visitor numbers so it’s a lot quieter than normal, and tickets have to be booked in advance. The price is also lower than normal as all the indoor spaces are closed at the moment.