Wherever you are in Mumbai, whichever suburb, you are never too far away from a National Park. What does that mean?
You share the city with 22 leopards, more than 150 species of butterflies, around 40 types of mammals, different types of spiders, the ‘karvi’ shrub that blooms only once in 8 years and over 1000 types of plants. Not just that you also get to see more than a hundred caves that were were developed over 1000 years ago. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park lies in the suburb of Borivali, to the North of Mumbai. It is around 104 sq km of protected tropical forest, still thriving and surviving in a city that is encroaching in from all sides trying to claim that they were here first! This national park also gives you fresh oxygen so it’s aptly called the lungs of Mumbai.
There are many ways to enjoy national park apart from the zoo safari, toy train that runs sporadically or talking a morning stroll inside the park. Here are some of these options.
The Shilonda Trail: This is a monsoon trail to help you learn and appreciate monsoon-linked flora and fauna. There will be crabs, spiders, moths and many other animals that take you along for a walk. We caught a glimpse of the caterpillar of the largest moth in the world – the Atlas (Attacus) moth. There is this one section where there are bubbles popping on the ground for an entire stretch, no one knows why… . Monsoon is pretty much over but you could always go next year. It is a simple walk on a flat stretch there is no upward or downward slope except at the end for a tiny 50m stretch to the river.
The Malad Trail: This trial is a dream-come-true for spider lovers. There are webs all around you and if you aren’t careful you might find yourself walking right through one. I saw the exoskeleton of one spider, the bigger one had attacked this smaller one, injected it with enzymes that liquefied the prey’s insides, which is sucked out by the larger spider. All that it leaves behind is a fairly intact exoskeleton!
The Upper Kanheri Trail: The Kanheri Caves is a set of dwellings and monastic structures for Buddhist monks 6km inside the park. The caves, not all of which are accessible, were developed over 1000 years, beginning in the 1st century BC, as part of a sprawling monastic university complex. There are in all around 109 caves that have been excavated on this one hill, initially called the Krishnagiri or the black mountain given the black basalt rock formation. Don’t get there by road just take the Upper Kanheri trail. It is a 45-minute-walk through a jungle. You reach a rock platform that gives you a view over the forest with green valleys stretched out, not a human in sight and hanuman langoors hooting in the background. It doesn’t seem like Mumbai! You then walk down towards the caves.
Trek to the highest point in the park: This is tougher trek to the highest point in the park. It offers a brilliant view of the city with three lakes – Tulsi, Vihar and Powai Lake. The only constraint is that you need to be a group of 25 at least to be allowed to take this trail.
Come May and volunteer for the Leopard Census: It involves staying up all night in a machan and watching over a waterhole, waiting for a leopard to walk by.
The nitty-gritty details:
- The park opens at 7.30am.
- The Nisarg Mahiti Kendra or Nature Information Centre is the key to your going on a trail, simply put, without their prior permission and authorized guides you cannot. You need to inform them at least two days in advance and then remind them once again the day before you want to head out. Call them at 28841428.
- Except for the trek to the highest point that needs a minimum group of 25 people, for the rest you can go just with the guide, size of group doesn’t matter.
- Rs 33 to enter the park and the guide costs Rs 150 per hour.
- You can alternatively even go along with nature groups though they end up having large groups of people and few guides.
- Wear good footwear, the rocks are slippery and you do not want to be scraping the moss clean with your posterior!
- Carry water, there are no water stops during any of these trails.
- Take a bag along to ensure you bring back all your litter. It is a forest so preserve the sanctity.
And just go! It’s beautiful at this time of the year with greens fresh and clean from a nice wash and the climate still not as hot as Mumbai can get.
Bhavani is a traveller by choice, a photographer by interest and a writer by desire. She blogs at merrytogoaround.com and tweets @bhavan1. She is in a long term relationship with chocolate!!! (and loves exclamation marks).