borivali national park, mumbai: the urban jungle

the sanjay gandhi national park or borivali national park, as its popularly known, lies in northern suburb of borivali, mumbai. it is 104 km2 (40 sq mi) of forest surrounded by the traffic, noise and the chaos of one of the most populated cities in india. it is remarkable that such a large national park exists INSIDE a city! it has a vast population of flora and fauna; some rare butterflies, deers and even 22 leaopards! it has the UNESCO heritage site – kanheri caves built around 2400 years ago! it is the home of two lakes, Vihar and Tulsi, that provide drinking water to the people of Mumbai…

104 km2 is just a figure. what’s in a number right? does do i understand a number like that… so i searched for reference points…

another park in a city: central park in new york is a mere 3.41 km² 
and the famous ranthambore is just 3 times larger at 392 km²!

the borivali national park is aptly called the ‘lungs of mumbai’!

but, it’s a place most locals like me forget about… we travel far away from mumbai searching for nature, culture, history without realising it is all enclosed within the borivali national park…

the shilonda trail has been eluding me for the last two years. it’s a trail that takes place in the monsoons, given the range of flora and fauna one can observe. it’s a walk not really a trek and ends at a beautiful, slow river.

last year, woke up at 6.30… had my coffee (am addicted, if i miss it, i get a headache!) and wore my shoes, took the camera, bag, water, food (they said get a snack), and landed there at 7am sharp. hmmm.. the doors to the sanjay gandhi national park open only at 7.30! waited and then reached the ‘nisarg mahiti kendra’ or nature information centre… yes as odd as that sounds… only to be informed that there was no shilonda trail that day. it had been cancelled and no one had informed us! despite me mailing BNHS, the organisation that conducts such walks… we ate the poha (avval upma, or flattened rice savory dish) by the river and then went home….

in 2012, there weren’t any other trails…

the monsoons arrived in pomp and splendour this year in bombay and i announced with as much gusto, that this year i WOULD do the shilonda trail. come july, and i emailed BNHS and said ‘we’re in’! the same routine, landed up there at 7 am again… as in the one year that had gone by, we’d forgotten the park opens at 7.30! and we waited and waited and waited… and at 8.30 around 60 people walked towards the ‘nisarg mahiti kendra’! any kind of trek, walking, hike cannot be done with such a large group, i firmly believe so! there is no silence to observe, someone is always talking… and well, when you want to listen to the guide you can’t as you are really somewhere and the guide’s somewhere!

we turned around and went back home!

decided to be smarter, got the number of the person in-charge at the information centre.  booked a private guide, asked some friends who all agree to come… that saturday got rained out, the rains were so heavy, mr. mhatre from the national park called me and said, not this weekend!

so, finally last saturday, after two years of waiting to walk this trail, we got out our shoes, got the umbrellas and raincoats, stocked up on water and went for a walk in the national park. we did the shilonda trail.

was i disappointed? no, i was most happy. it was a simple walk… and as jungle always surprise me, this forest surprised me too… beautiful trees, a great guide who told us tonnes of stories, lovely company and a slow and quiet walk to the stream…

i learnt about hornbills and their marvelous parenting techniques
… learnt about how to conduct a census for leopards and that it happens every year in may and they NEED volunteers (how cool is that!)
…. i saw a HUGE hooded grasshopper, renamed it in my head – leafhopper
i juummped away and bypassed scurrying ground crabs…
searched amongst half eaten leaves for the larvae of the world’s largest moth…
and in the midst of this, heard the ‘brain fever’ bird call out ‘brain fever’!
… walked in squishy-squashy mud and watched bubbles rise to the surface… that area has bubbles every monsoon and no one has figured why… reminded us of budbudi tali from goa!
… learnt about how some imported plants are used to turn arid soil into fertile soil, so that local trees can grow…

i walked through the buffer zone and entered the reserved forest… ending the walk by sitting by the river on tree trunks, roots and rocks and talking about how to teach children to respect and value the environment…

it was a lovely way to spend a saturday morning!

walk done, i came out of the park to loud sounds and the craziness that characterizes  mumbai roads! it almost assaulted my senses, but made me also wonder at the beauty that was accessible to me…

i’m coming back park, this saturday to climb to the top of kanheri caves… see you again!

and to all of you out there, who delayed the visit like me… if you live in bombay and have been postponing that trip to the borivali national park. DON’T! just go this weekend, its beautiful, vast and in your backyard!

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