Nature Treks in MumbaiMumbai is not just one of the busiest mega cities of the planet; it is also a place where the forest and the sea live together. Not many people know that what now constitutes the mega city of Mumbai was once a set of seven islands that had many creeks and bays between them. The creeks were full of dense mangroves that were the resting places for many different types of birds. Crocodiles roamed freely in the marshy places surrounding these mangroves.
The city still has a forest cover and is still surrounded by mangroves. Even though these ecosystems are rapidly receding, they still constitute the lungs of the city through which it breathes fresh air and transports it to the urban jungle. These small pockets of green are dense enough for you to get lost in them and are big enough for leopards and deer to roam freely and rivers to form and flow towards the sea. So if you are a nature lover, you will still find pockets of lush tropical overgrowth where you can trek and enjoy nature’s bounty.
Nature Treks in Sanjay Gandhi National ParkThe most spectacular green belt is the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This wildlife sanctuary is right in the middle of the city and covers an area of 104 square kilometers. It is a rich source of flora and fauna that are unique to the region. Contrary to popular perception the Sanjay Gandhi National Park has actually grown. Not many people know that the park has expanded over the years by acquiring neighboring green areas and bringing them under the protection of the wildlife sanctuary.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park
There are four rivers that have their source in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. These rivers once flowed in full spate through Salsette Island, which incidentally is the eighth island of Mumbai. Salsette (the Portuguese version of “Sashti” – a corruption of “Sahasashti” or sixty six) is still an island stretching from Bandra to Bhayendar. The city has now grown to occupy a part of this island but it still contains tracts of wild area that nature lovers can enjoy.
Of the four rivers that originate inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the Mithi is the biggest. It starts from the Vihar Lake and receives inputs from the Powai Lake as well. It flows from there down south through Santacruz and Kurla till it reaches the Mahim Creek where it opens into the sea running a total course of about 15 km.
The second river is the Dahisar River that originates from the Tulsi lake and flows northwards through the suburbs of Dahisar and Gorai and opens into the Manori Creek to reach the Arabian Sea.
The third river is the Poisar River that originates in Borivali and runs southwards through Kandivli and Poisar to meet the sea at the Versova Creek.
The fourth and perhaps the smallest river is the Oshiwara River that starts at the southern end of the National Park and flows through the Goregaon Hills and Aarey Colony to join the Andheri rivulet that runs from the granite hills and marshy land near Andheri to join the river near S.V Road. The river then moves northwards again to open into the Malad Creek.
Apart from the four rivers and the Vihar and Tulsi lakes, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park also houses the Kanheri Caves, which are Buddhist caves or viharas that were constructed as early as the 9th Century BC. While climbing the hill up to the Kanheri Caves, the view of the entire forest is amazing.
Several animals are unique to this forest, the most famous being the barking deer, the elusive Blue Mormon and Blue Oak Leaf butterflies, the Hanuman Langur and the Mouse Deer.
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is known for its leopards and has been the subject of many documentaries made by TV Channels such as Discovery and National Geographic. It is a well known fact that leopards from the forest have been known to stray into neighboring residential areas in Powai and Chandivli and have attacked unsuspecting residents. The conservationists say that it is us humans who have strayed into their land rather than it being the other way round.
Among the flora of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the most famous are the Karvy blossoms. These small plants are said to flower only once every eight years, the last such instance being recorded in 2008. The other famous species is the bamboo plant and the park has huge tracts of land covered by lush Bamboo growth. Bamboo flowering is said to occur only once in a century (as it occurs once every 60 years) and the last such flowering occurred at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in 2010.Today the park is full of new bamboo shoots that have sprung up over an expanded area and if you’ve missed the flowering, you can still go to the park to see budding Bamboo shoots, which is also a once in a lifetime sight.
How to reach there – The Sanjay Gandhi National Park has its official entrance in Borivali East on the Western Express Highway. Book a ride on the mini train network inside the National Park that takes you to a tour of the scenic parts inside the park on a narrow gauge line. (This mini train and its route were featured in the picnic song of the popular Hindi film, Amar Akbar Anthony. You can also book tickets for boat rides and a bus ride through the Lion Safari Train where you get to see lions, deer and lots of Langur.
Nature Treks in Aarey ColonyAarey Colony lies between the National Park and the Powai Lake. It is a heavily wooded area covering about 12 to 16 square kilometers of dense vegetation. Apart from being a protected natural reserve it is also a tribal area where there are about 28 small clusters of houses housing about eight thousand tribal persons. A road connecting the Western Express Highway to Powai passes through this area. One gets the feeling of passing through a forest when you pass through this area.
There are several small restaurants and a lake in an area called Chhota Kashmir where one can do boating. Various species of hedges as well as Banyan tress can be seen here. It is also well known that leopards roam in this area and have been spotted quite a few times. The lake contains ducks but these are not indigenous to the area but have been brought there as an attraction for the picnic goers.
The Aarey Colony and the adjacent Film City in Mumbai are under the control of the Maharashtra Govt. and have been featured in many Bollywood films that contain a forest scene, which gets invariably shot here.
How to reach there – One can take the road directly from near Powai Lake or enter the Aarey colony from Andheri taking the road adjacent to the Marol Pipeline. One can also enter the Aarey Colony from the Western Express Highway at Goregaon East.
Nature Treks in Madh MarveMadh Marve is another scenic area that lies to the West of Aarey Colony. Madh is actually Madh Island. Yes the notoriously celebrated island of smugglers as indicated by several Bollywood movies. Far from the bad depiction, it is a scenic place that has been largely untouched by urbanization. The small creek that separates Malvani in Malad from Madh Island is now covered by road and you can drive into Madh Island or you can take a 10 minute ferry ride from Versova Beach on the other side of Madh Island.
The waters are full of different varieties of shrimps and Bombay Duck (a longish fleshy fish unique to the area) and it would not be unusual to find these fish being salted and dried by the side of the road. There are several woody areas here though a large part of the island is controlled by the Navy. (The INS Hamla is the name of the naval base at Madh).
Make sure to visit the beach and also to visit the Madh Island fort, which has featured in so many episodes of detective and horror TV serials on Indian Television. The major flora here are the coconut and palm trees, one can also find many places serving toddy (palm wine). During the monsoon you can find Tad Golas (or fresh fruit of palm trees that is watery and sweet) being sold on hand carts here.
Nature Treks in the Mangroves of Mahim and VikhroliThere was a time when the island of Mahim had to be reached via an hour long ferry from Bandra through the dangerous Mahim Creek. A letter to the editor of the Times of India in the early nineteenth century bemoaned the death of several people who were drowned in the treacherous creek due to a ferry boat capsizing. Lady Jamshetji, the wife of the Hon. Sir Jamshetji Jeejeebhoy donated a princely sum of a few lakhs in those days to have a proper road connecting Bandra (in Salsette Island) with Mahim.
This is the Mahim Causeway – a huge engineering effort which was completed in 1845. This made the distance between Bandra and Mahim non-existent and it stayed like this for more than a hundred and fifty years till traffic jams forced the government to bypass the entire island of Mahim altogether by building the awesome Bandra Worli Sea Link.
This urbanization resulted in the almost total annihilation of the Mahim Creek and the mouth of the Mithi River that opened into the sea at exactly this area. Mahim creek is now just a shadow of its former self. An area that was once lush with mangroves that had several cranes and storks perched on its tress has now become a sewage area where drain water spills out into the sea. Encroaching slums and the Bandra Kurla corporate complex have destroyed the natural habitat of a region where crocodiles and pythons used to roam freely in its marshy wilderness. However one can still take a left turn from the Western Express Highway to go towards Dharavi and observe a relatively vast area of mangroves as you drive by.
Mangroves are composed of salt resisting trees and once constituted a major part of Mumbai’s coastline. Mangroves resist pollutants like lead and other heavy metals and therefore have not bowed down to industrial waste and garbage that now flows through the Mithi River. Mumbai’s coastline is still covered with about 22 square kilometers of mangroves and the best examples are the ones maintained by the Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Marine Ecology Centre at Vikhroli. You simply have to keep going from the Western Express Highway towards the Eastern Express Highway either from Dharavi to Sion and from there to Chunabhatti taking left after the Priyadarshini circle or cross over to the Eastern Express Highway from Powai.
Known as the Godrej Mangroves, they are unmistakably identifiable to your right as you go on the Eastern Express Highway towards Thane. You can also visit their Website and contact them for more information. They organize guided nature trails through the excellently preserved mangroves and also have an excellent marine aquarium that you can visit. You can also see different medicinal plants, view their excellent display and information about butterflies and birds of the mangrove region. You can contact them at (+91-22)67961097 for inquiring about their guided nature trails.
Nature Treks at Kamala Nehru ParkWalkeshwar and Malabar Hill South Mumbai is the erstwhile business district of Mumbai. It is also one of the classiest places to live in. Malabar Hill is one of the most prestigious localities in Mumbai. It houses the chief minister’s residence. The Kamala Nehru Park at Malabar Hill has a panoramic view of the Mumbai Chowpatty beach front and Marine drive right up to Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point. The garden has lovely Bougainvillea plants and creepers.
An identifiable landmark of Mumbai that is in the park is the Old Lady’s Shoe. Next to this was a place that was once called Cafe Naaz. It was an open air restaurant with the best view in Mumbai and was featured in many Bollywood movies, the most famous being the sequence in the 1972 film Andaz where Rajesh Khanna croons Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhaana with Hema Malini. A water pumping station is now in its place but the region still has Gulmohur trees and a walk down the road is an exquisite nature trail that you’ll find nowhere else in Mumbai.
Opposite Kamala Nehru Park lies the Hanging Garden now known as Sir Phirozshah Mehta Garden. It is a beautiful botanical garden with many different species of trees labelled neatly. The garden is also lined with hedges which are shaped in various contours of animals and are a very pleasant sight. This garden has been in existence since 1881.
From this picturesque area you can walk leisurely down NS Patkar Road to reach Walkeshwar , which houses the centuries old Banganga temple that has a pond said to have been created when Lord Rama’s arrow pierced the earth. Hence the name (Ban= arrow, Ganga = Holy body of water). It also leads to the picturesque Raj Bhavan complex, which is the official residence of the Governor of Maharashtra . Sprawled over 50 acres, the Raj Bhavan complex is a must see destination for any traveler to Mumbai simply for the magnificent gardens and the lovely view of the sea. This is the best hill top view of the Arabian Sea that you will get to see.
These nature trails are just a few examples of Mumbai’s green belt. There are other green pockets too that share the Mumbai skyline alongside its high rise buildings. Notable among these are the Sagar Upavan Botanical Garden, which is sprawled over 46000 sq meters. Maintained by the Mumbai Port Trust it is one of the most scenic spots at the southernmost tip of Mumbai. It lies near the Colaba Bus Station.
The entire Navy Nagar area from the Afghan Church to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research is also very picturesque and reminds you of a cantonment in the hills rather than an army outpost in one of the most crowded cities of the world. You can take a limited stroll here and no pictures are allowed as this is an army area. What you can, however take with you is a breath of fresh air and inner peace and comfort.
The Victoria Gardens at Byculla, now known as the Jijamata Udyan are also special as they not only have a great botanical garden within an old zoo but also contain a special garden for butterflies, a separate garden for medicinal plants and herbs, and a “Fragrance Garden” for the visually impaired. Here various trees known for their unique smells such as Champa, lemon trees, and Lasuni Vel or garlic smelling creepers are also present. The gardens themselves are over 150 years old.
Taking these nature trails demonstrates that Mumbai can be a living example where the concrete jungle can still blend with the natural jungle and a green city washed by the rains can still have clearer air and a cleaner environment.