Albert Einstein once said, ‘Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything’. Modern-day urban cynics would scoff aloud. While genius minds from a century ago had the time and the avenues to frolic amidst natural beauty, where and how can we afford such luxuries now? Let me tell you then, that such luxury beckons in the heart of our neighbourhood.
With the Sanjay Gandhi National Park being well within our reach, it affords easy access to natural beauty to the city at large. Coming up this Sunday, July 24th, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) is hosting a monsoon trail at Shilonda. The trail is within the precincts of the National Park.
I spoke to Asif Khan, Associate Officer of Programmes at BNHS to find out more about this monsoon trail. At the very onset of our conversation, he highlighted a significant fact. ‘Mumbai is only the second city in the world that can boast of such a large forest area within city limits.’ The other would probably be Manaus in Brazil, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Very few people know and acknowledge this environmental opportunity. The idea, therefore, of organising such activities is to engage people and make them love the eco-diversity that the National Park exhibits. ‘Once you fall in love with it, you will care for it and then make efforts to save it,’ says Khan.
Undoubtedly, Mumbai’s monsoon plays perfect cupid to make anyone fall in love with the flora and fauna in the Park. Shilonda is the most popular trail here. It’s about two kilometres into the forest area, once you cross the entry point. It starts small and slow, since BNHS guides believe in showing every possible detail to the visitors. Wild flowers, plants, micro-predators like spiders and even some species of birds are shown. ‘People have this misconception that predators are only some large animals and that one must only watch out for huge spectacles on a trail. But we believe in showing them the smallest wonders that make the whole experience memorable,’ Khan says.
Head-over-heels in love with Shilonda for more than 25 years is Dr. Amita Suchak, a resident of Malad east. Her first visit was an accidental one, way back in 1990, when she stumbled upon this “small muddy trail”. ‘It led to deep forests and we discovered many rivers and waterfalls along the way’, she recollects. ‘It is more public now; back then it was a secret between just a few friends.’ Shilonda still remains a part of the Park’s core zone, which is why entry is restricted to the public-at-large and can only be accessed by prior permission. The BNHS obviously clears these levels of permits for trail visits.
Quiz Suchak on her Shilonda spottings at her responses are prompt. ‘The birds I’ve seen most often are Paradise Flycatchers, I have spotted leopards twice and seen beautiful spider webs too’. For the more botanically inclined, Suchak shares about the rare Karvy flower, that blooms every eight years. ‘I have seen it in more than three seasons. This is year too it will be in bloom and I am very excited to see it once more!’ she adds.
There need to be more such enthusiasts who seek nature for solace and recreation and can help conserve what remains of it, for the future. Suchak herself has influenced and encouraged a lot of people to walk this trail with her and these visitors have returned in awe of the possibility of such pristine beauty within Mumbai city. Once you are there, all you see is the greenery and sky and one is able to quickly disconnect from the city. The waterfalls are a great attraction for people of all ages.
Another highlight is a big river crossing that comes on the way, which is called paddu nadi. ‘It’s a Gujarati phrase, indicating that you’re bound to fall no matter what. We all love to see our new comers fall and have a hearty laugh,’ Suchak says.
On that note – if you haven’t planned your Sunday morning (or even if you have) I suggest you give Shilonda a chance to brighten your weekend. While you’re trying to hit refresh for the coming week, let the urban forest in a growing concrete jungle be the option you click.
• Charges: 200 for members and 300 for non-members. Costs include forest department charges and BNHS expertise.
• Reporting and reporting time: Members to meet inside SGNP beyond the ticket counter, under the large map of SGNP at 07:30 am
• Registration: On the spot.
• Call Hornbill House 22871202/22821811 (Mon-Fri 09:30 am to 05:30 pm) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
• Please carry adequate water, packed breakfast and a hat/cap
.• Note: SGNP gate opens at 7:30 am, participants will have to buy the entry ticket at the main gate. Sundays are usually crowded, with long queues for entry. Avoid getting your own vehicle. Kindly carry adequate water and packed breakfast.
The programme should conclude by 10:30 am. Be prepared for rains.