Mumbai’s urban jungle, after dark
(Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images)
When overwhelmed by hectic city life, Mumbaikars often head to their beloved Sanjay Gandhi National Park for a picnic or hike. But if you feel the need to get even further from the heaving masses, a new night programme launched by the park’s Nature Interpretation Centre (NIC) could well be your answer.
Located just 30km north of the tony South Mumbai neighbourhood, the city’s 104sqkm green lung is the only protected urban forest in the whole of India. And nothing compares to the thrill of being in this jungle environment after dark.
The programme begins at 7:30 pm, after the general visitors have left the park, with a stargazing session at the Gandhi Smarak memorial on Pavilion Hill. Noted stargazer Harit Papaiya introduces newbies to this nocturnal hobby, and on a clear night you can expect to see Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn and the Orion Nebula.
However, it is the 9:30 pm nature walk with Jagdish Vakale, an expert on the park’s flora and fauna, that is the evening’s highlight. Learn about the park’s biodiversity – home to more than 1,000 species of plants, 40 mammal species and 38 reptile species – and look out for bear, deer, owlets, bats, scorpion and snakes. The last reported wild tiger sighting was in 2003, but leopards can still occasionally be seen.
After an evening meal, stay in one of the seven tents listening to the sounds of the night. The campsite volunteers will identify the sounds of animals on the prowl and provide a wealth of information about forest life.
Early next morning before the park is overrun by weekend visitors, walk another nature trail with Vakale to learn about indigenous plant such as kadamba and flame of the forest, and bird species such as golden orioles and racket-tailed drongos.
Other activities include the 13 hectare lion and tiger safari park; a mini train ride along the hills of the Gandhi memorial into the Deer Park; boating and crocodile-spotting on a lotus-filled lake; and painting lessons from an alumnus of Sir JJ Institute of Applied Arts, Mumbai’s premier art college. Plans are also underway to introduce wildlife photography sessions and rock climbing at the 2,400-year-old rock-cut Kanheri Caves later this year.
The programme runs every Saturday until Sunday afternoon, though activities are season dependent, and is designed for a minimum group size of 20 to 25. For registration, contact Jagdish Vakale, Education Extension Officer at the NIC, on 93-20-267-527 or 022-28-847-800, or through NIC’s Facebook page.
Sharon Fernandes is the Mumbai Localite for BBC Travel