“Hills and jungles in Mumbai? That’s not possible!” exclaimed a friend’s father to her when she disclosed her plans to join me for a jungle trail in the city. But as soon as we entered the lush premises of the Conservation Education Centre (CEC)—an arm of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS)—in Film City on a July morning, she was convinced that her father was wrong. This wild abode had a lot to offer than mere scenic views.
It was a rainy day when I, in company of three friends, set out for a trail in the suburb of Goregaon. The centre, whose parameters are believed to border Borivali’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is lauded for its research and conservation efforts on natural history, and offers various certificate courses for wildlife enthusiasts. Situated not very far from the city’s bustling life, the centre is now open for nature trails after a respite from the lockdown.
As we embarked upon the jaunt with our naturalist, I took in the sights of my surroundings with a hint of nostalgia. It had been a decade since I had visited the reserve for a three-night camp. Memories tucked in my subconscious jumped to life as I watched birds go about their day and looked for critters in leaf-litter. The forest was embedded in hues of brown and yellow that summer. My older self was thrilled to see the same corners to have been transformed by time into a lush landscape that Mumbaikars turn towards each monsoon.
Here, inspiration bloomed in every corner: trees like the Morinda tinctoria bore fruits that looked like soccer balls, and flowers awaited critters to trap and release them for pollination. The damp barks of trees were coated in otherworldly fungi. Some resembled a bird’s nest smaller than the size of my thumbnail, while some, clustered like coral, deceived the naked eye. Ground orchids, flowers of wild turmeric and crepe ginger blossomed gloriously, attracting several insects. Butterflies such as the great orange tip, commander, the blue oakleaf, and palm-sized blue mormon—the state butterfly of Maharashtra and one of the largest in India—fluttered in the setting. Spotting a snail became more eventful when a two-tailed spider, guarding its egg case right above the mollusc, caught my attention.
The national park is an abode not only to gentle creatures, but also more ferocious ones. The city is known to coexist with one of the most elusive and enigmatic big cats—the leopard. Those who don’t believe in its existence here may find some evidence on this trail. We came across a bark etched with scratch marks of a leopard. It is their way of claiming a territory. Just a few metres ahead overlooking the forest downhill was a rock that seemed like the perfect spot for a leopard to lounge on. When I asked our naturalist about this, he immediately pulled out his phone and showed us a video of a leopard dragging a wild boar-kill on the same rock. “Wildlife biologists who study this animal got this footage from a camera trap they set here,” he told us. We were stunned by the power and dominance of this carnivore. For a moment, we felt its presence around. Though onlookers may not encounter this feline, it is always aware of their presence while guarding its home.
As we descended further, we were greeted by a gurgling stream. “The jewel of Konkan is spotted here very often,” the naturalist informs us. The oriental dwarf kingfisher gets the moniker for its vibrant colours. Orange, purple, pin—the bird stands out in the frondescence. Although the avian is a resident of the Western Ghats, it arrives in the Konkan region during this time every year to breed, and has garnered a separate fan base amongst birdwatchers and photographers. As it is in a very sensitive stage of its life, it tends to avoid people. To reduce our disturbance, we didn’t wait for it either and enjoyed what came our way.
The hour-and-a-half long trail ended at Salim Ali Point named after the great ornithologist late Dr. Salim Ali. It offered sights of the Vihar lake, but a thick canopy of trees clouded our view. “You should visit in the winters to get a better glimpse of the lake,” the naturalist told us. And I certainly will return. It’s a getaway closest to home and farthest from life’s daily chaos.
There are two options which need advance bookings. Those who simply want to trek and enjoy the landscape, reach out to the staff from BNHS. Entry ticket for Rs150 on weekdays and Rs200 on weekends per person can be purchased on site. An additional fee of Rs500 is charged for a guide. A membership is recommended for regular visits. (www.bnhs.org/membership-form; Contact: BNHS CEC- +91 85913 18027)
For those who wish to see interesting flora and fauna, embark on a trail with JY Brothers. (www.instagram.com/jy_brothers). The trail is approximately an hour long, unless you plan to spend more time photographing and observing critters, which may increase the duration. Carrying a water bottle is recommended. Wear comfortable, full-length clothes to avoid mosquitoes. Good, waterproof shoes are a must as the paths are slippery in monsoon. Safety tips for trekkers and the wild denizens living there: Avoid touching or handling anything. Leave only footprints, not trash.