City forest gives a break from humdrum of Mumbai life

City forest gives a break from humdrum of Mumbai life

Trails are dime a dozen but definitely this one takes the cake. Not many trails offer interesting views this one provides, including a view of three lakes.

Jambulmal, the highest peak of Mumbai located inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in the northern suburbs of India’s commercial capital, is unique in many respects.

Being the topmost point of Mumbai, one can see Tulsi lake, Vihar lake and Powai lake. On way to the top, one can see the tall buildings – the concrete jungle, a view from within the real jungle.

At the beginning of the ascent, majestic Kanheri caves-- a complex of 100-plus caves—are located. Plus, during the trail, one learns the art of being in wilderness and there is a chance to see a variety of animals and birds. It would not be a
surprise, if one can spots a leopard or pug marks.

SGNP, spread over 103 sq km in Mumbai and neighbouring districts of Thane and Palghar, is the only national park in the world, which is located inside a metropolitan region. Often referred to as the “city forest” or “green lung” of Mumbai, there are several trails to explore inside – and the “Highest Point Trail” or Jambulmal (also spelled as Jambhulmal or Jhambulmal) is the most interesting.

The SGNP is a protected area and the trail begins from the Kanheri caves, which comes under the Archaeological Survey of India. The trail is about 3 km and takes over three hours for amateurs to reach Jambulmal machan, which is 486 m above the sea level.

“This trek is always quite rewarding and with every season has got its own speciality. I prefer to go just after rains as there is a good butterfly population and some rarely seen wild flowers around this place,” says Isaac Kehimkar, the General Manager, Programmes of Bombay Natural History Society-India, who is a veteran naturalist and country’s foremost butterfly expert. The recent Jambulmal trek of BNHS-India was conducted by Vandan Jhaveri and Prachi Galange, who say that the period between November and February offers the best to the nature-loving people.

According to them, this medium-grade trek leads one through fine forest and narrow trails in the midst of thick Karvi bushes that open out to a magnificent view of the city and the three lakes Tulsi, Vihar and Powai.

“Along the way, one explores the biodiversity inside the park. The Gaimukh plateau along the way is known for raptor sightings and the trail affords us excellent view of birds like White-browed Bulbul, Puffthroated Babbler, Purple Sunbird,
Indian Grey Hornbill, Brown-headed Barbet, and Greater Rackettailed Drongo,” said Atul Sathe, the spokesperson of BNHS-India.

“It is interesting. One learns a lot while going there,” said Samir Gulavane, an avid conservationalist.

A visit here is really rich and as the trail progresses one learns about the Kanheri caves - -the word comes from Sanskrit ‘Krishnagiri’, which means black mountains. One can see the caves, the basaltic rock, the vegetation, the water management system of those times.

As far as the SGNP is concerned, the rich and diverse forest holds more than 1,000 species of plants, 40 species of mammals, 251 of birds, covering migratory, land and water birds, 38 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibians besides a large variety of fishes. The park is a tree lovers’ delight in all seasons with the great amount of bio-diversity, ranging from Adina cardifolia (kadamb), Albizzia lebbek (Shirish), Pongamia pinnata (Karanj), Tectona grandis (Teak) Dalbergia latifolia (Sishum) to Acacia, Zizyphus and evergreen patches of Euphorbia .

The Kanheri caves located well within the park area is a major point of attraction, presenting an accessible and interesting glimpse of the history and the
culture of Buddhist India. Most of these 109 Buddhist caves, chiselled out of the volcanic rock are simple small chambers, known as viharas, the cells for monks.

A few are larger and deeper chambers known as chaityas, for congregational worship.
The main one has colossal figures of standing Buddha, 7 m in height, on each side of the entrance porch, a colonnade of 34 pillars surrounding the interior halls and an overtopped stupa (shrine) at the far end, all carved from the stone in place. These caves are dated from 1st century BC to 9th century AD indicating a well-organised Buddhist establishment of monks existed on an ancient trade route connecting a number of trade centres and Indian ports. In this area, there are nearly 100 inscriptions, including three in Pallavis, two in Sanskrit, one in Devnagri.

“This site is very important for archaeological studies, coming here is always enriching,” said Vinayak Parab, a journalist, whose photographs of archaeological sites of Mumbai, have been published in “Stories of Stone: Historic Caves of Mumbai” co-authored by Dr Suraj Pandit and Arun Narayanan.

According to Vidya Athreya-founded Mumbaikars for SGNP: “It is the only “city forest” of its kind benefitting diverse groups of people. This is especially true of the tribes which depend on this forest and exude immense respect towards its wildlife. For example, some of the tribes worship large cats and there are local beliefs about not harming this animal as it would invite bad luck. This has perhaps influenced the tolerance levels of communities that have lived in close quarters with wildlife but have still managed to ensure the survival of a large cat like the leopard in the concrete jungle of this
metropolis.”

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