The city has a wild side. Within the commercial capital there are spaces where temperatures are three degrees lower and crickets are three decibels louder and the only colour seen is green. Begin with a visit to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) or Borivli National Park. The 100 sq km park is the world’s largest forest located in a city and covers more than one third of Mumbai. Home to 18 leopards and the world’s smallest cat, the rusty spotted cat, this national park is unique. Walk past the huge gates of the park, very close to Borivli station, and you find yourself in nature’s lap. You must go on the tiger and lion safari. Seated in a bus (with grills for safety), you will be driven around a 14 km enclosure where tigers and lions roam free. The animals will be at the watering hole or just lazing in the sun. They might even growl just to rattle you.
“There are six striped Bengal cats and three lions as part of the safari,” said PN Munde, director, SGNP. Other attractions are the mini train and botanical gardens.
“Walking along the train track is a great experience. It is mostly abandoned apart from the trains passing by,” said Milind Mistry, a regular visitor. At one end are first century BC Kanheri Caves. A 23-foot Buddha stands at the entrance of Kanheri, which means black mountain in Sanskrit. If you want to skip the usual suspects, the park offers some fascinating treks in Yeoor Hills. There are guest houses too where you can spend the night.
Further south, near Dharavi, is the Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP) or Mahim Nature Park. A five-minute walk from Dharavi bus depot, this 37-acre park was once a garbage dump. Once you enter the park, you forget about Dharavi, the world’s largest slum. “Early mornings are the best for bird watching. We also provide guides who are bird experts,” said Avinash Kubal, deputy director of the park.
The park has 76 species of butterflies and is great for a butterfly trail.
While visiting the park, take a minute to chat with Namdev Korde, 43, the park guard. “I am an arts graduate but I work here for the peace and beauty the park offers,” said Korde. A bit of an expert himself, ask him about anything and he has the answer ready for you, be it the medicinal plants in the nursery or the birds in the park.
This is also the best time to go flamingo watching. The birds are the city’s most majestic visitors. The mudflats of Sewri and Uran are the best spots.
If you want to venture a little out of the city, Kharghar Hills in Navi Mumbai are a perfect getaway. Head up the hills, drive till you find Phansawadi, a village with 40 houses. Once on top, you can see hills and on one side and a view of the planned city of Kharghar on the other.
At the end of the road is the SPAN Mahila Vikas Charitable Trust, a park with 9,000 medicinal plants and a picnic spot.