Ever seen a baby toad take a leap of faith in a stream? A mother crab scurry away with her infant clinging to her bosom? Or chanced upon a spotted deer, momentarily frozen, before it disappears into the thicket?
I’m not talking about the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet or National Geographic. I mean right there, in front of your eyes, as you strain to identify that chirping note from the treetop. Could it be the pied crested cuckoo — harbinger of the monsoon in India — that sings with joy now that the rains are finally here?
Right now is perhaps the best time to take a walk in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) at Borivli, when the first few monsoon showers have washed the dust off the trees, the jungle shimmers with varied hues of green, and the streams and rivers are bubbling with crystal clear water.
Avoid that section of the park that houses some caged animals bored with the picnicking hordes of noisy humans who descend on them every Sunday.
Instead, at the ticket window, ask for permission to go on one of the nature trails like the Shilonda or Nagla trails, the Tulsi lake or log hut trails.
Even if you don’t complete the trail, there will be many rewards. The invigorating walk, for one. Sightings of rare birds or everyday domestic scenes in the animal kingdom. A feel of the jungle, oneness with Nature.
The glorious sight of birds and insects feasting on the buffet of colourful flowers, fruits and leaves while you draw deep on jungle air.
However, you can’t just zip off on these trails; you need official permission to do so. You can obtain that at the main entry gate at Borivli, and it is granted on the condition that you take a forest guard along. It will cost you only Rs 50 per head extra.
Whether the guard can protect you if a leopard decides to step out for a stroll is debatable but at least he will ensure that you do not destroy any part of the forest.
Your best bet is to go with wildlife experts who conduct nature walks. I went on one organised by The Climate Project with Dr Anish Andheria and Anand Pendharkar. As our group of some 20 Mumbaikars soaked in the sights and sounds of this cool haven, the two wildlife experts offered us small details like the reason why new leaves are not bright green (so they don’t attract attention from ravenous insects).
Others who organise nature trails are the Bombay Natural History Society, Sprouts, Birds of Bombay group, , World Wide Fund for Nature, Sanctuary, Extramural Studies Department of Mumbai University at Kalina, and the Nature Information Centre of the SGNP. Take your pick.
And quit complaining about Mumbai’s lack of green cover — make the most of this national park, the only one of its kind that is surrounded by a concrete jungle.