Mumbai is a unique city. Just when you think you have the place figured out, she tends to surprise you. The Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP) at Sion is one such surprise story. Less than 30 years ago, the 37-acre then called Mahim Nature Park was a treeless garbage dump, with the sprawling slums of Dharavi to one side and a polluted Mithi River creek to the other. Today, the same land supports thick woodlands with over 14,000 trees and a variety flora and fauna. It even attracts migratory birds from regions as far as the Himalayas and beyond. Located in the heart of the city, this park is one of Mumbai’s best-kept secrets.
Finding the place is easy. After all, how can one miss so much greenery in the concrete jungle that is Mumbai? No sooner do you turn off the Bandra-Sion Link Road that you are transported into a realm that is dramatically different from the immediate surroundings. One minute you are standing on a busy Dharavi road, the next you are surrounded by a verdant curtain. Take a more few steps inside and you can actually feel a drop in the temperature.
The MNP is open from 9.30 am to 6 pm on weekdays but considering that the best time for bird-watching is early morning or evening, it is advisable to reach the park around then. Just give the park administration prior intimation and they will have a ranger waiting at the gate at the designated hour to take you around. Pay an entry fee of Rs 5 and you are good to go.
Inside the park perimeter, a brick-laid trail takes nature enthusiasts deep into a dense curtain of green.
There are 300 varieties of plants including at least 100 kinds of woody trees and a wealth of herbs and shrubs. The guide provides each trekker with a map that pinpoints the location of each plant variety. It is difficult to avoid gaining some knowledge as you walk along. We learnt that while exotic plants were given priority earlier, in recent years, endemic varieties too are being grown within the park.
These plants also attract several varieties of butterflies including the Great Eggfly and the Common Leopard. And do watch out for those insects and snakes. The park is home to several species of snakes, right from the harmless rat snake to the venomous Cobra and Russell’s Viper. Those lucky few can also manage a glimpse of the Starred Tortoise and the Flying Fox aka Fruit Bats.
But the highlight of the park is undoubtedly the several species of birds it attracts. MNP has a bird tally of 115 species. About 25 of these breed here, while the rest include winter and local migrants. While most are brought here by the grass and scrub on offer, the presence of a water body within the park (yes, there is a lake inside!) brings in many varieties of water birds. The list of what you might see is endless and includes Ring-Necked Parakeets, Mahratta Woodpecker, Greater Spotted Eagle, Asian Pied Starling and the Barn Owl, amongst others.
The MNP trail can easily take a trekker between two to three hours to complete. Add the stops one takes to take photographs of a Green Vine Snake, to take a look at the flowers in bloom or just appreciate nature in the middle of the city, and this visit becomes a half-day activity. But is it worth it? Yes, with a capital Y!