Every time I visit this garden, I am filled with a sense of having strayed far beyond the city into some kind of mystical haven where I can lose myself — and recharge myself too.
One step inside its gate and the sudden twitter of sparrows, crows and cuckoos has completely drowned all memories of the grime and the concrete, the traffic and the honking of the world outside. Here, the green quotient outweighs the crowd quotient and for an entry fee of a mere two rupees, this garden offers more pleasure than you could dare ask the city for.
Getting to Colaba’s Sagar Upvan, better known as the Mumbai Port Trust’s Botanical Gardens, is easy enough – any bus going to Colaba bus station will stop right outside the park.
I choose to go on an evening in the middle of the week, seeking refuge from the pressures of working life. Since the garden is open from 6 to 11 in the mornings, and again in the evenings from 4.30 to 8.30, you can choose between the rising or setting sun. Sunset it is for me.
Feeling like an intruder in a land that rightfully belongs to the birds, I instinctively switch off my cell phone. No noisy chatting, I tell myself, as I set off, marveling at the vision of those who created this Eden out of a garbage dump.
Since it is a botanical garden, the plants that surround and arch over the walkways are all labelled in Marathi and English. While tourists like me linger over the Latin names, daily strollers — senior citizens, couples, young joggers, parents hoping to give their kids some edu-tainment — quickly head towards their favourite spots.
My first spot is the Cactus House, a circular glass enclosure where the thorny beauties reside. I am not the only one wondering why it’s locked, though. “You can’t touch them because they are pokey-pokey,” a mother nearby explains to her curious son. Ah, now I see.
A little further I bump into the matriarch of the garden: she’s a mammoth banyan tree, spreading her laden arms over a wide radius, with a sign at her feet that declares, ‘The peepal, banyan and mango are considered sacred plants.’ I bow in reverence and move to my personal favourite sections — the open lawns.
There are two or three of them amidst the groves, all laid out on hillocks. Think of all that allows you to do… Run barefoot on the grass. Roll down the slopes. Sit with a book (or a special someone). Lie down and stare at the sky, enveloped by a horizon of tree tops, everything green and blue. Or sit atop the hillock and meditate, waiting for enlightenment to dawn on you.
I find plenty of enlightenment, but of a more practical kind. I learn, for instance, that the money plant is called Epipremum Aureum. And the wise old Ashoka tree is technically Polyalthia Longifolia. And bamboo, by the way, is short for Bambusa Bambos.
Much smarter now, I whiz past a senior citizens’ sammelan and follow the whiff of the sea. There it is, at the edge of the garden, a calm inlet of blue that opens out to the Arabian Sea.
Whispering leaves, gentle waves, bird-calls, and a beautiful sunset — this is one place in the city that believes in giving, and asks so little of you in return.
This weekly column explores the city’s low-cost pleasures