‘Haunted’ in folklore, south Delhi’s Sanjay Van is now a birders’ paradise
Search ‘Sanjay Van’ on Google and you get endless stories that put the sprawling forest in the list of Delhi’s ‘most haunted’ places.
But visit the forest – spread over 784 acres along the picturesque Aravalli hills in south Delhi – and you will find the stories are misleading and how.
The forest is all set to become a vibrant lush green urban landscape with newly formed water bodies attracting an abundance of birds.
It has also, in the past two months, become popular among morning walkers, cyclists and bird watchers in south Delhi through a joint effort of Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and a citizens’ group.
A month from now, more nature lovers will be able to enjoy a jungle safari-like experience, the newest attraction.
“Till recently, many ghost stories linked to the forest kept people away. Now you can see visitors at all times of the day. On weekends, we see over a 1,000 visitors in the morning,” said Air Vice Marshal (retd) Vinod Rawat, founder of the citizens group, Working With Nature (WWN).
The group is assisting DDA in the beautification drive that aims to counter paranormal stories linked to the forest.
As the ‘ghost’ stories go, someone lights candles in the night under trees and a saint walks along the illuminated path. Many say it is the spirit of 14th-century Sufi saint Hazrat Sheikh Shahabuddin Ashiqallah whose mausoleum lies in the backyard of the forest in the middle of many other graves.
At times, the fear is attributed to a nearby crematorium and a number of unclaimed bodies found in the forests.
The efforts to conserve, reintroduce and spread the forest cover -- part of the Mehrauli-South central ridge near the iconic Qutub Minar -- with native trees of Aravalli origin started in 2010 when the authority hired Air Vice Marshal (retd) Rawat, a botanist, and his team.
The idea is to eventually convert it into a bird sanctuary. But for now, visitors, after entering through the gate on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, can watch birds, water bodies and rocks developed as selfie spots, apart from the vegetation and a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the city’s landscape from a watch tower .
“The common among the birds include peacock, booted eagles, oriental honey-buzzards and blue bull,” said Air Vice Marshal (retd) Rawat.
“We have documented over 150 species of birds found here,” he said. For cyclists, the forest provides a perfect place for a 20-km expedition along the rocky terrains. A network of seven inter-linked water bodies (lakes) has come up after diverting flowing water of treated Vasant Kunj sewage.
All this can be seen in the 45-minute golf cart ride, once it begins.
“Pottering around the forests in the golf cart is a nice way to familiarise with nature. We have three eight-seated battery-operated golf carts that we use during VIP visits. DDA will give us a two/three 11-seated carts,” said Air Vice Marshal (retd) Rawat
The authority, which owns the land, started a plantation drive in May with the target of planting 1.5 saplings.
“20,000 saplings have already been planted since July this year. Our priority is to plant trees with medicinal properties,” said Gajendra Singh, director, horticulture, DDA.
The species planted include dhak, khejri, desi keekar, hingot, ronjh, bistendu, to name a few.
Sandeep Mehta, chief engineer (electrical), DDA, who looks after Sanjay Van, said, “We will provide 11-seated carts to WWN so that they can be put to use in the forest.”
“The forest will be declared a bird sanctuary once the birds are in abundance,” he said.