I love Gurgaon: How a wildlife expert discovered nature inside a concrete jungle

I LOVE MANGARBANI: The old forest remains largely untouched and provides a haven for residents of a city that has been continuously exploited for development.

I Love Gurgaon Updated: Jun 02, 2017 01:00 IST
Mangarbani forest,Aravalli Biodiversity Park Gurgaon,#ILoveGurgaon
Many Gurgaon residents visit the Mangarbani forest regularly to get away from the busy hustle and bustle of city life.(Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

I sometimes wonder what Guru Dronacharya would think of this place — now a city on steroids — that carries his name and was his ‘dakshina’, as per legend, from king Dhritrashtra of Hastinapur. It would have been a tiny, quaint village with fields and forests bordered by the ancient and rugged Aravallis, with exuberant streams running through it.

I think I would have been more at home in that Gurgaon. That’s my problem — I am not a city girl. Oh sure, I live here and my passport, Aadhaar card et al proclaim me as a bona fide resident of Gurgaon, but little do these official documents know that my heart and soul wander the wilds of India.

When our relocation here seemed inevitable (eight years ago from its equally polluted neighbour, Delhi), I did it amid much grumbling. Gurgaon, I groused to anyone who would lend an impatient ear, is so not me. It is the leading light of gated communities, whose ‘gated’ exclusionary concept jarred. I mourned the loss of open spaces, seethed with guilt at the devastation the Millennium City had caused to the verdant Aravallis. I hunted (not literally, and futilely) for the deer of the Deer Wood Chase, craning my neck for valleys that Meadow Views promised. I searched for this lost green amid the endless walls of concrete. Seeded in the hollowed out earth, the multiplex-mall-towers mushroomed overnight, growing speedily into towers of concrete.

Animals, wild and domestic, were the ‘other’. Dogs, strays and pets alike, were unwelcome; bees that dared construct hives were killed in one efficient spray of pesticide; robust, old trees that had weathered many storms—but not survived the roads—had given way to limp, dwarfed creatures, incapable of providing shade and shelter to birds and primates alike.

The Mangarbani forest is considered a sacred grove by locals. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

I would have been quite the wrong person to pen this paean to Gurgaon, but gradually and unexpectedly, the city revealed sides that had me doubting my haste of taking it at face value.

My first discovery (thanks Pradip Krishen) was momentous. I first came to know about the Mangarbani in Trees of Delhi before I had the good fortune to walk this dense green valley that rolls onto the hills of undisturbed forests, an oasis of silence and beauty in a noisy, brash city. I was a mere 15 minutes, yet a world away, from traffic jams, noisy metro hubs, smog, smoke, glittery multiplexes and malls.

Mangarbani is the last remnant of Gurgaon as it once was. In a landscape that has been relentlessly exploited, this old forest remains largely untouched, thanks to a band of fierce protectors who have fought to save this pious, natural heritage.

Hope has another address here, and it’s called the Aravalli Biodiversity Park. Once a barren and scarred landscape after parts of it were mined, it is now a forest in the making, harbouring about 200 plant species that had been all but wiped out from the region. The park showcases the endangered flora of the northern Aravallis and the power of the people, as it a citizen group’s effort.

Nature has crept into my immediate surroundings as well.

View of the Mangarbani valley (Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

In my verandah, I put up bird houses veiled by a curtain of riotous creepers, a few assorted plants and young trees. Also, I provide for dinner grains and bits of fruits, and shallow pots of water for birds to drink and take a dip in. Also using the facilities are dragonflies, tiny drone-like insects, dainty with their glittery, glassy wings.

I soon discovered an unlikely neighbour. Among the spindly, designer trees around, I found an old childhood friend — shahtoot — its tart berries feasted on by a riot of birds and me.

I found the city’s heart in unexpected places. One exclusive gated colony devoted part of its prized real estate to shelter sick, wounded, ignored and abused animals. Any ailing bird is promptly admitted in the hospital solely run for the purpose.

Bulbuls feast on tart berries near the writer’s residence. (Prerna Singh Bindra)

A few years ago, a feckless, reckless driver drove over our beloved pet. It was a hit-and-run. My shattered faith was renewed by some friends who put our bleeding dog in their vehicle and saw him and us through the agonising days of recovery, till Doginder was back on his feet again.

It was here in the society where I live that four pups were bundled into a bag and thrown in the bin, but it was this horrific, illegal act that gave birth to a band of passionate champions who have kept compassion alive by neutering dogs and going out in 45 degrees Celsius to slake the thirst of creatures outside. They have given much-maligned creatures such as bats and snakes a chance by dialling rescuers instead of battering them to death, thus making their world more inclusive.

While our relationship is never going to be one of those ‘saat-janam ka saath wala’ things, Gurgaon and I are getting along fine, for I know that hidden under the layers of steel, is a heart that sometimes goes wild.

(Prerna Singh Bindra is a writer and wildlife conservationist. She recently authored When I grow up I want to be a tiger, and her forthcoming book The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis will be released in June.)

First Published: May 25, 2017 09:55 IST