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Disappearing speck of nature

Our concrete ambitions are destroying what was once a wetland bird haven

travel Updated: Mar 23, 2010 18:56 IST

Until the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust was established here to decongest the Mumbai Port, Uran was a quaint little fishing village, known to the avid birdwatchers of Mumbai as a birding hotspot. And to those interested in history, it was known as the naval base of that fisherman-turned-master naval strategist of Shivaji, Kanhoji Angre. The one who held sway over every single fort on the coast of Konkan, including a few fabulous forts built in the middle of the Arabian Sea.

Today, Uran is on the verge of a sea-change. From a mere fishing village, it's about to be converted into a concrete jungle. Frenetic activity is going on to make it an S.E.Z, a sobriquet that ill fits it unless it means Special Ecological Zone.

With the Sewri-Nhava Sheva Sea Link looming ominously on the horizon, the destruction of Uran is near complete. In a matter of weeks, an array of mountains between Panvel and Uran has made way for monstrous container yards. Their voracious appetite unsatiated, gigantic earth-moving equipment continue to gnaw at the insides of the mountains. And dumpers stand in endless queues, waiting to transport the debris, and dump it into the home of over a 100 species of wetland birds.

Pink stop
A little while ago, as the tide rose steadily, thousands of flamingos that come to the mangroves between Sewri and Mahul used to take off into the skies forming gigantic pink clouds, and land in the inviting wetlands of Uran. Imagine the trauma they must have gone through when they looked down from the skies and discovered to their dismay that what was once their homeland has been conquered by the greed of man. There is a tiny bit of this exotic wetland that still remains intact. A handful of migratory birds forage here for food, blissfully unaware of the happenings around them.
But the dumpers in the distance -- filled with what was once a mountain -- are a grim reminder that this too will disappear, leaving no trace whatsoever of what was once a paradise for birds. To be lost, forever.

Old fishing village
Along the white sands of the beaches of Uran, you can still see all the typical activities of a fishing village, especially when a boat arrives with its catch of seafood. You can also see really large boats being built there, in continuation of a tradition perfected over 300 nautical years. After that, you could drive further down the coast to see history frozen in the ruins of the Karanja Fort.
After exploring the remnants of Uran, you could head off on a jungle trail towards Karjat and continue through the forests, till you reach Neral in the foothills of Matheran.
The lotus pond with lotuses in full bloom, and beautiful birds called bronze-winged jacanas walking gingerly on those delicate lotus leaves, is a sight worth going miles to see. And of course, the sights and sounds of other forest birds, scrubland birds, and even raptors scanning the earth for preys, make it a truly refreshing experience.

Fragile environment
When you get back to base camp in Uran, recharged, take a second look at the wanton destruction around you, and pose this question to yourself: What are we going to pass on to our next generation, from whom we have borrowed this fragile earth?
Habitats where the miracles of nature surprise you every living moment, or a vast wasteland of memories turned brown?
Uran. See it this weekend. The next one may be too late.

Gangadharan is a wildlife writer and photographer. He heads the recently-launched Junglelens, an GO working for the conservation of nature and wildlife.

Getting there
By sea:Take a ferry to JNPT from the Gateway of India. After an hour-long journey in the constant company of the seagulls bobbing in the nearby waters, you will reach the JNPT jetty. From there, you can take an auto to reach Uran.

By road:You can also travel to Panvel by road and then get to Uran.

Hotel stay: otel Uran Plaza, set amidst a coconut grove spread over nine acres, is run by Admiral Perreira and is a comfortable place to stay.