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Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai

 

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Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai

Introduction
Located within the confines of the Greater Mumbai - one of the largest metropolises in the world -  is the only National Park in the country to have that distinction - a full 106 square kilometers of jungle with a wide variety of flora and fauna, within the Mumbai postal code!

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, or SGNP or Borivali National Park for short, is a very popular tourist attraction among the tourists and the locals alike. The park is crucial for the green cover - and is a tree-lover's delight any time of the year - and is a boon to the nearby areas due to cooling effect it provides. The entire park is awash with the rainbow hues of the flowers that bloom here, during the monsoon season. And the numerous tiny brooks with their pleasant gurgling sound make for a heavenly setting!

Flora and fauna
The park also has a wide variety of wild-life, which it is known to shelter since the past several decades of the urbanization of Mumbai. One can have encounters with several of the species which include spotted deer, black naped hare, barking deer, porcupine, palm civet, mouse deer, rhesus macaque, Hanuman langur, Indian flying fox, sambhar, leopards etc. One can see crocodiles in the Tulsi Lake, and pythons, cobras, monitor lizards, Russell's viper, bamboo pit viper and Ceylonese cat snake here. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is also very popular for its diverse types of birds. It is a paradise for the bird watchers.

Tourist Attractions
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park also offers to its visitors a Lion and Tiger safari.
There are quite a few lions in the park - all in their respective enclosures. There are special buses provided by the park authorities for the safari. The park area is spread with dense forest which make up for an ideal habitat for tigers. The lion and tiger safari offers an opportunity to the visitors to see and understand the two majestic animals.

Besides the routine attractions like the toy train (Krishnagiri express), the lion and tiger safari and the boating facilities, there are the gorgeous and historically very important
Kanheri caves. There are more than 90 caves in the complex, and covering all of them requires some level of fitness! Not all are easily accessible and need some trekking and rock climbing! The caves here are relatively better preserved as compared to those at Elephanta (though, the cave no. 1 at Elephanta cannot be outshone, the other caves there are relatively unattractive). From near the entrance of the Borivali end, you can pick up a bus to the Kanheri caves at a nominal charge (about Rs 20/-).

Kanheri caves at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park

And then there is the Gandhi tekri, which, once you have chosen to trek all the way up, affords a panoramic view of the surrounding areas, and is quite breezy. The top of this hillock has a small well-maintained garden, and is used in the early mornings by yoga enthusiasts. There are two ways to reach the top - by a gentle slope on one side, and broad stone steps on another.

The park itself has two entrances - one from the Borivali East side (right off the Western Express Highway) and another from the Thane.

The SGNP also provides a host of activities for nature enthusiasts. The BNHS routinely conducts bird-watching and photography sessions for its members. The Indian cycling enthusiasts group - cyclists.in - has an active chapter in the SGNP and they have a cycling session up to Kanheri caves on many weekend mornings.

Another very popular activity in the SGNP is the training for Mumbai Marathon, normally guided by Mahadev Samjiskar (Mumbai Marathon 2009 Gold Medalist in the super veteran category) himself. The group coordinates over SMS and the training sessions are again on the weekend mornings. Another Indian runners group can be joined at Runners for Life.

The SGNP also provides numerous treks for trekking enthusiasts - ranging from the easy to the hard ones. Permission is required for using these treks and is generally only given to groups. This permission can be had from the main entrance ticket counter. Two of these treks - including the popular Shilonda trek - are supported by HSBC. Shilonda is an easy trek over hilly terrain and has a beautiful waterfall. It is immensely popular on monsoon weekends when the jungle shimmers with various hues of green and is teeming with wild life (and crawlies!). Other popular trek is Yeoor trek which starts from the Thane entrance of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Sanjay Monga - Mumbai based naturalist and wild life photographer - often conducts school and college students visit to the park, normally for cleanup or guided tour of the flora available here. These treks are best done during or after the monsoon months when the weather is pleasant and the park is lush green. Be careful though, the grass can be teeming with little crawlies right after the showers!

There are several books written about the Sanjay Gandhi National Park itself, and many on the various animals and birds species found here. There is also a coffee-table format book available. The book by Sanjay Monga can be found  here.


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