Rediscovering Mumbai: Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Explore Mumbai’s Very Own Forest

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Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Beautiful morning at SGNP
Beautiful morning at SGNP

To start this travel column on interesting trails and travel experiences in and around Mumbai, I thought I should be true to the philosophy of MumbaiMag and start within the city itself and then move out. Let us explore what the city has to offer first and then graduate to places around the city, shall we? This series aims to explore trails for everyone from the nature lover to the history buff, the foodie to the collector. So pack in that sun block, get some comfortable shoes and a cap on!  It is time to start marveling at our very own Mumbai.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, explore Mumbai’s very own forest
Every Mumbaikar craves a weekend getaway. I know I love to spend time in the outdoors, preferably with unending green expanses and uninterrupted ‘me-time’ or ‘us-time’. Most of us would think it is best to leave the city to be close to nature in a resort or hotel at Lonavala, Khandala or Matheran or any of the beaches around Mumbai. But in right here in Mumbai, one can still have your space, experience nature and get away from the hustle-bustle of the city. (And no, I don’t mean spending a day at the spa.)

Rediscover Sanjay Gandhi National Park! Mumbai has the rare distinction of having a full fledged forest on the boundaries of the city limit. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park or SGNP is rightfully called the lungs of Mumbai. Why not head to the northern suburbs of Mumbai this weekend and get ready to be surprised?

Visitors Area
In terms of demographics the Sanjay Gandhi National Park stands at 104 square kilometers  And general public is allowed for only approximately six to seven square kilometers into the park. The rest of the area is out of bounds and requires special permissions. But for an average visitor the six to seven kilometers is enough to explore for a day.

Snoozy Canopy
Snoozy Canopy

The Best Time
To truly explore the park and feel like it your own private forest for it is best to start the day a little early. Try to be  inside the park by 7:30-8:00 a.m. 
If you can manage to be at the gates by then, you will escape the crowds to a large extent. It is the time where most of the morning walkers are on their way out of the park and most of the picnickers haven’t reached the place yet.

Eat, Drink, Recycle
There are obvious environmental damages suspected by having restaurants in the park premises. So you will need to carry some packed breakfast and eatables to survive the day. And yes, lots of liquids to beat the heat. To help keep the forest green Mumabikars for SGNP, collect a fee of Rs 50-100 from visitors who carry disposable bottles which is refundable when you return back with the exact number of bottles. (They also use the bottles found in the forest or disposed to create benches!)

Boating at SGNP
Boating at SGNP

Things To Do
Now, give yourself some time to explore the park and let the road lead you on to places you may not be familiar with. There is indeed a lot one can do inside the park besides breathing in the fresh oxygen and soaking in the morning sun. Most people visit like to visit the Gandhi Samark. Atop a hillock, this place is popular with morning walkers as it has ascent. It’s a good walk up to it and it works up quite an appetite!  

White tiger at SGNP
White tiger at SGNP

The Lion and Tiger Safari is a popular place inside the park. This ‘guaranteed sighting or money back’ ride takes place in a caged bus stuffed with 15-20 eager people. Though there are said to be about 20 lions and lionesses in captivity there, the ‘safari’ promises to shows you exactly 1 lion and 2 tigers. Take this ride but keep the expectations grounded – it’s a 20 minute picnic bus ride with strangers and not the ones you may have seen on National Geographic Channel and the like!

Bridge on the forest river
Bridge on the forest river

SGNP also has a small river flowing through it and the best part about it is that one can find water in it all year round. And that’s why the authorities have set up a boating facility. These peddle boats can be only used in a defined area but its charming nonetheless. What I like best about it are the lotus and the other floating plants you can see while peddling. Let this be a slow, lazy peddle boat ride!

But the ‘high-point’ of SGNP, at least that which is accessible to all and hassle free are the Kanheri Caves. I am not much of a cave-person usually. But this has to be my favourite place inside the park premises. The walk up to it is challenging (~6 km from the gate) and the views from the top are among the best in the park. If you are lucky you will encounter deer hovering around the route. Walking with deer just six kms away from the main highway is a surreal experience! Not to miss are the monkeys make drinking even a cold drink successfully a difficult task.

Small river in SGNP
Small river in SGNP

Try and climb to the highest point of the caves and you will see lush forests on the other side. Many of them are Gulmohur and being the summer season there will be a carpet of reds very soon in the small valley visible from there. I can sit there for hours. A lot of trekking trails in the interiors of the jungle also begin here – but don’t attempt without any guidance or permission! 

Among my other favourite things to do inside the park is actually – doing nothing! There is ample space and hide-away places where you can catch a snooze, gaze at the river or gigantic trees. The machaans are well appointed and in breezy locations; ideal location for an afternoon siesta. The only con is that there maybe lot of people around the machaans hence there can be some noise.

There is a lot lot more to the park  with nature trails, but that will require some permissions and planning. It takes sometime to fully explore the open areas of the park itself. Best way to do so would be on foot or bicycles (can be rented from just inside the main gate). There are also BEST buses which run inside the park on weekends up to Kanheri caves.

Accommodation
If you are up to it, there is accommodation available inside the park. They have tents and rest houses that look well maintained. Both can be booked with the forest officials. I have tried it a couple of times, but they have always been booked and unavailable. Since most find it difficult to explore this part of Mumbai often, and if planned in advance, you can optimise it such that after a day at SGNP, you can head to Gorai beach for the overnight stay, instead of heading back home that evening.

Which is your favourite green spot in the city?

Images by Aparna Amte

Post By Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte (6 Posts)

Pursuing multiple careers, that of a freelance HR consultant, writer, photographer and food critic. An obsessive compulsive day dreamer. Wants to have the cake and eat it too (a dark chocolate one, please).

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Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte

Guest Blogger, Aparna Amte
Pursuing multiple careers, that of a freelance HR consultant, writer, photographer and food critic. An obsessive compulsive day dreamer. Wants to have the cake and eat it too (a dark chocolate one, please).