We are used to it, so it doesn't really register...but we have the most amazing anomaly in the world right here under our noses.
Mumbai metropolis is one of the largest and most densely packed cities in the world - so chock full of people that you can’t swing a cat without braining a bunch of people - and breaking a few shop windows as well. Seriously, there are people living on top of people living on top of people.
The cost of land and building is also ridiculous - enough to make even Onassis and Donald Trump suck in their breath with a startled ‘what ho!’. You could probably buy a huge ranch in Texas - along with horses - for the price of a 3 BHK in South Bombay.
The traffic is so bad - so legendarily bad - that it is said that a courting couple can set out from office and get married, have a kid, get a divorce and then get back together in the time it would take to drive from office in South Bombay to home in Borivali.
And - in the midst of all this rampant and crazy metropolitan madness - we have a full-fledged forest in the middle of the city!
Not a garden - not a zoo - not a botanical park...but a proper forest - an ancient forest, still full of apex predators like leopards and prey like deer and wild pigs and monkeys, and complex an diverse tree and plant population and all sorts of Avifauna.
And this is not in some far away wilderness - but in that same Borivali suburb that our imaginary couple lives in. They could be living right on the edge of a forest and risk having their bananas stolen by monkeys and their dog to be eaten by a leopard!
How incredible is that!
And all this became possible because of far-seeing Bombay Municipality officials in pre-independence times. They wanted to secure the water supply for the city of Bombay, and knew that the forest is the source of all water. So they decided to save the forests all around the lakes.
The Bombay Municipal Corporation acquired the catchment areas of the Tulsi and Vihar lakes, and realised that they also need to secure all the forest area around it and protect it.
Hence the Krishnagiri National Park was established under the Bombay National Park Act in 1942. At that time the area of the park was only 20.26 km2 (7.82 sq mi).
It is interesting to think on the fact that all this area would have been a genuine wilderness at the time. The city limits would have ended at Bandra or Santacruz and no one would have even dreamed that the city would grow to such monstrous proportions to swallow up all the farmland and wilderness around it. But even so the city fathers of the time were farsighted enough to secure the area as a national park.
It was so undeveloped that the government decided to develop the area around it as a cow and buffalo raising area, when Verghese Kurien realised the ridiculousness of an agrarian nation being dependent on foreigners for their dairy needs - and Amul and Operation Flood was born.
The dairy development board began operations near Krishnagiri National Park in 1954, but outside the area of the park. In 1969, 2076 hectares of land of the Aarey Milk Scheme (now known as Aarey Milk Colony) was transferred to the forest department. In 1976, an area of 68.27 km2 was officially designated as Borivali National Park.
Over the years, more and more land was added to the area of the park - and it is now about 100 square km.
As I mentioned earlier - it was first known as the Krishnagiri national park, then Borivali national park - and in 1996, a bunch of lick-ass Congress people renamed it as Sanjay Gandhi national park - for God knows what reason! Sanjay Gandhi died in 1980 and was a forgotten and disliked figure by 1996 - and he had no real ties to Mumbai or to wildlife or to Borivali.
Indira Gandhi died in 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. 1996 was the Narsimha Rao era - and Sonia Gandhi couldn't care less about Sanjay Gandhi...so it can’t have been to suck up to Congress rulers either.
It is a real mystery why the Congressis decided to do this strange naming.
But ‘what's in a name?’ as Shakingspears would say … The SGNP is the pride of Mumbai. The park today covers 103.84 sq km and is home to over 270 species of birds, 35 species of mammals (including the leopard) and 1,300 species of plants. Every year, some two million people visit SGNP, making it one of the most popular parks in the world. On any given day, families can be seen paddle-boating on the river or taking a toy train ride; hiking through the forest, or simply strolling through the more scenic parts of the park.
SGNP also acts as the city’s primary carbon sink, absorbing tons of CO2 and keeping temperatures down. It is an important water source as well, as it houses the Tulsi and Vihar lakes — two of the six lakes that supply water to the city. If the park is degraded, our air and water will follow.
And of course, the BJP government is determined to destroy this last remaining green lung of Mumbai - they seem to passionately hate the environment and want to destroy as much of it as they can.
Various infrastructure projects have been proposed to go through, over and under , and have the potential to destroy the city’s green lungs in just a few decades.
Some seven or eight projects that are likely to come up in the next few years, will crisscross, apportion and pretty much kill (conservationists say) the 82.25-sq-km protected forest area that lies within the city limits. There are plans to build two tunnels under the park and a ropeway through the park – with the explicitly stated aim of diverting traffic right through the core area of the park – plus a multi-modal corridor. The rationale for all this is development, and purported attempts to reduce traffic on the roads circumventing the national park.
None of this, however, seems to matter to officials who are eager to implement projects that will put the park at peril. The MMRDA plans to build an underground tunnel from Borivili to Thane, while the BMC is blueprinting a nine-km tunnel, the Mulund-Goregaon Link Road (GMLR), that will run under the park. Also on the anvil is a ropeway to connect Borivili and Thane, and a multi-modal corridor. Other projects border the park, or cut across the wildlife corridor that connects SGNP with the . These include the widening of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad national highway; a widening of Ghodbunder Road that abuts the park; and construction of the Mumbai-Delhi freight corridor. While these projects are at various stages of implementation, and indvidually may not take up much land, or cause that much damage, taken together, they will not only generate huge volumes of cement dust during construction, but also expose the park to higher volumes of vehicular and noise pollution. Once finished, regular maintenance will have to be carried out on each project, potentially requiring more access roads, for instance. All of this will subject wildlife living in the park to constant danger and disturbance.
Luckily for Mumbai, the park and humanity in general - the BJP was ousted in Maharashtra before they could greenlight all this environmental vandalism. But politics is a changeable thing - and with so much money at stake, the park will always be in danger.
Anyway - let us zoom out of these large affairs and the birds eye view - and zoom in to my Sunday morning ride - ride from Chembur to SGNP Borivali! WOOHOO!
My friend Vijay Makwana genially invited me to come to SGNP for a nature walk. The monsoon is a wonderful time to visit the park, he said - come and we will do a walk together. The park authorities organise a walk in a very scenic place called the Shilonda trail.
I was very interested - because...I had never been to the park!
Talk about ‘Diya tale andhera’ ...I had been to so many jungles and sanctuaries all over the country, but had never been to the one in my backyard.
‘But ...Sunday is the day for my Sunday morning ride…’ I mused.
‘So come on cycle’ Vijay said.
‘Its...35 kilometers!’ I said.
‘That's not so bad.’
‘and 35 km back!’ I cried.
‘Tchah. piece of cake!’ he said with all the scorn of a non-cyclist who has never cycled long distances.
‘And a trek on the Shilonda trail!’
‘Ah...hardly a trek…more like a gentle walk. Come sir… are you a man or a mouse? Can’t you do this little bit of cycling?’
Well! I couldn’t back down from such an open challenge - so I agreed.
So here I was on Sunday morning - all togged up in cycling gear and on my way! I decided to avoid the western express highway - because it seems to be a ghastly way to commit suicide. I took the eastern express highway and crossed over to the western side via Powai lake and the Aarey milk colony. It was extremely pleasant - and my thoughts went to another friend of mine - Shailesh - who’s dad had bought a flat in the 60s. He had a choice between buying in Bandra an buying in Borivali - both flats were available at the same price - and chose to buy the flat in Borivali...because he wanted to be close to nature!
I reached SGNP and was very proud of myself - but no one seemed to care. Vijay took it as a matter of course - as did all the others in the Shilonda trail walk group. Oh well.
The walk was very pleasant indeed - and the forest department volunteer guide told us about the various flora and fauna we encountered. There was supposed to be a big stream at the end of the trail - but it was still dry. I suppose the monsoon hadn’t made itself sufficiently felt as yet.
We had some old school snacks from a street vendor after the walk - boiled peanuts, sour starfruit, raw mango slices, berries etc.
Vijay invited me to his place to relax with a beer or two - but I had a long ride back, so I set out for the return ride - and was very relieved when I reached home without gettng paralyed with muscle cramps or falling over by the side of the road.
That was actually my first ‘long’ ride - of more than 50 km, and it gave me a lot of confidence to do longer and longer and rides in the future.
WOOHOO for SGNP!
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!