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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Getting closer to Nature - BNHS Family Camp

Every journey is a pathway to knowledge, or so it is for many moms, who try to look for opportunities to teach their children no matter where they go. Regretfully, I am slowly arriving at the realization that I am just like them all. I keep looking out for something for Samhith which will be fun and out of the ordinary, but with an element of education. Among my first attempts in this direction was the flamingo watch trip organized by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which Samhith really enjoyed. You can read about it here.

Emboldened by our first venture, I signed up for the Family Camp organized by BNHS at their Conservation Education Centre (CEC) at Goregaon. I wanted to not only teach Samhith more about nature, I also wanted to give him a taste of staying overnight with others apart from our family members.

It was easy to sign up for the camp, the forms being available on their website. I simply had to send them a cheque along with the form. The charges were Rs.1000/- for adults and Rs.600/- for children, inclusive of stay, food and all activities. All we had to take along were our clothes and pillows/bedsheets. We had to report at the centre by 8AM on Saturday, and the camp would go on till 3:30PM on Sunday. Almost 32 hours amidst nature!

To begin with, I had no idea where the centre was. BNHS thankfully provided us a map, which informed me that it was right next to Filmcity – yes, the big, glamorous heartland of Bollywood, where dreams are woven on celluloid! I have lived in Bombay for over 30 years now, and it might surprise many of you to learn that I have never been there! Well, this was a chance to see something new in my city. Apparently, Filmcity was developed on land leased from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), popularly known as the Borivli National Park. No one seems to have any idea about the term of the lease, but I have no doubt that the situation will never arise when the movie makers will have to turn back the land to the forest it belongs to! In any case, they are not the only encroachers, but just the most popular ones. There are slums all around the forest and many huge residential complexes have come up around the area. It is in a partly secluded glade in the midst of this mixture of wilderness and civilization that the CEC is situated.

From BNHS Family Camp

We were welcomed on arrival by Mr. Sachin, who works at the CEC, and after a hot cup of tea and a short talk on our programme, we started on our first nature walk. Our guide, Hemant, a student of entomology as well as a nature enthusiast, took us along a well worn route through the forest, pointing out interesting things along the way. As you might have realized by now, there isn’t much left by the name of wildlife in the SGNP. The few tigers / leopards you might see are confined in cages in the park, which we were least interested in seeing. There are few wild animals left in the jungle, and those that have managed to survive are surely too smart to appear in front of visitors. Most of them in fact, are rarely seen, and the only instance that they venture out is on quest for food. In the absence of prey in the jungle, they are forced to look outside their territory, and usually target stray dogs in the vicinity, for there are lots and lots and lots of them in the adjoining slums and complexes. It is in such cases that the much publicized sighting of leopards occurs in the concrete jungles of Mumbai, and sometimes the poor creature is unlucky enough to get caught, or worse, killed. Anyway, we were neither lucky nor unlucky (depending on your point of view) in this matter, for all we saw were insects and a few lizards. Here are a few sights from this walk –

From BNHS Family Camp
A Praying Mantis looking for prey

From BNHS Family Camp
The skin shed by a Cicada (moult)

From BNHS Family Camp
The Egg case of a Praying Mantis - Ootheca- this egg case will hatch between 100-200 mantises soon......

From BNHS Family Camp
A lizard - forgot the name ........probably a blood sucker, because the neck was a bright red when we first saw it. however, it soon turned more and more orange as it tried to camouflage itself when it became aware of us.

From BNHS Family Camp
Shades of the forest

From BNHS Family Camp
Silk Cotton pods opening up and dispersing all over - a common sight in summmer

We were back in time for breakfast, and after replenishing ourselves, we settled down for a slide show about the kind of flora and fauna seen in the SGNP. This was followed by an activity session where we were asked – first, to design or choose an environment-friendly product and create an advertisement for it, and – second, to plan an environment-friendly residential complex. I enjoyed both these activities immensely, though Samhith was rather bored, and kept getting in the way. Maybe he will enjoy it a few years later………Later, we had a talk on recycling of waste, as well as a demonstration of landscaping using nothing but waste matter….. It was fascinating to me!

Meanwhile, the activities brought out a lot of interesting ideas and concepts, many of which were new to me. If I get started with describing all the great ideas that people came up with, I shall never get done, so you shall have to wait until another time to read all about them.

We went for another walk outside after tea, and this time, each group (about 2 families) was given a small plot of land, and we had to conduct a kind of survey – identifying the kinds of plants that grew there, the insects we saw, anything interesting we found there. We were skeptical about the kind of things we would find in such a small area, but once we got our teeth into it, it was just amazing, the number of things we could observe. While some groups were really lucky, finding some beautiful things such as a beautifully coloured bee and photographing a variety of insects, we were not too bad either, landing up with a few shells (which surprised us, until we realized that they were snail shells) and a shoulder bone of a bird.

The most interesting thing we all saw on our walks was the red cotton bug. This area abounds in silk cotton trees – both the red and yellow flowered varieties. The red cotton bug is dependant on the red silk cotton tree, feeding on the seed of the tree. While it can be considered a pest, it actually aids the tree in reproduction, for it releases the seeds in its quest for food, eating a few and leaving the rest to disperse and germinate. It happened to be the mating season of these bugs, and there they were, in profusion, coupled with their mates, and sometimes tiny bugs running about in groups, searching for food.

From BNHS Family Camp
A pair of red cotton bugs, mating.... see how one of them has food in tow.. i wonder... is it some sort of temptation for the partner?????

From BNHS Family Camp
Here are two more.... this time among the cotton.....

One of the activities that Samhith enjoyed was a short skit that we had to put up. Each group was given a story (some popular animal ones), and we were asked to enact it with any changes if necessary to make it eco-friendly. Again, the ideas and concepts shown by the participants were just great. As to us, we were given the story – the egret (in the more popular version, it is the crow) and the snake, where the egret takes retribution on the snake which steals her eggs. The only change we were able to incorporate was that, instead of killing off the snake, we relocated it to another forest. That’s all we managed in the name of innovation.

Dinner was followed by a night walk, not through the small paths we had traversed during the day, but just along the road going towards the interior. While we were trying to enjoy and identify the various sounds of the night, the peace was marred by the sounds and lights of filmmaking coming from Filmcity. Giving up our attempt, we retreated to a different part of the road and relaxed for a while before calling it a day… or should I say – night?????

Sleeping arrangements had been made in the two display rooms, one for women (and kids) and the other for the men. Some of us were a bit apprehensive about getting any sleep, for it was quite humid, and we couldn’t open the windows due to the multitude of insects around. However, we were all tired enough to pass out the minute our head touched the pillow. We were up on dot at 6AM, ready after a wash, looking forward to the day ahead.

Our day started with breakfast and another trek into the forest, this time to the Salim Ali Point, the highest point in the national park, where a sort of platform has been constructed. The view from this point is breathtaking, with the Vihar Lake being seen on one side and the forest on the other. The uphill trek itself was a wonderful experience, especially with Sachin telling us about the forest, pointing out things, and identifying things that we noticed. Especially interesting was the return walk along a stream which was now dry, but would present a wonderful scene once the rains set in. Here are a few photographs.

From BNHS Family Camp
These monkeys were the only animals we saw in the forest......

From BNHS Family Camp
The sun starts lighting up the path we are to take....

From BNHS Family Camp
The Morinda Fruit (Bartondi in Marathi, since it has twelve faces or sides. This fruit induces vomiting, and is the chosen medicine of monkeys and other animals when they have eaten something disagreeable..

From BNHS Family Camp
Pagoda Ants nest, right on top of a tree

From BNHS Family Camp
a pretty little butterfly

From BNHS Family Camp
Orchids growing up a tree.... what a pity there were no flowers.....

From BNHS Family Camp
The Vihar Lake, as seen from Salim Ali Point

From BNHS Family Camp
The whole group

From BNHS Family Camp
Red, Green and Brown

From BNHS Family Camp
Bracket Fungi

From BNHS Family Camp
Walking along the dry riverbed

From BNHS Family Camp
Looks like an egg case from which the larvae have emerged... but I couldn't confirm that.....

From BNHS Family Camp
That's a dead crab we found....

From BNHS Family Camp
Jungle Jasmine..... smells just as wonderful!

By the time we returned it was about 10:30 AM, and now the CEC was full of people – a corporate group had come for a day’s nature awareness trip. We were to have a few more activities – mainly quizzes and a question-answer round, but unfortunately, a few of us had to leave early. We clubbed together and got a lift to Dindoshi, from where we took an auto home.

Thus ended a memorable trip, which both of us enjoyed, perhaps me a little more than Samhith. He remembers much of the treks, especially the insects; while for me, the discussions about conservation and the state of the forest today are what will remain in my memory. I have returned with the assurance that as Samhith grows up, this is the kind of activity I will urge on him during vacations, instead of remaining stuffed up indoors. As for me, I have gained, not only friends with similar interests, but also the assurance that when I need to implement the ideas I have gained about living an eco-friendly lifestyle, I now know where to look for assistance.


  1. am happy you had a great day woth your boy anu.....

    you snaps were good.. esp the one with the monkey on the silhouetted branches....

    yeah as you said forests today are slowly being encrouched upon.

    Do you know that even the rivers are slowly being destroyed.

    Just today i was talking to one of my friends who was telling me how the tanning and other similar industry is making a mess of their water resources near krishnagiri in TN.

    TN is a place of several rivers you see - most of which have been reduced to streams now....

    We need nature enthusiasts who would do something for saving the forests b4 its too late.....

    anyways cheers to your outing with your son..


  2. That was a great outing recorded. If we keep our eyes open we see so many wonderful creatures and marvels of nature. It must have a memorable experience for your son.

    ( My daughters collected the feathers in Rajasthan. Peacocks shed their feathers which are collected.)

  3. Anu, such a nice and detailed post!! I loved reading each bit of it!! Am sure Samhith must have enjoyed every bit of it. Wish we were living in Mumbai and could venture out like this. Its lovely!!

  4. Hey, are you ppl back home? Do visit us before the 27th cos we are off to AP on a 10 day long break (if all works out well) on that day and I've stuff waiting for Samhith, from my Uttarakhand trip and stories waiting for you :)


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