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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

Trip to Sanjay Gandhi National Park with Nature Knights

Usually, when I return from a trip, I can’t wait to write about it, but this time, I somehow seem to be terribly behind….. My Binsar trip was in March, and it has taken me almost 2 months to complete the travelogues…… Now it’s time for another much overdue travelogue, but this time closer home – our trip to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with Nature Knights.

I had heard of Nature Knights from Bindhu and Unny quite a while back, and was interested in their Mom and Kid programmes, since I can’t possibly send Samhith alone for a camp yet! However, it took me a full year to find time to join them on a trip, and I signed up for their Sunday jaunt into the Sanjay Gandhi national Park, more popularly known as Borivli National Park.

We started off early in the morning, the bus conveniently picking us up just a few minutes from our house. The journey to the national park took almost two hours, picking up more people along the way. Samhith of course, slept through the whole journey! In case some of you are wondering why it took so long, well that was possible only because of the early hour. Our return journey took us almost 3 hours!

I was visiting the national park after almost 25 years, so I was curious about what it was like. The main change as far as I could see were the number of buildings which had come up, almost peeping into the jungle…… Though I did know about the huge constructions around, actually seeing them was a bit of a shock! Another shock was the number of people there…..most of them joggers and walkers, the regulars in the area – the residents. Of course, there were many more people visiting the park too, considering that the school vacations had begun…but more about that later….

We started our tour at the Information centre, outside which is a model of the national park. Apparently, this is the only national park within city limits – not just the only one in India, but the only such in the whole world! I was surprised again, but thought of all the problems have beset the park just because of its proximity to the city! Even today, it resembles a park more than a jungle…. Is this all we can do?

The model of the National Park.. the yellow line is the boundary and the blue is the Vasai Creek which divides the Tungareshwar sanctuary from the main part of the national park

Anyway, the model for the first time gave me an idea of the sheer size of the park – stretching from the Western to the Eastern Express Highways, with the water reservoirs supplying us with drinking water right in between….. It is a good effort to bring awareness of the wonderful gift we have been bestowed with! Wish people would appreciate it!

This is the part of the map showing the area we were in.. the Borivli entrance. the black lines show the different routes inside the park. the two small circles are the safari areas.

We were running late, and decided to skip the introductory session, and head over for the trek into the jungle – the Silonda trail. We had a breakfast of Idlis on the road and headed towards the trail - it is named for the village it leads to, deep inside the jungle. We weren’t headed all the way, but just a short way inside the jungle, since we were accompanied by kids, the smallest of them just 3 years old!

The gods seemed to smile on us the moment we stepped on to the trail, for we spotted some small white birds, which we were told were albino muniya chicks! What a sight! We stopped for a while, admiring them and clicking pictures! I am told that it is rare to see albino birds, and this was a real find!

Albino Muniya chicks

As to the rest of the journey, let me take you along with me through my pictures, instead of words……

A cicada

A pagoda ants nest.. see the beautiful layering

A pair of robber flies, mating

Helicopter flowers

The beautiful view of the green hills... wonder how green they really are!

Walking into the jungle...all the kids together...

Looking at something... what is it??

Funnel-web spiders!

A robber fly, up close.. i really wished I had a better camera!

Another pagoda ants nest

Collecting silk cotton!

What a beautiful road to walk on!

Another spider web

A beautiful flower, maybe a lily.. but no plant, no leaves... just the one flower, all alone!

An artificial water-hole, where our little creatures had fun!

At last, we came to the river – or rather, the river bed, for it seemed to be a seasonal stream. In the monsoons, it is deep enough to swim in, we were told, but at the moment, it was just stones and leaves all around.

The river water, just leaves and stones as of now!

When I went to find a place to sit, I spotted the remnants of a snake –skin!

We sat for a while and rested, while the kids went tree climbing, enjoying themselves to the hilt!

Samhith wanders off by himself for a while....

The tree climbing made the kids hungry again, and they gorged on the second half of breakfast – bread, butter and jam! Just the kind of food Samhith loves!

Finally, we started back, collecting twigs and leaves to make a collage with. However, as it turned out, our plans changed because most of the kids had never been to the park before and wanted to see the tiger and lion safari! This was, after all, a camp for the kids, so Asif (the organizer) gave in, and we headed to the main portion of the park for the safari!

This part of the park is where the crowds gather, and there was a huge crowd for the safari tickets. As we waited in the queue, I wondered about what actually drew such vast number of people to the park – surely it couldn’t be the sleepy lions and tigers in captivity! My memories from my earlier visit to the park when I was a kid weren’t all that great, and I never had any real inclination to visit again. I was here this time solely for Samhith and wonder if I will ever go for the safari again….. But then again, for most people in the city, there are few open places to take kids to, and for the masses, malls are too expensive….. As to visiting other sanctuaries or zoos outside Bombay, they remain a distant dream for most people too…..I guess that is why they turn up here, braving hours of mass transport just for a few hours of peace and change!

Anyway, Samhith had a lot of fun as we waited for tickets, since one of his best friends from school was there with his family too, and the two of them ran round and round, making the most of their unexpected encounter. We managed to get our tickets finally, and headed for the safari, jostling to get in to the bus with the rest of the crowd!

Now for the safari itself – Apart from the bus, which seemed to be recent, the safari was much as I remembered it – a short jaunt into the jungle, entering the huge, secure enclosure where a few deer survive in apparent wilderness, and heading towards another enclosure (thankfully not a cage) where the few tigers brought from other zoos relaxed in the sweltering heat. Now, there were two such enclosures – one for the Royal Bengal Tigers (in simple language, the normal tigers), and another for a sole white tiger.

Coming out of the tiger enclosures, we went a little bit further, into another enclosure, just as huge, in which reposed the last few lions – in fact, at the time we visited, there was just one, since the other one had recently attacked one of its handlers! Anyway, the lion was easy to spot, since it was lying by a small water hole, fast asleep!

Neither the tigers nor the lion showed any interest in the bus loads of people gawking at them and shouting at the top of their voices! They were obviously inured to it! And this is what makes me hate zoos as well as such ‘safaris’! We reduce the majestic wild animals to a near-tame status, and when they do attack humans, we make such a hue and cry! We should try putting people in such cages for a while, and see what their reaction is, a month later! I wonder if they will ever want to visit a zoo again!

I know that the animals kept in the park as well as those in the zoo have been bred in captivity, and will die if let loose, but there must surely be a better way to keep them safe, especially from the heartless people coming in droves to see them! Most people seem to have no clue about how to behave on a safari, and act as if it is a  big show, and jump, clap and shout all the time, just because they are safe from these animals which wouldn’t hesitate to attack, if only they were free!

Now that I have ranted enough about my pet peeve, let me get ahead with our outing. By the time we were through with the safari, it was too late for the other activities Asif had planned, like the collage making, for instance. We headed off for lunch and then to the AV centre to watch a couple of interesting films on wildlife – one on the lions of Gir and another on the Sunderbans.

Again, I couldn’t but help contrast the creatures in both the places – while the Gir lions are said to be almost tame – they are least scared of humans and allow people quite near them, imagine the terror the man-eaters of the Sunderbans inspire! Just imagine walking into the jungle just for your livelihood, seeing a glimpse of a tiger, and being eaten the next moment! It takes weeks to spot a tiger there, and if you are unlucky, you might not survive that experience! Which would you prefer? A secure journey into a forest, approaching lions and taking photographs, or journey into the wild, hoping to see a tiger, the most majestic of all cats, but shuddering to see one, out of fear that you might not emerge out alive???

Most of the kids were sleepy by the time the movies were over, and a couple had dropped off to sleep, so we headed back to the bus and started homewards…. The return journey was more tiring than the entire outing, thanks to the traffic jam all the way!

We returned home, tired, but happy that we had begun the vacation with a memorable trip. Here’s hoping we can go on many more such trips in the future!

For details on Nature Knights and their programmes, check out these links:



  1. Beautiful post.. sounds like a lot of fun!! i was at the park few yrs back with friend n kids, but then we just roamed around in the park, with nothing to see... the safari took us thru to the lion and tiger reserve, where we spotted 2 sad doped out tiger n lions that jus lay there!! :(

    Samhith wud have had a ball at this trip i am sure!! awesome!! :))
    Now need to go catch up on ur Binsar

  2. Loved all the pics from ur wonderful trip, they are all awesome:-)))

    If u have an Indian address, here are more than jus a few chances to win , a few goddies, ur sure to love or send to ur loved ones, lods of chances to enter ur name, for every chance , add a separate entry ie comment...all the best:-))

  3. Looks like Smahith had a blast of a time :) We are waiting to take Jillu to the zoo. :) Till she gets a bit older and can brave the chennai heat

  4. I do love zoos although I know the sad part of it too.

  5. I loved your trip. The spider's web and ants nest were unique and that is what I liked.

  6. I remember posting a comment. But not seen here.

  7. I remember posting a comment. But not seen here.

  8. The yellow flower in ur post is Curculigo orchioides

  9. hey what a great time
    this is really my idea of fun and learning
    i think the adults had more fun climbing the trees!

  10. I like the first part of your post, rather than seeing the pictures of animals in captivity. Well maintained National Parks with proper facilities can be quite safe though where the animals are more free to roam around.

  11. @Aaarti: Thanks... next time skip the tourist area and go for a walk inside..or go to the kanheri caves on a weekday when the crowds will be missing..... though i havent been there yet, i have heard that its wonderful!
    and i shall look forward to your comments on my binsar posts!!

    @Sugar Plum fairy: thanks a lot!

    @Lavanya: oh yes, he loved it! even the zoo! and yes, the heat is the biggest problem... but i am sure she will love it even now..... and anyway she isnt going to remember anything later, so you will have to go again!

    @Shilpa: i know... thats what makes it so difficult...

    @Chitra: thanks.... actually, they are quite common and in all our forests... its just that we hardly notice them on our own!
    and yes, there seemed to be a bit of problem with comments....

    @Rajesh: thanks so much!

    @ssstoryteller: absolutely!!!!

    @Indicaspecies: actually, celine, i wondered if i should put up those pics at all.. and then decided to go ahead anyway...but they are the sights which had kept me away from the place for almost 25 years.. and which will surely keep me away for another 25 !

  12. hey Anu, this is very good.. do you also write for CLAY? guess i have read your post there as well..
    keep them coming..


  13. @Sneo: Thanks, sneha! yes, some of my posts have been put up on clay too... am not a regular contributor as such, but have submitted a few of my posts which were accepted!

  14. Great pictures and write-up Anu. Looks like you had a fab time. I have heard about this NP, but haven't been there yet. Have also heard that it becomes a bird haven in the winters. Is that true?

    Also, it is sad to see a NP be treated like a zoo with tigers and lions in enclosures. Brings into mind the Bannerghata national park of Bangalore where one can see such similar atrocities. Hope wildlife authorities stop thinking about making money and care about these predators.

  15. Looks like all of you had a wonderful time, I was hoping for a image of the elusive Leopard in this series...Thomas

  16. Anu,
    It was a wonderful post :)) I used to live in Borivali and visited National Park often, also for Keneri caves. It seemed all so natural to just hop onto a BEST bus and there you are! But it certainly is nice to see it in a blogpost, neatly done.

  17. samhith seems to be having quite a vacation!

  18. Nice post. Haven't come across any post on National Park as good as this one yet. :)

  19. Very nice written and depicted with beautiful pictures. Now I am planning to visit the SGNP soon with my family.

  20. Lovely post, and even better pictures...! You look like you all had a great time!


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