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The Vaishnodevi Experience 2023

My first trip to Vaishnodevi was unimpressive. Climbing was hard, and it only served to highlight how badly out of shape I was, while my in-laws managed to cope so much better. Further, I hadn’t quite realized that the cave experience wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined, since the original cave was only opened at certain times a year, and that we only entered a newly created tunnel, one far easier to access, and hence more manageable with the crowds that thronged the mountain shrine. The resulting experience at the shrine, for barely a fraction of a second, hardly compared to what I had expected / imagined / heard about. So, for me, Vaishnodevi was like any other temple, nothing to write home about, something that was reflected (though not explicitly mentioned) in the blog post I wrote then.

Birdwatching at Bhandup Pumping Station, Mumbai

Sunday mornings are meant for relaxation... to catch up on some much needed sleep. But when opportunity beckons, even the little chap who struggles to get out of bed for school, is up and awake with the first ring of the alarm, eager to be on his way. Such a long awaited opportunity came our way this Sunday, with the BNHS organising a bird watching trip to the Bhandup Pumping station.

A pumping station is where the sewage from the city ends up, and finds its way into the waste water management system. What then, is the attraction for birdwatchers? The attraction is its proximity to water... in this case, the creek. I have been reading and hearing so much about the variety of birds seen there, but going alone didn't seem too feasible, or even practical. Most of my bird watching trips have been with the BNHS, since they are extremely good with children, and I am always accompanied by Samhith! That their focus is more on education and awareness is evident, especially in the way they handle kids and keep their enthusiasm going!

Thus it was, that we were at the meeting point, bang on time, all set to walk to see the birds. There were about 20 of us in all, and led by Dr. Ketki, we made our way along the saltpans, stopping every now and then to peer through binoculars or click with our cameras at the variety of bird life in the heart of the city.

The first bird we spotted was a Pond Heron.... showing off its camouflaging skills...

The bird life in the mangroves was an eye opener.... See the dense undergrowth? This is what keeps the city from flooding all the time. It is indeed up to us to protect them, and thus, our city!

An Ashy Prinia posed for a while on a branch....

Pied starlings flew and screeched, and one obliged us by sitting still long enough for me to click...

White cheeked Bulbuls were certainly the birds of the day. They were so visible, and so plentiful, that I wondered why I had seen none of them before in Mumbai!

We have always noticed Little Cormorants near the salt pans. There were a number of them around, sunning themselves.....

It was interesting to learn that cormorants, unlike other water birds, have no oil glands to help keep their feathers dry. That’s the reason we see them so often sitting with their wings spread out, so that they dry themselves before diving into the water again to catch their food. It’s such interesting titbits of information which make a bird watching trip with the BNHS so much fun!

Egrets were certainly the most numerous among all the birds. There were Little Egrets...

And Median Egrets....

Sitting on every pole....

A little further, in a small inlet of backwaters, we saw a lone Painted Stork... at close quarters.

A Coppersmith Barbet preened itself, probably showing off to a female...

A spotted dove perched on a wire

And an Oriental Magpie Robin flew around, and posed for a bit...

And a whole flock of Weaver Birds kept us occupied for quite a while...

A Golden Oriole played hide and seek amidst the yellowing leaves of a tree...

The pumping station itself was much better than I had imagined, with some efforts being made to keep the area clean, at least within the premises.... outside, well, as usual, that’s another matter entirely! However, the proximity to water does seem to attract a large number of birds. Though the sun was up and the day was heating up, we managed to spot quite a few to make the early morning jaunt worthwhile!

Within the enclosure itself, were flocks of Gull Billed Terns.....

And Common Sandpipers...

And a little further on, in the creek, were the larger water birds we had all been waiting for... There were a few Lesser Flamingos...

Black Winged Stilts...

More Gull Billed Terns, and also Brown headed Gulls...

A lone Grey Heron stood in the water, on the other side of the creek.... and this is the best I could capture...

Further along the path, the creek narrowed further, or probably it was a water inlet from the Pumping station, because, here we could see the effluents which are such a common feature of water bodies in the city... However, in the middle of all that, were Garganey Ducks..... which have travelled all the way from Russia!

There were males and females, and when we arrived, there must have been at least a couple of dozen!

However, with two kids and a number of enthusiastic, but amateur adults, our approach was quite audible, and the ducks flew off, leaving us just a few to try our photographic skills on.

Meanwhile, the rest of the flock flew overhead, and were treated to the sight of ducks flying in formation, encircling the area, waiting for us to leave!

There were more pond herons here, and also Black Winged Stilts, and it was so obvious where the latter gets its name from..... the huge, stilt-like legs which seemed to go on forever... I wondered how the birds managed to balance themselves!

Apart from these, there were also other birds we saw – an Asian Koel, Shrikes, Prinias, Tailor Birds, Barn Swallows, Rosy Starlings, Little Green Bee Eaters, Red Whiskered and Red Vented Bulbuls, and some of us even spotted a Marsh Harrier. However, I wasn’t able to capture any of these with my lens. Maybe that calls for another trip!

We had walked for over two and a half hours, mostly under the harsh sun, and by the time we were done, we were just too tired. Besides, in the general enthusiasm to see the maximum number of birds, everyone had left their cars right at the entrance, near the salt pans, unlike the more experienced birdwatchers whom we met at the creek, who had driven right up, and preferred to watch the varieties of water birds before the sun came up. We thus had a long walk ahead of us, and all we had time for, before beginning our weary trudge back, was to introduce ourselves and name one species we had seen. And undoubtedly, it was the kids who won the day, their enthusiasm infectious. If there was anyone who was more enthusiastic than even the children, it had to be Dr Ketki. We thoroughly enjoyed our morning jaunt to Bhandup, and look forward to many more!


Bhandup Pumping Station is located on the Eastern Express Highway, near the turn off for the Mulund Airoli Link Road. 

The road near the salt pans is quite wide, though it gets narrower near the pumping stations. However, it is possible to drive right up to the creek. Also, the distance from the Highway to the creek is certainly within walking distance. The place can be quite deserted, so it is best not to go alone. Most Sunday mornings, there are birdwatchers in the area, so you will be sure to find company.

There is no specific time to see birds. The birds you spot depends on the tide at the time, and at different times, you might spot different varieties of birds.

BNHS organises regular birdwatching trips to various places in Mumbai, and details can be found on their website. If you are an amateur, or are taking kids along, it is advisable to go with the BNHS for their sheer wealth of information, as well as their patience and enthusiasm for children.


  1. This is a virtual treat Anu. Amazing how you know all the names. Impressed!! - k

    1. Thanks so much, K! But I really cant take credit for that.. its the reason I go with the BNHS. They are amazingly knowledgeable, and seeing them spot and identify birds we wouldnt even have noticed is just great! i only know the names because Dr. Ketki pointed each one out, showed us the pic in the bird book, and told us about each one.

  2. Beautiful photos, and I have never seen a black winged stilt before!

  3. Hi Anu,

    Beautiful pictures. Curious to know the camera and lens you used.

    1. Thank you! I use a NIkon P510. its not a dslr just a bridge camera

  4. What a treat this post was, Anu. And just goes on to show that in spite of the concrete jungle that our city is there is so much of life around us. I don't have the patience for birdwatching, but who knows, with your bird posts I might just get converted :-)

    1. Thanks so much, Sudha!!!! come along once with me and Samhith, and lets see if we can convert you!!!

  5. Love your pics! do you think that these birds will be around at this time of the year?

  6. Hi Anuradha,

    This was a very nice read. I stay in Thane, very close from this place and I have even spotted storks and brahminy kites during travels on the eastern express. Can you please tell me how to get information on such outings planned by BNHS? I know they organize visits to places like sewri mudflats etc, which I would very much like to join as and when I have time!

    Satyajit Rao

  7. Nice info abt bhandup pumping station .i didn't kW dat .thanks for sharing

  8. Really anu ji .... too beautiful pictures!!!

  9. Hello Anuradha,
    Thats such a treat to look at these beautiful birds! Your blog is a good read and I cannot wait for me trip to this place soon! Keep up the good work!

  10. Thanks for sharing, I have been wanting to go there for a while now... Your blog is helpful!

  11. Nice post, I was researching on Bhandup Pumping station for Bird Photography and the visuals you have provided have convinced me about my next trip. Thanks so much for the apt detailing.


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