I must confess here I’m a bit of a fool. Here I am, writing blogs about all the world, taking flights, rushing off to places thousands of miles away and yet, completely ignoring the greenery lying just kilometers away from my home. I’ve been in this city for a few years now but the idea of visiting a National Park right in the middle of a metropolis like Mumbai seemed a bit weird. To my mind, it was a little unimaginable actually. I mean how on earth can you have a completely forested area of more than 100 sq kms in a city that houses app. 15 million people (or was it 17?.. or 18?.. nevermind)!
What finally slammed it was the idea and the chance of biking our way through the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. About 4 miles up to the Kanheri caves (yes there are caves too in this park!) and 4 miles down. Not much of a distance though. Just perfect to ensure you don’t get tired by just the thought of cycling itself. The bikes can be rented and picked up from a desk just inside the entrance gate. After that, it’s a fairly straight route with a few signboards at places to help you pedal your way up to the Kanheri caves. As the road meanders its way through the greenery of the forest, you cross a few streams over bridged roads. It’s a quietness difficult to be found in the midst of all the din of the city. As one nears the caves, the ride turns slightly uphill . It may be a bit strenuous if you haven’t cycled for a while. Nevertheless, the uphill ride is totally worth it. For reasons that follow.
At the climax of the small uphill ride are the caves. Once you have reached them, they need to be explored on foot. So you park the bike and set off to have a look at the scores of caves from centuries ago. These are Buddhist caves, like the several others that adorn the hills in other parts of Maharashtra. There are caves that would once have been viharas and caves which resemble temples. Some of these are huge. Like the one where two majestic statues of the Buddha stand on both sides of the entrance. And if you retain a bit of interest in languages, there’s more to these caves. There are numerous inscriptions in a script that looks very similar to the very old Brahmi (considered to be the parent of several scripts in India and hence, of considerable significance in the study of Indian languages). A bit of secondary research shows it is the Gupta script (derived from Brahmi). You can go on and on, climbing up the stairs and watching these caves, the inscriptions and the carvings on their walls (and the dozens of monkeys that seem to be climbing up and down on each of the caves).
When you are done, you resume your journey and trace the same road back. And now, the sound of the wind gushing past you on an incredibly fast speed on the bike – that’s only because you are now going downhill :) – totally makes up for the effort put cycling uphill. As you cross the same streams of water again, take a break and sit besides them for a while. Here, this ironical tranquility in the middle of a mad mad city will make you realise why coming to the national park made so much sense. I’m not sure if it’s an out of the world experience but surely a rewarding one. The roads are broken at parts, or cracked here and there. The ride is bound to be bumpy in places and it’s kind of pointless to expect the kind of butter smooth routes they have for bikers in Europe. Your cell network gets lost several times(But isn’t that exactly the reason why you came here??). And you can hardly spot any people (wonderful!), apart from the love birds and the occasional fruit or cucumber sellers. Yet, cycling for these few hours is better than burning all that oil for breathing in pollution, or perhaps drinking away your health on a jobless weekend. For once, let’s do a favour to the city that we dwell in and pedal our way through it. Try it out for yourself!
Some quick info –
1. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (or Borivali National Park) lies in the Suburb of Borivali in Mumbai. A few mins auto rickshaw ride east from the local train station.
2. Entrance fee per person is INR 30 (less than $1).
3. The bikes are available for rent just inside the gate. Charges INR 20 per hour(Refundable deposit of Rs. 200 needed).
4. Remember to carry a photo ID (they need it before renting the bike) and some water (you need it AFTER renting the bike). There are no shops along the route selling any water.
5. Take some friends along. Most journeys are a little easier with them around. Aren’t they?
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