He pushed a long pole into the shallow bed of the sea shore as the dighi (boat) slowly drifted into the blue-green waters of the Arabian Sea. ‘Ghai naku kara, ghai naku kara’ (Don’t hurry, don’t hurry!), the boatsman had shouted when this bunch of enthusiastic school children from a nearby village had tried to barge their way in the boat all at once, Read More
On a cool winter morning, as one walks down the road to the Sewri jetty in Mumbai, it seems more like taking a guard of honour from the oversized trucks that line both sides of the road. Pass them, and the road opens up. Towards the left, a smattering of old ship wrecks marks the foreground. And beyond them, a rising Sun glints upon the Arabian Sea, trying to figure its way between the clouds and the smoke that mark the usual Mumbai sky. But there’s so much here that’s unlike the usual Mumbai. It’s the east coast (yes, Mumbai has one!), and in a city known for its evening Chaupati sunsets, we are here to witness a sunrise and so, even the Sun is atypically benign. But more than that, we are here for a glimpse of nature in the otherwise industrial area of Sewri.
A keener look at the sight reveals those thousands of birds that we’ve come looking after. They stand, in row after row, at the edge of what’s called the Sewri mudflats – wetlands formed by mud deposited after tides. Eyes marvel at the congregation of the white birds as we walk past rows of worn out and junk ships, or rather, large boats. Once at the jetty, the Flamingos are closer, their white bodies contrasting with the grey landscape and the nuanced pink flavours of their wings gelling with the reddish hues of an early morning. It’s like a sea of several curved dark beaks & long necks craning down to find fodder in another sea. Every now and then, one of them flaps its wings, to reveal a plumage of white, pink and black, all woven together by the careful & yet seemingly effortless precision that only an artist, or the nature itself, can afford. They come in huge numbers, an entire colony of tens of thousands that lines the swamps. The question really though, how did they land up here & why?
So here’s the thing. Every year, Mumbai witnesses a migration of Flamingos, mostly lesser Flamingos (more populous with darker bills and white-pink plumage) and a few greater flamingos (less populous, plumage is pink-red). Though one can’t be sure, it’s being said that these migrate from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, already known for its Flamingo sightings. They usually look for swampy habitats & mangroves, which are easily provided for in areas such as Sewri and Thane creek. From the start of the winters till May, these are the abodes of thousands of these birds and several other species. Egrets, Sandpipers, Ibis are some of the other species of birds that can be easily spotted here.
Living in the constant grind of a city such as Mumbai, it is sometimes difficult to grasp that such natural beauty may be lying in your backyard (Also Read : Biking through the heart of Mumbai – SGNP). Sometimes, one just needs to look around. Take a moment to catch one of these birds in flight and ponder at the amazing story of migration that Mumbai is, of birds that flocked from all other parts of the country, to find food & shelter here; of the swamps & marshes, of mud & concrete alike, that provided them all of this; the mud-flats that in a way, represent the richness & also the shallowness of our city lives that all drain into the urban sea called Mumbai. Look at them, an Ibis here, an Egret there, at one moment flocking together, at the other competing for a piece of the same food.
Aren’t you and I, birds here too?
Have you witnessed a Flamingo sighting? Where and how was it?
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Over the past few days, I have been obsessed with Mumbai. It’s the city I have been living in for quite a few years now. I have hated it. And at those times, when I’ve been away from it, I’ve missed it. I’ve cursed it. And those times, when I’ve roamed around carefree at odd hours in the night & still managed to find something to eat, I’ve thanked it. Quite frankly, it’s an enigma, the more you try to understand it, the more it puzzles you. It’s an elusion, the moment you think you have made it in Mumbai, it brings back to ground with a crash & a thud. It’s a confusion, of people and their ambitions, of cultures and their religions, of emotions and their manifestations. Perhaps the only place that gives an Irani and a Bihari equal opportunities to aspire for and realise their dreams. It’s a deluge on the senses. More than 18 million voices to be heard, faces to be seen, their minds to be understood and their hearts to be felt, their cuisines to be devoured, smelled, and relished. 18 Million! It is with this objective that I set out starting this section of the blog. To bring to you a picture, every now and then, of the many faces of Mumbai, its people and its places, and everything around, that they find their expression in.
Today, we start with the iconic Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, a belief for several, and an inspirer for several others, including the Oscar award winning music composer, A.R. Rahman and his songs! The title of the pic, ‘The wait for Thee‘ tries to capture the spirit of the Sufis that this landmark signifies.
What would you want to see more of here? Do leave back your suggestions in the comments.
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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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