Is it a hawk? Is it an eagle? No, it’s an aeroplane! If and when the proposed new airport at Navi Mumbai is built, this, unfortunately, will be the scenario above the scenic Karnala Bird Sanctuary. The sounds from jet engines might drown beautiful bird songs. Flight paths of the birds that migrate from the Himalayas and other parts of the world will crisscross with the flight paths of these planes. Amid this impending bleak ecological scenario, there’s something to cheer about.
After having visited Karnala six years ago, one had sworn never to return. Though a solitary monitor lizard was spotted at the entrance of the sanctuary at the time, scores of mindless picnickers were encountered soon after. They were partying in groups oblivious to the surroundings. The amount of litter that was strewn around made for more than an eyesore
Return to the forest
But en route to Dajipur Bison Sanctuary a while ago, one decided to stop by and explore the woods of Karnala once more. The forest gate was nearly missed as the illegal structures that existed there for years were removed by the Forest Department. At the gate, though spotted with a tele-lens hung thereby identifying oneself as a wildlife photographer, the haversack was thoroughly searched by the Forest Guard, Shivaji Chavan. When he found a plastic water bottle, he said firmly but with a smile: “Saab, you will have to keep a security deposit of Rs 200. When you bring the bottle back, we will return it to you.”
Thrilled that this forest is now in good hands, we set into its wild environs. One was spoilt for choice in terms of the trails on offer: Boremal Trail, Mortaka Trail, Fort Trail and Hariyal Trail. We set out on the last trail, which took us through a well-laid out forest path. Gradually, the six-year-old memories were beginning to fade away. There were beautiful bridges built across the rivulets of the Patalganga; one spotted aesthetically built watchtowers and even benches to rest that made for welcome signs along the trail.
There are over 150 species of birds that reside in the woods of Karnala, and over 40 that are winter visitors. But the one call that caught the attention was from of a bird called Shama. It was possible to hear its call, but tough to spot. One was pulled further into the forest in search of this elusive species, through the thorny bushes of a plant called Maanstodi (which literally meant Flesh Tearer!). It is so called because it has a reverse thorn. So, if one gets entangled in it, don’t go forward; instead walk in reverse to extricate oneself without getting the flesh torn! Despite this valiant attempt, the Shama remained untraceable. However, the exotic Scarlet Minivet, Spotted Dove, Yellow Bulbul, Iora and the Black-winged Kite weren’t as pricey to spot. At one point, we spotted a Crimson-Headed Barbet making a nest. She was pecking into a dried branch of a dead tree to give birth to her little ones. A Barbet only chooses dead branches; thereby proving that in nature nothing goes waste!
Change of heart
After the trek, I proudly showed the bottle that I had carried back and claimed my deposit from Shivaji. On enquiring about the transformation of Karnala, he told us about Arvind Kamble, the Chief Conservator, in charge of Karnala. We met up with him to learn that Kamble and his dedicated team were keen on keeping Karnala in the green of health. Arvind shared with us about their efforts in involving a nearby village called Kelhe in an eco-tourism project, where the villagers would offer homeprepared food to tourists, thereby earning their livelihood. He also said that plans were afoot to involve every village around Karnala to participate in this mutually beneficial relationship.
Nature under threat
Back at the foothills, one took a sweeping look at the sanctuary; we spotted the pinnacle of Karnala called Thumbs Up in the distance, which rose to a majestic height of 1,500 feet. A sign as if nature was giving a thumbs up to the laudable efforts of Arvind Kamble and his team.
As one drove back to the urban chaos of the city, reports in the newspapers about plans where the Mumbai-Goa Road would slice Karnala into two came to mind. The project involved widening of the existing road into a four-lane highway, thereby reducing the size of this tiny sanctuary that measured only 12 sq kms.
There’s another controversy that's raging on about this second green lung near Mumbai. According to the Environment Impact Assessment Report, Karnala Bird Sanctuary is 12.5 kms away from the new, proposed airport. But according to the GPS imagery captured by the Forest Department, it’s less than 10 kms, which means it is in the eco-sensitive zone of the sanctuary, thereby requiring clearance from the National Board for Wildlife.
How to get there : Karnala is around 70 kms from Mumbai, 12 kms beyond Panvel on the Mumbai-Goa Highway. Driving time is approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
When to go: Any time of the year. And the monsoon is a good time to start.
DO’S AND DONT’S
> Carry plenty of water
> Wear loose fitting and simple clothes that blend with the surroundings
> Treat the area and its property with respect
> Keep the forest clean — Carry a bag to bring your trash home
> If in a vehicle, bear in mind that animals have the right of way within the park
> Maintain silence. Avoid using transistors, sound systems or having loud conversations
> Do not disturb the animals and birds
> Do not try to irritate them
> Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption inside the park
> Do not use flash photography
> Do not use horns, drive fast, harass animals, or light campfires and firecrackers
> Do not carry firearms
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