Time and again, we have been amazed by what nature has in store, just a few hours away from the madding crowd. This time around our compass pointed us towards Malshej Ghat, which at 136 kms away from Mumbai, is a green ticket invite waiting to be explored.
Guiding us on our trail conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) were programme officers Vandan Jhaveri and Asif Khan. While Vandan’s areas of interest are plants, seasonal flowers and insects, Asif specialises in birds, reptiles and butterflies. With heavy traffic, it took as nearly three hours to reach Malshej, from Thane.
The route was scenic, thanks to the Sahyadris and several seasonal waterfalls (we passed under one that decided to spill right on the road). The road, though winding is, surprisingly, in good condition.
After a long, winding journey we spotted MTDC’s resort tucked in the wilderness, which was to be the vantage point for the trail. Malshej makes for an interesting location as it is a mix of two habitats, grassland and hill forest. “When you enter a forest, it seems rich because of the tree cover, but a grassland supports an equally full ecosystem.
Sadly, our Forest Department doesn’t realise this; they carry tree plantation drives in grasslands, which harms the balance of the organisms surviving there,” informs Vandan.
With the green flatland beckoning us, we were eager to spot the Malabar Giant Squirrel in particular. “Don’t go with any expectations, enjoy what nature throws at you,” was Asif’s advice at the start of the trail. It helped. The elusive squirrel didn’t show up. Instead, we were treated to a series of natural spectacles.
Apart from the moths, due to the expansive floral cover, Malshej is known for its butterflies At the start of our trip we spotted the pupa of the Common Crow species.
During our trail, others like Monkey Puzzle, Painted Lady, Danaid Eggfly, Lemon Pansy, Blue Pansy and Malabar Spotted Flat (butterfly) made appearances. Dragonflies, in several colours flit around the entire landscape.
Treks and trails
The topography of the grassland is not very steep and thus makes for easy walking trails, which were enjoyed by people from different age groups in our team. However, the trail in the hills, is a climb, in comparison, as it abounds with vegetation and has a slippery slope.
“There are two good treks near Malshej Ghat, one is the Harishchandragad via Tolarkhind, and Naneghat. Also one can go to Jivdhan via Naneghat,” says Asif.
Flora & Fauna
The MTDC resort is ideal to spot different moths: BNHS conducts their night moth surveys at the resort as well. One can sight different moths during the day; the Clown Moth, Hook-tip Moth, Slug Moth and a few species of Grass Moth were also seen. Giving our trail the perfect start was when we noticed the Indian Moon Moth (below, in pic). As for birds, our first sighting was that of the Long-tailed Shrike, also called Butcher Bird, “It impales its prey on thorns, hence the name,” explains Asif. We also spotted the Malabar Lark, Common Kestrel, Dusky Crag Martin, White Wagtail and the Common Indian Toad
Adding a yellow tinge to the landscape was the Yellow Groundsel, which covered the flat land in a yellow hued sheet. Also seen were the Purple Smithia and Pogostemon. A Black faced Langur decided to pay us a visit as well.In the hilly forest trail, which was the second half of our trip, we looked for the Malabar Giant Squirrel who eluded us but made its presence felt with its call. We also heard calls of Malabar Whistling Thrush and Red-whiskered Bulbul.
What to carry A good pair of walking shoes is a must as the trail clocks nearly two and a half hours. It was quite sunny on the day we visited, so a cap and sunscreen should make it to the list. The weather can be very unpredictable with sudden bursts of rain, so carry a windcheater or raincoat. The MTDC resort has a restaurant, but it’s wise to carry packed munchies and water for your drive or trail, to avoid being stranded at any point.
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