Karnala Bird Sanctuary, Karnala
For many parents, the monsoon means looking for indoor entertainment. But for some it means an opening of the glorious outdoors.
Karnala is a tiny sanctuary, barely 4.8 sq km, home to over 150 resident bird species and about 37 types of avian migrants. And that’s where we headed last weekend.
As we drove towards Karnala, we spotted a hill with a finger-like peak, from a distance. This is the famous Karnala Fort around which the sanctuary is placed.
When we reached Karnala, we saw that there were hordes of groups already waiting to pay for an entry into the sanctuary.
While doing my homework about the place, I found out that about a hundred thousand people from Mumbai, Thane and other nearby towns, visit it, every year.
I’ve been to Karnala many times over, but never in the rains and never with kids. The rains had opened small brooks and impromptu waterfalls and the sanctuary was buzzing with the sounds of insects and birdcalls.
At the start, there were cages with parrots and peacocks and yes, rabbits. We left quickly. There were groups of trekkers, many shouting and laughing loudly but as we stepped into serious walking territory, it got peaceful. We were on our own.
There are two ways up: one is easy and the other a bit difficult. We chose the difficult part. There are man-made steps and places where the path is not even visible. We stepped on exposed roots and sodden leaves and unguided, often walked into dead-ends. It was fun to not have a guide, to explore on your own, retrace and find a new route. In more than one place we had to cross rushing brooks, stepping on slippery stones. The kids were thrilled.
Karnala’s deciduous trees come to life in the monsoon, as this 43 sq-ft forest cover area is painted in different shades and hues of green
The Karnala Pinnacle, apparently, is home to endangered birds like the Peregrine Falcon, King Vulture and the Crested Serpent Eagle. During the cooler months, from October to April, a large number of migratory birds settle briefly at Karnala and this is when bird-watchers throng the place. We spotted the Crow Pheasant, the Kingfisher, the Drongo, and a large number of butterflies and insects. Along with the musical calls of bird whistle we also heard the cries of the Common Langur. At some parts, the silence was ringed with the incessant, electric hum of the cicada.
The idea was to reach Karnala Fort or the Funnel Hill as it is called. Standing 475 metres high, it has passed through the hands of Muslim, Portuguese and Maratha rulers. But we gave up. We walked back slowly, catching the rain on our face.
Where: NH 66, Karnala, Raigad district.
Getting there: It’s a two-hour drive via Thane Creek to Panvel. Central Railway trains from CST halt at Panvel (Harbour line), which is 12 km from the sanctuary. Autos, taxis and buses ply to the venue. State Transport buses run from Mumbai Central to Karnala.
Timings: No helpful signage was visible. Karnala is unsafe after 6.30 pm.
Charges: Rs 20 (adult), Rs 10 (child), 4-wheeler parking Rs 40 food & water There are two tea stalls inside, to buy water and snacks. Carry water, food and rain/sun protection, if you plan to trek deeper or head to the fort.
Restroom facilities: None
What’s good: Trekking options for beginners and regulars. In the rain, Karnala with its deciduous trees is transformed. All trees are labelled.
What’s not good: An air of neglect with the caged birds.
>> The trek up to the Fort and return can take more than half a day.
>> Lakes around Karnala: Shirdhon Lake, Sawale Lake and Somatane Lake.