There are six lakes that quench the ever-increasing thirst of the city of Mumbai: Tulsi, Vihar, Bhatsa, Modak Sagar, Vaitarna and Tansa. The first two lie in the catchment areas of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. And the others are spread across the sprawling district of Thane. Of these, Tansa, is formed by the oldest and the longest masonry dam in India, which supplies water to one-third of Mumbai.
Most of these dams were built over 125 years ago when the population of Mumbai was just about 10,000. The fact that they continue to supply water even after this figure has touched an astronomical two crore underlines the far-sightedness of the British. But for how long this will last, depends on the city’s near-sighted politicians and bureaucrats.
Sounds of silence
One summer morning, we drove down to Tansa, which is 100 km away. After two hours, we reached the lake and the sanctuary that envelopes it for all of 320 sq kms, making it the largest sanctuary in Thane district. After leaving our haversacks in the tree house (it's been around since the 1970s), we proceeded through the forest to reach the shimmering lake.
The walk was over a carpet of golden leaves laid across the entire forest floor, up to the silver rim of the lake. The gigantic trees continued un-leaving, as a sudden gust of wind would even carry them deep into the tranquil lake where they would fall on the blue waters creating ripples of silence. The whole forest was silent. Even the raucous birds, called Seven Sisters by Salim Ali for their chatty cacophony, went about their jobs silently. The eight Grey Hornbills too flew away in a single, silent line.
Flora and fauna for all seasons
We stayed at the far end of the lake —away from the prying eyes of the CCTV at the dam-site. Due to strict security, even bird photography was prohibited there. Rightly so since it is a major lifeline for Mumbai. When we returned to our log-hut, the birds on the silk cotton tree laden with red flowers were busy with their supper. A lone Common Drongo, fondly referred to as ‘Jungle Ka Kotwal’, had taken its job description seriously. It was shooing every bird away: Orioles, Flycatchers, and Bee-eaters, almost as if he owned the tree. As if on sync a pair of squirrels who were waiting patiently for their turn, descended on the tree to help themselves.
The next day, we drove to the tribal village of Aghai, and took the road that envelopes the entire lake. For 10 kms, we had the blue lifeline of Mumbai in our rear-view mirror. The moment we left the protected gates of Tansa sanctuary, we saw the melancholic sight of swathes of unprotected forests set on fire by man.
Nature at work!
Shedding of leaves by a tree is an amazing act of conservation of resources. When water gets scarce (dense leaves need lots of it), trees shed leaves to conserve precious water. It remains leafless throughout winter. Only when it’s sure that the rains are around the corner does it sprout leaves again.
How to get there
> Take the Mumbai-Nashik Expressway till Shahapur, which is 80 km from Mumbai.
> A little beyond, is Atgaon. Take a left, and continue on the Atgaon-Aghai Road.
> Tansa is 20 km from Atgaon.
Where to stay
The Forest Rest House at Tansa is the only accommodation inside the sanctuary.
Call 28860362 / 09158064579 / 09422490527
When to go
Summer is ideal for its golden leaf carpets and bird sightings. The monsoon will convert it into a sea of green leaves and a lush forest cover.