Treasures of the Little Kingdom
The Vansda National Park is a 24-kilometre paradise in the Navsari district of Gujarat, approximately 65 kilometres east of Chikhali, and home to over 400 plant species, as well as numerous birds, reptiles, butterflies and spiders
The Sahyadris is a majestic mountain range that stretches over 1,800 kilometres from Gujarat all the way up to Tamil Nadu -- across six states. It has a fragile ecosystem that harbours a variety of plants and animals that are indigenous to the region.
Giant Wood Spider Pics/ Gangadharan Menon
If the majestic Himalayas evoke a deep sense of mysticism, the spectacular Sahyadris is the very celebration of life. She is a tall, reclining beauty with her head resting in the clouds in the Dangs District in Gujarat and her feet caressing the beaches of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.
A couple of years ago I had taken the darshan of her feet in the forests of Kalakkad. Overwhelmed by the experience, I had sworn to travel to where her head rested. I found it in Vansda, a quaint national park in the Dangs District, near Surat in Gujarat.
'Quaint', because from the time you take the turn from Chikhali on the Mumbai-Surat Highway, one has no inkling of approaching a national park. You drive for almost 40 kilometres down a road in desperate need of repairs, passing several human settlements, until you reach a nondescript board that reads: Vansda National Park.
The Ambika River empties into the sea near Navsari
Hidden behind the board, lies a dense forest measuring all of 24 square kilometers, making it the second smallest National Park in India (the smallest is Guindy National Park in the heart of Chennai, measuring just about 9 square kilometers).
Several Adivasi families have their homes on the peripheries of the Park
A place called home
Vansda is a green island, the boundaries of which are dotted with homes of the Adivasis, which translates to 'original inhabitants' from Sanskrit. 450 species of plants, 115 species of birds, 30 species of reptiles, 60 species of butterflies and -- hold your breath -- 121 species of spiders await you, once you enter its gates.
Forest Guard Raghu doubles as guide and serves as my eyes on the journey through the Park. As the monsoon had just drawn its curtains, the path was covered with grass, as tall as my car. All I could see was grass and more grass. I swerved left or right, as per Raghu's instructions, who seemed to have a mental map of the place. It felt like driving blindfolded.
Paradise Flycatchers, Shamas, Trogons, Green Pigeons and Leaf Birds welcomed us with their calls. The Giant Wood Spider gave us a demo of his spinning skills.
The art of dying
Deep inside the forest, I saw the death of a tree. As I stood there as mute witness, Raghu spoke about the two ways a tree dies: It either splits vertically into two, or starves itself to death. It eventually crashes to the ground, making way for the tiny saplings that had up until then grown in its shade. That's when I realised that in Nature, there is no death; only life making way for another to blossom.
How to get there
Plan A: If you're driving down from Mumbai, take the road to Chikhali along the Western Express Highway (Chikhali is around 275 kms from Mumbai, beyond Valsad). Turn right at Chikhali and continue to drive for another 45 kms or so. You will find Vansda on the left.
Plan B: Take the train to Billimora on the Western Railway. When you reach Billimora, take a vehicle to Vansda.
Best time to go: December to April
Where to stay
Forest Rest House at Vansda or Waghai. For bookings, contact Range Forest Officer, Vansda National Park, Vansda-Navtad, Navsari District, Gujarat.
If you prefer a more luxurious stay that's closer to the Park, there's Saputara, which is 55 kms away.
Log on to: gujarattourism.com for details and bookings