Bhavan's college in Andheri will take you on a safari ride, literally!

Jan 13, 2019, 20:30 IST | Ekta Mohta

At a 1.5-acre nature and adventure centre in Bhavan's College, you can say hi to peacocks, peahens, emus, pythons, parakeets, and pet dogs the size of dire wolves

Bhavan's college in Andheri will take you on a safari ride, literally!
Peahen. Pics/Sameer Markande

A corner of Bhavan's College in Andheri has been turned into a United Nations for animals. Baptised as the Bhavan's Nature and Adventure Centre, it has guinea fowls and ball pythons from Africa; budgerigars and emus from Australia; Muscovy ducks, natives of Mexico; a German shepherd, a Tibetan mastiff, and a St Bernard, all the way from the Alps. "In that sense, we are a cosmopolitan nation," says administrator Himanshu Prem Joshi.

Headed by Joshi, the centre is a sum of several parts: one section is a rescue centre, where abandoned and injured birds can flock together and receive TLC; another is a green cover with over 300 types of plants, including rare trees such as rudraksh and kailashpati, medicinal plants such as aloe vera and tulsi, and a vegetable patch of palak, methi, ajwain, lemongrass, brinjal, papaya and carrot; a third is an obstacle course with a rock-climbing wall, commando net, Burma bridge, zip line and ropewalk.

Himanshu Prem Joshi with a peacock
Himanshu Prem Joshi with a peacock

Owing to the virile habitat, the centre is frequented by total babes: peacocks, bulbuls, fan-tailed flycatchers, golden orioles, sunbirds, Alexandrine parakeets, cormorants and pheasant-tailed jacanas, along with over 70 species of butterflies such as sailor, giant red eye, hawk moth, owl moth, jezebel and lime butterfly. "We've grown such wild berries, fruits and flowers that attract butterflies and birds," says Joshi. The centre is like Noah's Ark moored in Eden.

For this correspondent, the visit was the scene of a happy reunion. An ex-student of Bhavan's College, I have fond memories of running into boozers and stoners around the campus lake. This time, I ran into a sun conure, a stunning burnt-orange bird, draped in fire. Thanks to the foresight of Dr ML Shrikant, then chairman of the campus, who hired Joshi nine years ago, the 1.5-acre dumping ground has been transformed into a breeding ground.

Ducks
Ducks

"Most of the cement, debris, plastic, metal scrap and glass used to be dumped here. I made a presentation [to Shrikant] that showed we can utilise this place, and convert it into a nature and adventure centre." Shrikant approached the right tree hugger for the job, because the last time Joshi got his hands dirty, the problem was 40 times bigger.

From 1986-1992, Joshi was one of the core team members tasked with creating Mahim Nature Park, in Dharavi, out of 40 acres of crap. "It was a huge undertaking: imagine 200 trucks of municipal, non-biodegradable waste of Mumbai.

Parakeets
Parakeets

These 200 trucks were dumped — not for two months, not for 20 months, but for 20 years — every day. It was a stinking mountain; to convert that into a park was a herculean task. We were walking on human faecal matter. We once found a human corpse, animal dead bodies, whatnot." After he quit, he became active with Wild Holidays, which organises trekking trips for students in Uttaranchal, Ladakh, Sikkim and Himachal and wildlife sanctuaries across India. "I didn't want to compromise on the kind of life

I wanted to lead. So, despite various financial temptations, very lucrative offers, I chose to politely decline them and continue wandering into forests and expose youngsters to nature. Experience the serenity and be one with the universe." The oasis he's created in Bhavan's, in fact, is ideal for that.

Python
Python

Joshi's soft-spoken, kind demeanour speaks of a man who has spent his lifetime dealing with wounded beings. "It is not easy even for a human being to develop trust with another human being. But, to create trust in the mind of a bird or an animal is extremely difficult. They're genetically scared of us, because they've always been persecuted and hunted."

Joshi's nature works wonders on birds and humans alike. In nine years, he's amassed 150 volunteers, who work on a rotation basis. On our visit, volunteers from the college were planning Prakruti Festival, a nature festival open to Generation Z, which includes adventure activities, nature trails, an orchid and bonsai exhibition and workshops on vermicomposting and bird care.

(The centre is open to all on Sundays, but partial to children on weekdays.) "Today's children don't get to see live things. We want them to smell, touch and learn about nature and environment." His well-intentioned efforts have borne fruit: the centre is an official partner of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. "So, this one little centre is on the map of United Nations in India."

What: Prakruti Nature Festival
Where: Bhavan's Nature and Adventure Centre, Andheri Bhavan's Campus, Munshi Nagar
When: January 18-20; 9 AM to 6 PM
Entry: Rs 150
To book: www.bookmyshow.com

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