Balcony view of Mumbai's real night life
What happens when you spend a night atop a forest machan inside Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park, with the best seat in the house? The views are spectacular, the sightings, special, and the excitement, palpable. BNHS' Atul Sathe, on his 11th visit, recalls his first-hand encounter in the wild
Party animals can best comment on Mumbai’s nightlife however; we were treated to night life of a different kind — the kinds that can be found only inside a forest, and that too, amid a teeming metropolis.
As part of the Bombay Natural History Society, one has been lucky on 11 occasions since 1997 to experience stays atop a machan (forest watch tower) at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP. It was a part of annual wildlife census conducted by Maharashtra Forest Department.
By 4.30 pm on a sultry weekday in May, we drove into this green haven, in a forest department vehicle, winding along the jungle path, invigourated by the steady breeze and fragrance of wild flowers around us. Soon, we were in the midst of a mixed deciduous forest where trees ranged from the tall and stately Teak and Ain to the thickly foliage of the Wild Mango and Karanj.
Volunteers were e dropped en route as per the watchtowers allocated and soon, we entered the core area. We passed by the small Vyaghreshwari temple, dedicated to Tiger Goddess, where we had spotted leopard pugmarks earlier. The view of Tulsi Lake was mesmeric from that vantage point. The fading sunlight presented a spectacle with the placid expanse of water surrounded by densely forested mountains.
By 5.30 pm, two of us from BNHS alighted near culvert number 27 in the forest between Tulsi and Vihar lakes. There was pin-drop silence and thick Karvand bushes all around, studded with delicious black berries. A few steps along a forest track and we reached Machan number 27, in time to see three Spotted Deer bounding away. A troop of Hanuman Langurs hovered around, as we climbed the machan with two forest guards.
After the Langurs had their fill at the artificial waterhole, a group of Bonnet Macaque joined the melee. These smaller species of monkey are aggressive and gave us the stare. By then, the persistent calls of Brown-headed Barbet filled the air in the jungle. Its call is very conspicuous, but is seldom seen. However, we saw three individuals. We also heard their smaller cousins - White-Cheeked Barbet. A pair of Common Myna arrived at their nest on a dead Palm tree nearby, adding to the birdsong.
Two Indian Grey Hornbills gracefully flew down to an oversized Karvand bush that grew 20 feet tall and helped themselves with the berries. The sights and sounds of other feathered denizens before they roosted for the night included White-throated Kingfisher, Magpie Robin, Black Drongo, Little Egret, Koel, Crested Serpent Eagle and Black-hooded Oriole. Before sundown, a lone Spotted Deer gingerly walked towards the waterhole and held up her tail in alarm. But the urge to quench the thirst was strong and the beautiful doe reached out and took a few sips.
Full Moon magic
After sunset, twilight lingered on for a while. Bats flitted through the darkening forest sky. Calls of the Jungle Owlet were heard regularly. The first hour was dark. But as the silvery orb of the moon climbed over Mulund’s Yogi Hills, the forest was bathed in a magical milky light.
As we finished our dinner, warning calls of Spotted Deer caught our attention. A leopard had to be near, stalking the aisles of the forest in search of food. After a while, a forest department vehicle passed on the road resulting in the startled call of a Barking Deer. While this drama unfolded, we observed two apparitions on the forest floor that we identified as two adult Sambars. Noticing our presence, a stag stamped its front hoof on the ground; its loud metallic call startled us. They circled the water once, but again, thirst won. It was possible to spot their reflection in the water.
As hours dragged on, we experienced alternating bouts of sleepiness and alertness. By 4.30 am, Grey Jungle Fowl started giving their energetic wake-up calls. Then, against the brightening eastern horizon and the whiff of morning freshness around us, the melodious call of Peacocks heralded the new day. Bird activity was renewed in right earnest, as species after another welcomed the dawn. Others including White-cheeked Bulbul, Tailor Bird, Golden Oriole and Spotted Dove joined our friends of the previous evening.
We stretched our limbs, got off the machan and observed the pugmarks that were left on the ground. As we waited for the bus the aerial dynamics of a couple of Racket-tailed Drongo entertained us. The sighting of a Spotted Owlet was the icing on the cake, after a wild night out in Mumbai!
(The author is Communications Manager, BNHS)