Just north of Mumbai lays 104 sq km of lush greenery and wildlife in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. My niece had a vacation day after her exams and my son loves running and climbing, so it seemed the perfect destination to spend the day.
|The expedition crew ready to explore|
Entering the park, we discovered the first problem. The park does not have very good signs, maps, or information. After some fumbling around we found a guide at the front who gave us some direction. After hearing all the park had to offer we found the three most interesting to us: The Tiger and Lion Safari, the Vanrani Narrow Gauge Train, and the Kanheri Caves.
We followed the signs for the Tiger and Lion Safari, but we’re never quite able to find it. We saw a few wild deer, but no lions or tigers. Wikipedia claims that there are some caged lions and tigers on view but we could not find them. Once my son asked for the 700th time to go to the zoo, we decided to distract him with his other favorite zoo activity, the narrow gauge train. (both the San Francisco zoo and the Oakland zoo, which we frequent, have small train rides, his favorite activity)
|Wild deer||The only lion we saw|
The Vanrani narrow gauge train is a small train which takes you for a 20 minute ride through out the park. On the train you pass some of the enclosed deer, swing by the lake and some streams, and mostly see greenery and have a pleasant ride. My son loves anything to do with trains, so he loved riding along, watching the scenery, saying “Choo Choo” at the top of his lungs, and telling anyone who would listen that he was on a train. As for the older passengers, we enjoyed the scenic view and watching the hikers we passed. For me, it was fascinating to see the hikers wearing traditional dress. I’ve worn saris and find it hard to do basic things such as go to a restaurant in one, I can’t imagine hiking in one! The train leaves every 30 minutes, and for 25 rupees for adults, 10 rupees for children 3-12, it’s well worth the price.
|Enjoying the Narrow gage train ride|
Finally we made it to Kanheri caves. Carved into the hills by Buddhist monks during the 1st centry BC, these are amazing preserved temples and statues. There are over 90 caves, though only a few are of architectural significance. Up several flights of stairs (no strollers here, it’s best of have a carrier for children who can’t walk or will tire out and need a rest) you find your first set of caves. Here there was a deep temple with a Siva symbol at the end. Outside flanking the statues are two 7m tall Buddas. We continued going up the hills to view more caves and spectacular panoramics of the park. I found it interesting that at a few vantage points you could see the Mumbai skyline in the distance. It was surreal to be in the middle of a rainforest, surrounded by thousand year old statues, and know the bustling city was so close. We only made it to 11 caves before we decided we needed to turn around and go back. My son was getting tired, my daughter needed to nurse, and the rest of us wanted lunch. But the caves were fascinating, and I think worth more of a visit. I would suggest you actually either spend the day at the park just for caves or head there first.
|Well preserved carvings||Thats one large Budda|
|My wonderful niece helped me keep my balance since I was a little front heavy||My husband and son, bonding on the walk down|
After a day at the park ,we headed only 20 minutes south to the Oberoi mall for Pizza Hut (my niece’s choice) and to walk the stores. As I sat in this very visual symbol of India’s growing wealth and westernization, it was nice to think back and know that the tranquility of the park was so close by.
* Starred photos taken by Atma Photography