As we walk along the trail, the sounds of traffic from the highway are gradually replaced by the songs of forest birds, chirping away myriad melodies that our urban ears seldom hear.
Nagla Block shot into the limelight in 2003, when an adult tigress was rumored to have been sighted in this part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) after almost 80 years. This small northern tip of the park hides one of the most mysterious and hidden treasures of the vast National Park.
Mumbai is fortunate to be one of the few cities in the world that have such a vast nature preserve within it’s municipal limits. While the bulk of the park stretches between Borivili and Thane, there is a small northern tip of the park that is separated by the Vasai creek from the main park. While Nagla Block only amounts to maybe about 16 sq.km. of forest land, it is a veritable treasure trove of bird and insect life.
I had never been to this part of the park and for some reason plans to visit just didn’t materialize over the years. This time around though, I decided to explore this part of the SGNP with a few of my friends.
Nagla is a bit difficult to find, especially if you haven’t been there before. The entrance to this park is just off NH-8, a little after you cross the creek. But it is so hidden, with almost no signage, that it’s quite easy to miss. And we missed it !!! I think we spent a good 15-20 minutes just backtracking to the entrance.
The trail begins at a small sleepy hamlet called Sasupada. Earlier, one had to take permission from the forest department to explore the trail, but of late one can buy a ticket from the entrance to enter the trail.
The trail is about 2 km long and ends at a rather ramshackle and dis-used rest area / nature interpretation center. We started on the trail at about 9 in the morning, a bit later then we would have liked. Since it was winter, luckily it was still relatively cool, which made walking along the trail that much more easier. After about 10-15 minutes of walking, we could gradually feel the trappings of modern life, the blaring traffic from the highway, gradually give away to the chirping of birds and the buzz of insects.
Along the trail we could find all varieties of insects, from little delicate spiders, to hairy caterpillars to ascetic preying mantises and brilliant green beetles. The trail, also had a surprising number of butterflies that flitted about, giving us tantalizing glimpses of their delicate forms.
While we could hear a large number of various bird species, spotting most of them was not possible due to the rather thick surrounding forest. We did manage to spot a few Red Whiskered Bulbuls and other common birds for the region. Previous trips to the region have also yielded tracks of larger forest denizens like deer, wild boar and even leopards, but we were not so fortunate to spot these on our trip.
After a good hour or two of shooting along the short trail we reached the old nature interpretation center. Beyond this center, is a small little trail that continues on and finally ends in a lovely little jetty facing some mangrove forests and the creek. A perfect spot for a picnic or an early morning breakfast, listening to gentle sounds of the creek !!!
After grabbing a quick bite and resting by the creek we set back towards the highway. Re-entering that cacophony of noise, after a quiet stroll among bird songs and greenery, was quite surreal and unreal. Barely out of the forest, you begin to yearn to return back into that cocoon of quiet and calm. So, I’m hoping to do many more trips to this little gem, especially during and after the monsoons, when the forest will be much greener.
Nagla Block lies on the outskirts of Mumbai. Getting there by public transport is very much possible. To get there by public transport, the best way would be to catch a train till Borivili Station, and then catch a bus going towards Thane from Borivili (East). Get off at Fountain Hotel and then walk across the bridge to the Nagla Block entrance (about 1.5-2 Km) or catch an auto-rickshaw.
Best Time to Visit
Nagla Block can be visited all year round. The best time to visit would be during or just after the monsoons. The forest then is at it’s greenest and abounding in creatures of all shapes and sizes. Winter month visits are best done in the early morning when it is relatively cool. Summers tend to be quite hot and are generally avoided
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) organizes trips to this part of the forest. In addition, several photo enthusiast groups, like Moments Shoot, regularly organize trips to places like Nagla. Watch their websites for announcements.