A few minutes away from the blaring horns, frayed nerves and the over-developed National Capital Region (NCR) is a sanctuary of peace. An ancient refuge of old, tall trees and plants native to the Aravalli range, the Mangar Bani forest is a safe space for many animals and some city weary-humans.

Mangar is considered a sacred grove as the Gudariya Das Baba Temple is part of the forest. Legend has it that Baba Gudariya Das protects this forest and punishes anyone who tries to disrupt its sanctity. The religious sentiments attached with this old tropical grove makes locals very protective of the forest.

Mangar is a dense dry deciduous scrub-forest brimming with flora and fauna. I first visited Mangar about five years ago and it was love at first sight! The scrubs of Mangar went on to become one of my favourite spots for birdwatching. The beauty of Mangar lies in its ability to constantly surprise you — it’s hard to imagine that a dull brown habitat like Mangar can have such magical trees and species. Jackals and monitor lizards are found abundantly here. It is also known to be a leopard-corridor.

Among the estimated 80 species of butterflies seen in Mangar, the common silver line (left) is frequently encountered during the monsoon months. The Indian pitta (right), partial to scrub jungles such as Mangar, is among the approximate 180 species of birds that visit this region during monsoons to breed. Photos: Abhishek Gulshan
Located in Faridabad district, the Mangar Bani sacred forest is one of the few remaining green patches in the National Capital Region. Cover Photo: Shashank Adlakha

If you must visit Mangar only once, then it should be during the rains. The otherwise dull appearance of arid scrublands dramatically transforms into a vibrant green during the monsoons. With little puddles of water here and there, the calls of monsoon birds, the vibrantly coloured butterflies, and the sheer majesty of the trees in all their leafy glory is mesmerising. However, every season brings with it a unique experience. Soon after the monsoons, the valleys and the forests echo with the sounds of wintering warblers and other birds. The reptiles prepare to hibernate, the mammals lie around basking in the sun, and the birdsong can be heard miles away as they fly from one branch to the other looking for food calling out to each other.

Mangar's rocky landscape holds relics of the biodiversity found in the Aravali mountains, one of the oldest ranges in the world. Found in hilly dry habitats that offer some level of tree cover, the short-toed snake-eagle (right) can be seen keeping an eye out for its favourite prey – snakes and lizards. Photos: Abhishek Gulshan

One winter morning as I was walking around, trying to spot some birds, I witnessed a sight I will remember for a very long time. An elegant short-toed snake-eagle suddenly swooped down and grabbed a rat snake right before my eyes! The eagle then took it to the top of the hill to enjoy some sunshine along with its meal. It kept an “eagle eye on” for the Egyptian vultures nearby who could rob it of its catch. And I just stood there mesmerised watching this little unexpected spectacle a few feet away from me.

Another factor that draws wildlife enthusiasts to Mangar is the proliferation of dhau trees (Anogeissus pendula). The dhau is a medium-sized tree, typical to the tropical dry deciduous forests of the Aravallis. The tree has perfectly mastered the efficient use of the water and other nutrient-based resources in these tough drought-centric habitats and plays an invaluable role in afforesting the dry, rocky hills. Once an integral part of the ridge areas in Delhi NCR, it is now believed to be disappearing. So, Mangar is perhaps the only area in and around NCR where one sees these trees in such large numbers.

If Delhi has worn you out, Mangar could just be that spot of tranquility. It is for me.

The dhau (Anogeissus latifolia), dhak (Butea monosperma), phulai (Senegalia modesta), kareel (Capparis decidua) are the predominant species of trees found in Mangar along with the invasive vilayati keekar (Prosopis juliflora). Declared a no construction zone in 2016 after relentless campaigning by locals and activists, Mangar needs to be afforded the status of a protected forest if it to be saved from landsharks. Photos: Aashika Talreja

Location: Turn off on the Faridabad-Gurgaon highway into a road towards the Mangar Police Chowki
How to get there: The best way to reach there us by car
What to look out for at Mangar Bani:
Dhau trees, Indian jackal, ruddy mongoose, cinerous tit, blue tiger butterfly (in the monsoons), chestnut-shouldered petronia and the yellow throated sparrow
What to carry: Binoculars, a book to help you identify birds and trees
What to be careful about: Characteristic thorny flora. Also, be respectful of the local community living there

Abhishek Gulshan

is a Delhi-based naturalist, nature educator and birdwatcher, specialising in nature trails around the city and founder of the Nature Education & Awareness Initiative 'NINOX - Owl about Nature'.

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