Looking at the dense canopy cover and lush greenery, I couldn’t help but compare this urban jungle to an equatorial rainforest. It was quite by chance that I joined a nature walk through Green Valley Park, a wilderness area in Navi Mumbai’s industrial area of CBD Belapur, organised by iNaturewatch Foundation. Though I had been in the vicinity of the park, just 15 minutes from my home, many times before, this was the first time I got wind of the splendours of the forest nestled in the Parsik Hills.
A significant drop in the surrounding temperature is the first thing I noticed on nearing the entrance to the park, which is lined with huge trees. From the concrete road we proceeded to a forest trail, with entomologist Dr. Shubhalaxmi Vaylure pointing out butterflies, damselflies, moths, spiders, crickets, caterpillars, frogs and crabs. “Look, a grasshopper!” someone exclaimed. It took me at least 10 seconds to spot the master of camouflage hidden right in front of my eyes. I learnt later that grasshoppers have been hiding away from plain sight for more than 200 million years, which is when the ancestor of the modern-day grasshopper evolved.
As we assembled in a clearing in the forest, clouds broke, completely drenching us. The rain gods had signalled that the walk was over. Completely enchanted by the magic the monsoon brings to this forest, I knew I’d be back soon.
My next visit was with two friends. However, we couldn’t find the muddy trail that I’d followed during my previous visit. Instead, we stumbled upon a stream in full spate. I remembered crossing the stream on my first visit and hoped that if we followed it, we would find the trail. Spurred on by Ruskin Bond’s words about following the gurgling of mountain streams, we waded through knee-deep water, slipping on smooth stones as we negotiated the current. Soon the stream turned into a waterfall, then a pool, before gently flowing again. When the rain paused, and the sun filtered through overhanging branches, we listened to the gentle murmur of the stream, a living entity snaking through the 50-hectare park. Though we never did find the trail I was looking for, we found another muddy path, which eventually led us out of the park.
On subsequent stream walks, when the monsoon had begun to recede, and the flow of the stream had ebbed, I began to notice the life that the stream sustains. Small freshwater crabs scuttled along the bottom of the stream. The larger ones had found perfect crevices along the mud bank to rest. Daddy long legs floated on the water. Harvestmen hid themselves on rock faces. Woolly bear caterpillars inched across logs that had fallen across the stream. Birds called out from nearby trees. Fish nibbled at my feet as I sat on a fallen log. No need to go to a mall for a fish pedicure when you can get one right here in the wilderness! Once the monsoon calls it quits the stream turns to a trickle. But it returns year after year, to feed the denizens of the forest and satiate the curiosity of jungle explorers.
Getting there: Travel to CBD-Belapur railway station on the harbour line of Mumbai’s Suburban Railway (Wadala-Panvel line). From there are an autorickshaw can drop you to the entrance of Green Valley Park, located on Arun Kumar Veadh Road in Sector-9. Landmarks include Neelima’s Dental Clinic and Agro Garden.