Monday, July 11, 2011

Nagla Forests Trek .

Thanks to "B.N.H.S(Bombay Natural History Society)", have been able to study and learn the beauty of nature in my own backyard, Mumbai!
As a professional sea-farer having completed 23 years sailing the "High Seas", have traveled all the continents, barring the Arctic and Antarctica.After quitting employment in the " Mercantile Merchant Navy" toured various International city's, either on a "Solo Back-packers budget" or through private "Packaged tour company's".
It was through membership with the "B.N.H.S" that i finally started discovering the discarded ruined Forts of Maharashtra as well as the forested precincts of Mumbai city.
Vintage "B.N.H.S" local tour bus.

Having previously toured the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park" and "Tunghaneshwar Hills", the "Nagla Block" forest, a important wild-life corridor between these two nature reserves was the only forest that eluded me.
Finally got an opportunity to visit the same through a "B.N.H.S" conducted tour on Sunday(10-7-2011).
"B.N.H.S" sends its members updates of future bi-monthly tours and camps to be conducted through its "Internet" website and personal E-Mail adresses of its members.
This was supposed to be a single half- day nature trek through the "Nagla Forest" and the charges were Rs 570.
Finally Confirmed my booking with "B.N.H.S" staff on Friday(8-7-2010)and was hoping that the monsoon rains would favour our trek, as heavy rains would cause forest wild-life to seek shelter akin to us humans.Worse, the entire nature tour could be canceled due to lack of participants if it rained heavily and caused "Water-Logging", a very common phenomenon during the "Monsoon Season" in Mumbai.
On Sunday(10-7-2011) morning,arrived at the "B.N.H.S " bus boarding point at Dadar T.T(Near Chandu Halwai Shop) at approx 0545 hrs.
Saw a few co- nature trekkers including young kids ,but no familiar faces and as usual developed new acquaintances and met new nature enthusiasts.Picked up a conversation with Mr R.R.Naimi who at 6'3" was the tallest trekker awaiting the bus and again realized that we live in a "Small Globalized World". He was an ex-student of "Barnes school(Deolali)" , a sister school of my Alma- mater "Christ church School(Byculla)" and hence reminisced about the 1970's era of school life, besides, we both happened to have played as "Goal-keepers" for our respective schools football teams.
The "B.N.H.S" bus arrived at approx 0605 hrs with the two "B.N.H.S" nature trek guides Mr Asif.Khan and Mr Vandan.Jhaveri.  
Lush dense forest of the "Nagla Block" sector of the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

                                                                                                 After cross-checking of the tour members for attendance and payments, the bus left Dadar at approx 0615 hrs.Picked up a conversation with another gentleman Mr Parag.Parelkar who previously happened to reside at Shivaji park but had shifted to Borivili and was a "Professional Photographer" by profession, although not connected to "Professional Wild-life Photography".Thanks to him and a lady co-trekker Vijayanthi.Chakravarthy that i have managed to portray accurately the pictorial photos of some exotic insect species that we spotted during our trek .Parags has firmly embossed his name on his photos , a thorough professional, as "Photograph Pilfering" is common on the internet, let alone the "Film Industry"! One of the most beautiful photos that i photographed of my pet Persian cat "Matahari" was pilfered from the internet and being a prolific blogger happened to notice the same while searching the "Internet" for "Traditional Persian Cats". The pilferer had the audacity to register the "Photo" on the "Wikipedia media" under the category "Traditional Persian cats" with a different name as a "Traditional Persian cat model".Although no monetary fraud was involved, just a robbery of "Intellectual property rights",I firmly fought the case through my blogs and exposed the fraud. Wikipedia authorities withdrew this photograph from their Wikipedia encyclopedia on "Traditional Persian Cats", as its a very respectable authentic encyclopedia .I have personally contributed numerous photos and even edited a few encyclopaedia c subjects in "Wikipedia".Apologize for "Bragging Rights" but i just wanted to expose the cruel World of "Copyright Infringement" in India and the "Internet", majority going un-noticed or the victims unable to prosecute for lack of monetary funds or power. Every "Creative Artist", famous, infamous or unknown likes to be appreciated or criticized for their work and hence despise theft of their indigenous intellectual copyrights.
A few members were already in the bus, as the pick-up starting point was from Goregaon and hence the bus departed Dadar with the complete nature trekkers entourage.
Naimi and myself occupied the 2-row seats and while looking through the co- trekkers for familiar faces , noticed Bakul.Gadia seated on the opposite row seat.Miss Bakul.Gadia and myself had previously been on a group trek to "Rajmachi Fort" and a personal blog of the same is on view.
It was a pleasant bus journey in the cool weather with occasional heavy showers.Finally at approx 0730 hrs , after crossing the "Thane Ghodbhunder road" we stopped at a highway restaurant for tea and toilet.
The "Nagla Block Forest" was a short distance from this highway hotel, just a kilometer away after crossing the "Vasai Creek bridge".
Observed some Industrial activity in the midst of the dense foothills of the Forests adjacent to the main Gujarat highway near the creek and hope that "Industrialization" doesn't destroy this pristine and fragile forest eco-system.A few leopards have been killed by vehicles while trying to cross the main highway road at night, as the "Nagla Block Forest" is an important "wild-life leopard corridor" between the main "sanjay Gandhi National park" and the dense unprotected Western Ghat forests.Special sign post have been installed on the road for motorists with the indication, "Beware, Leopards Crossing".
Finally reached the entrance of "Nagla Block Forest" situated near a small village on the main "Mumbai-Gujarat highway" at approx 0800 hrs.Bizarrely, i noticed a beautiful jet black cat, akin to a miniature panther sitting on the open veranda of a typical Adivasi village house situated exactly at the entrance of ""Nagla Block forest". As i have a pair of pet Persian cats at home have always had a tendency to look for cats in any locality and this particular cat symbolized the "Nagla Block Forest", a total jungle reserve in the midst of a bustling congested city.The "Bombay Cat", a jet black cat breed produced by American cat breeders resembled this cat, although the "Bombay Cat" is a totally different breed to the common black cat found in Mumbai only similarity being the jet black colour.This cat derived its name from the city and i presume the leopards of "Bombay National Park(Later Sanjay Gandhi National Park)" must have been an inspiration for "Professional Cat Breeders" to breed a cat that resembled the "Bombay Panther". There was no rainfall when we arrived at the park but the adjoining narrow forest pathway ground was soft and our bus managed to climb this steep pathway and park itself near the village.Unlike the "Sanjay Gandhi Park" there is no gate or entrance guards at the "Nagla Block " forest entrance, just a small forest lodge with a guard.Entrance to this forest is restricted to normal civilians, hence it is less crowded and definitely avoided by " Holiday Picnickers". I personally feel that the "Mosquito's" of Nagla forest are the best guards against human encroachment in this pristine and dense forests, proving that nature has its own natural protection for survival.
After alighting from the bus,there was a self introductory speech by every member, all from different walks of life, ages and sex.
Our trek into the forest began at approx 0815 hrs, the weather being in our favour, cool and pleasant with absolutely no rainfall. The forest was lush green and infested with mosquito's, a sign of a good forest eco-system, less destroyed by human interference.I was wearing a "Rain-coat jacket" which covered my face and also protected me from mosquito bites.
As usual,Mr Asif.Khan and Mr Vandan.Jhaveri began lecturing us on various insects , plants and trees that we spotted while trekking through this dense forest.As mentioned in my previous blogs, the advantage of a nature or hill-fort trek with "B.N.H.S" as compared to other private trekking tour organizers is the expertise of its trekking guide staff, some of whom have authored wild-life and nature books.I am basically a "Trekker",having previously been an "Air-Gun hunter" in the 1970's,belonging to a generation that had experienced " Small Game -hunting" as a sport,hence fond of just walking and feeling the forests life.My knowledge of birds, insects and trees is minuscule,more familiar with mammals and pet birds,wild-life knowledge gained through reading National geographic and watching television programmes like "Animal planet".Most of my practical knowledge of forests developed after joining the "B.N.H.S" nature treks and nature camps,previously having roamed the forests as a "Semi-literate bird or small mammal hunter" in the 1970's.
The trek was through a narrow pathway having short uphill climbs with lush vegetation and trees on either side.We all walked along the narrow pathway in a single file, sharing observations on insect, plant or tree sightings with explanations from either Asif or Vandhan on the subject.Insects were numerous and didn't spot any rare bird, although heard a few exotic bird sounds in the forests.The "Nagla Block" forests has been a favourite residence of Mumbai's resident wild leopards confined in the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park".In 2010, a rescued leopard from a well was "Radio Collared" and released at "Malshej Ghat". Its entire journey to the "Sanjay Gandhi Park" in Mumbai over 120 days was trekked and "Logged",a first of its kind in studying the "Leopard Corridor" and habits of the "Sanjay Gandhi Park Leopards". A complete detail "Log Account" of this leopard, named "Ajoba" can be viewed on leopard resided in the "Nagla Block" forests for a few days, which explains the importance of preserving these lush forests from human degradation.
Learnt about common insects and their sophisticated adaptation to forest dwelling. Spotted grasshoppers, also a grasshopper with its moulted skin intact on the shrub, a observation and explaination by "B.N.H.S" trekker guides Asif.Khan and Vandan.Jhaveri.As usual, most of the nature trekkers were busy with their camera's, some with professional photography equipment like Parag.Parelkar, others like me with normal digital camera's.Wild-Life and nature photography is the costliest hobby if not professional and hence a few "B.N.H.S" tour group members carry professional equipment for capturing "Poster-card Photos" of insects, butterflys, birds or mammals.Notice the clarity of Parag's photographs in this blog, although "Wild-life Photography" is not his occupation.At times, non-professional photographers like me with standard equipment do occasionally get lucky in capturing classic nature photos, but, that's rare, a authentic fluke.In "Wild-life photography" unlike "Still or Portrait photography" the camera quality and equipment are as important as the skill of the photographer.I have been more of a "Videographer" on most wild-life and hill fort treks, something at which my camera is reasonably on par with professional photography equipment.The insect, butterfly and other plant photos on my blog are a result of the expertise and equipment of fellow trekkers Vijayanthi.Chakravarthy and Parag.Parelkar who posted the same on the "B.N.H.S " website.As for me, i do more of blogs accompanied with descriptive photos and also descriptive videos.This is my small way in contributing back to nature by trying to educate the younger generation on wild-life and nature as also others interested in the outdoors adventures.Whilst walking we came across a long white caterpillar and as usual everyone started photographing it, thinking it to be a caterpillar. Thanks to Vandhan, we realized that it was actually two moths mating, their behinds stuck in opposite direction akin to dogs.Looking through the naked eye, it resembled a single long white coloured caterpillar.On photographing it, the wings of the two different moths were exposed on magnification by the "Digital camera", a real exposure to the wonders of nature. Young children are naturally exposed to learning about the "Birds and the bees" through observing nature, and realize the reason for usage of this phrase in "English Language".
Learnt about the "Monkey Puzzle Butterfly", a unique butterfly whose tail resembles a head, a natural protection against predators.
Among the rare butterfly's that we spotted was the "Blue Oak Leaf" butterfly, a real freak of nature. This butterfly resembled a dry brown leaf when viewed from the side with wings closed.With wings opened, it resembled a beautiful blue colour painting when viewed from the top.Spotted a few moth caterpillars and also a coulpe of moths mating, something i viewed and understood for the first time.Moth caterpillars unlike butterfly caterpillars have more bristles on their body and touching them with bare hands could cause severe itching, a natural protection against predators. My knowledge of insects including the beautiful butterfly's is negligible, although i have a stuffed display curio of exotic butterfly s in my house, the same purchased from Singapore in the 1990's during one of my shipping voyages to that port.I was just captivated by this particular curio in a Singapore curio shop and hence purchased the same, although my interest or knowledge of butterfly's was negligible at that particular time of my life.I hope to get this "Butterfly Display" frame evaluated by "B.N.H.S",as "Butterfly Collection" is a serious and costly hobby amongst collectors.
There were numerous "Tarzan Trees", in the dense forests, trees with strong creeper roots from its branches which can be used for swinging as portrayed in "Tarzan Films".
Suddenly we came across a swarm of butterfly's congregating around a leea tree, absolutely beautiful and i did capture the same on "Video". Miss Deepa, one of the co-nature trekkers and a nature guide at "Sanjay Gandhi Park" explained us the various types of butterfly's on display. I have walked through a "Butterfly Enclosure" at the London zoo in 2010 seeing numerous different butterfly's, having also photographed a pair of butterfly's mating, a rare and fluke photo from my ordinary "Pentax Camera".This was the first time in my life that i had witnessed butterfly's in huge numbers congregating around a tree in the natural wild and not an artificial closed zoo enclosure as in the London zoo.The Leea tree is a delicacy plant for butterfly's, besides, the rain had stopped and a slight ray of sunshine through the forest canopy could have been the reason for this beautiful congregation of butterfly's.
As mentioned the weather was cool and pleasant, the forest floor being damp due to the early morning rains.Spotted a few land crabs but surprisingly could not spot any exotic bird.Strangely, this was the only outdoors nature trip in which i spotted the minimum amount of bird life but learnt the maximum about insects and butterfly's.
After trekking for approximately 2 and a half hours we finally reached the "Vasai Creek" embankment of "Nagla Forests" which is the separating link between "Nagla Block" and the main "Sanjay Gandhi National Park".
The creek water was murky due to the monsoon water and it had a few sea-weeds floating.Spotted a few egrets and pond herons along the banks on the opposite side of the river.It is almost unbelievable on seeing hills of the "Sanjay Gandhi National park" on the opposite bank being covered entirely with lush green forest trees and not a "Concrete Jungle",as has most of Mumbai city, including its distant suburbs.The rare "Open Billed Storks" were seen flying in the sky above the river, majestic large birds, never seen in Mumbai city.
We rested at the creek embankment, having our personal snacks and refreshments, a normal procedure on any "Nature Camp Trail".
After a brief halt of approx 15 minutes we decided to make our way back to the bus.
The trek back to base was swift as it was a reversal of the same arrival path and hence familiar to all us trekkers.We reached back to the village in approx 45 minutes at 1130 hrs, compared to the approx 2 and half hours trek to the end of the nature walk at the "Nagla Block/Vasai creek embankment".To our surprise we found that our bus had parked itself in the soft mud opposite the village houses and had got stuck in the muck.Our driver tried to extract the bus in reverse and forward directions , but, the tyres kept getting stuck.It was akin to a vehicle trying to drive through a wet paddy field, the bus tyres sinking at least 6 inches into the soft soil.A few of us tried lending a helping hand to the driver and cleaner by inserting rocks and wood pieces into the deep troughs created by the tyres but it was of no avail, the bus just refusing to budge.We finally had to abandon the bus as Asif and Vandhan decided to request the services of a "Towing Truck" to extract the bus from its solitary rest.All of us finally decided to gat back home individually, deciding to catch the local transport to Borivili station.A few of us numbering about ten, including Naimi,Parag and Bakul made our way to the main "Mumbai-Gujarat Highway" outside the park, deciding to seek any transport that could cart us to the bus-stop.We were lucky to hitch-hike a tempo that dropped us at the bus stop situated beyond the "Vasai creek Bridge" , near a "Dhabba Style hotel".We each paid the tempo driver Rs 10, thanking him for the lift, a real outdoor trek of a different type! We finally boarded the bus for "Borivili Station", reaching at approx 1330 hrs. Parag guided us to the booking counter where Naimi purchased "Railway coupon tickets", something i saw for the first time in Mumbai since i haven't been commuting by public transport in recent years , preferring my motorcycle or cycle!Co- Trekkers Deepa, Farida, Naimi and myself finally boarded the "Churchgate Fast Train" from platform Nos 3 both of us getting into the "Gents Compartment", a real adventure and learning experience of Mumbai's transport system that has become on par with developed first World country's barring the excessive commuter population.I am no snob,just a normal middle-class "Sobo Individual(South Bombay)" having spent my entire life in "South Mumbai" unaccustomed to suburban living and commuting and hence my ignorance of present day train and bus updates of Mumbai city.21st century Mumbaikars living in the suburbs, all individually developed localities, would have the same impression about "Sobo(South Mumbai)" unless regularly commuting to work or entertainment.Most offices, entertainment centres and tourist sites, barring the "National Park" are still situated in "Sobo", making it one of the Worlds costliest real estate.The internet and modern day communication has greatly transformed the living methods of Mumbaikars, especially the "Self-Employed", hence occasional "Nature Walks and treks" are a source of healthy living and interaction with other like-minded naturalists.Finally arrived at my home in Prabhadevi at approx 1430 hrs, very quick compared to the bus breakdown and common transport facilities that we endured while returning. An excellent grueling nature trek.