Saturday, August 27, 2016

Exploring the once in 7 years Karvi( Strobilanthes callosa) flowering at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai.

The "Bombay Natural History Society" was organizing a "KARVI FESTIVAL" at its  Conservation education centre situated on the periphery of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park near the "Film City"  at Goregaon East.The  "Srobilanthes Callosa" shrub popularly called "Karvi(Marathi name)" is a shrub that has the uniqueness of blossoming once after every seven  years.Its a large shrub sometimes attaining a height of  6-20(2-4 Meters) ft and found commonly in the hills of the Western Ghats  all along the Western Coast of India.Every year during the Monsoons the plants come alive vegetatively  but without any flowers, just ordinary barren shrubs.The Karvi shrub has a unique life cycle where it mass blooms during the months of July and August after every seven years  with the flowers withering after a life-span of just 15 to 20 days. This shrub last flowered in 2008 and in the vicinity of Mumbai city the ideal locale to witness the "Karvi mass Flowering" phenomenon is the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park".. Hence the "B.N.H.S"  which has a large plot of forest land of  33 acres within the Sanjay Gandhi National park  was organizing its once in seven  years "Karvi Festival".Yes,all this happens just once after  every 7 years and that too for just 15 to 20 days . The next flowering would be in 2024 and although i was busy with other assignments decided not to miss this once in a blue-moon occurence in the vicinity of my own city ,Mumbai .The dates for the festival were  the 29th and 30th of August and 2nd,3rd and 4th of September 2016. On Friday(19-8-2016) went to the "B.N.H.S" office in Colaba and on payment of Rs 150  booked a reservation  slot for attending the festival tour at 0830 hrs on Monday(29-8-2016).Later came home and reconfirmed my registration on-line by filling a form and mailing it to Bhagyashree.Grampurohit, the Education officer of  the "B.N.H.S Conservation Education centre" at Goregaon.
"B.N.H.S" Conservation Education Centre  building on the periphery of Sanjay Gandhi National park in Goregaon .

Monday(29-8-2016)  DESTINATION "B.N.H.S CONSERVATION EDUCATION CENTRE" :- At approximately  0700 hrs left home in Old Prabhadevi road on my antique "Bajaj Wind-125 cc"  motorbike hoping that rains wouldn't play spoil-sport as it did the previous day on Sunday.After ages i was riding long distance in Mumbai  and it was one of the best motorcycle rides of my life  on the "Western Express Highway"sans traffic and traffic signals with a straight non-stop drive .At approximately 0735 hrs after riding approximately 25 Kms   reached the gates of  "Film City" in distant Goregaon. Was amazed at the abrupt topographical changes from skyscraper buildings and highway roads to a dense lush green monsoon forest within a span of 40 minutes bike riding  from home in Prabhadevi !
"BUNGALOW OF CARDS" ? :- "Film Set" for the teleserial ""Ek Rishta Sajhedari Ka"

                                                                                                                              It was a 1 Km drive from the gate of Film city to the "B.N.H.S(C.E.S)" gate" and all along the way came across a few film sets.I was fascinated by the "Film Plot Sets" built inside the dense forest on the periphery of the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park" being a film addict during my youth and having seen almost all the Hindi and English classic movies of the 20th century. As i was early  took a few photographs of a television film set bungalow erected for the Hindi tele-serial produced by Sony Entertainment Asia  titled "Ek Rishta Sajhedari Ka".The serial had premiered on television on Monday(8-8-2016) and hence the Bungalow seemed of recent construction.A beautiful palatial artificial bungalow that would be torn down after the end of  the serial depending on its commercial longevity  with  a new set erected in its place akin to a drama stage.Leopard sightings in the vicinity of film city have been numerous as it borders the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park" akin to the "B.N.H.S Conservation centre".
Guides  Omkar and Pratik..

            Yes, as the bard William.Shakespeare said "All the World is a stage" and so was the "Film City" of Goregaon in Mumbai.As the "B.N.H.S" gate was closed on arrival at 0800 hrs  i got confused and one of the crew of a local film company wielding a  toy  pistol told me that this gate was always closed.I rode back 1 km to the film city main gate and after inquiries came back to the "B.N.H.S" gate to find it open and the watchman on duty.I was the first tourist to enter the hallowed wildlife nature forest of the "B.N.H.S"  and on finding the conservation building locked  and not a human soul in sight panicked that the itinerary for the day must have been canceled.After about 15 minutes a motorcyclist tourist arrived followed by two cars and i was relieved that the "Karvi Festival" trek for 29th Monday was as scheduled but delayed due to late arrival of a few  tourists and participants. We all assembled in the main conference hall of the palatial building and after a roll-call  and initial introduction finally at approximately 0900 hrs headed out of the building to begin the much awaited 'Karvi Trek".Our tour guide were two young research employees of "B.N.H.S" Mr Pratik.Tambe and Mr Omkar.Joshi."B.N.H.S Consevation Centre" has laid out 6 different 'FOREST TREKS" in its 33 acres estate for educational and tourist purposes, enlightening the average citizen and tourist in wild-life  conservation and nature.

                                                      Throughout the year various treks are conducted explaining different aspects of nature and the forest wild-life.After a short walk from the main building we came across our first purple  Karvi flower shrubs.The sky was overcast and it began drizzling but thankfully not pouring rain.As usual there were numerous "Selfies" with the "Karvi Flower" and as we began our "KARVI TRAIL" trek  the sight of this mystical flowering shrub became more abundant and common.The "Karvi Trail" route was clearly marked with  paint on tree's and sign-posts along the dense forest trail. Getting lost in 33 acres of "B.N.H.S Conservation Centre" was difficult .A few of the prominent  trees in the conservation centre forest  had names of people embossed on the bark. Trees in the conservation centre can be sponsored for 5 years at a cost of Rs 10,000 per/tree with the benefit of the donour having his or her name advertised on the tree.Nature philanthropy with a little publicity as is all philanthropy all over the World.As we all trooped in a single file along the narrow dense forest path guides Omkar and Pratik explained us various tree's, shrub's and insect life.A lady journalist Vidya from "Hindustan Times" followed  us for a photo-shoot  with the flowering Karvi flowers. A brief  photo/study of the trek from my views and opinions.
"LIANA CREEPER":- Notice the long woody vines akin to a money-plant. Liana trees indicate a healthy forest environment and are found in  tropical moist deciduous forests. The "Sanjay Gandhi National Park" is rich in Liana creepers.
"PURPLE FLOWERS" of the Karvi Plant :-  Walking along the "KARVI TRAIL" we came across a mass abundance of this freak flowering shrub.These were large shrubs approximately 6-20 ft in height and 21/2 inches in diameter.After being dormant as a common flowerless shrub for 7 long years it finally blooms in the eighth year and we were lucky to witness the same on this "Karvi Trail".It was a indescribable sight of a purple canopy of Karvi flowers amidst a slight drizzle of forest rain. Observed a few bees around the Karvi flowers feeding on the nectar."Karvi Honey" is expensive and a rare delicacy as it is collected once in 7 years !After flowering the Karvi plant bears fruits which later dry up and wither.In the next monsoon the fruits burst from their pods and get  germinated giving birth too new Karvi plants while the parent plant dies.The plant has a normal life-cycle every  without flowers until the end of the 7th year when they spontaneously flower.The Karvi shrub usually grows on slopes on rocky laterite soil and once it takes roots spreads like grass on hill slopes.Hence a abundance of Karvi shrubs on the slopes of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the "C.E.S" forest land.There are  a few other genus of the "Strobilanthes(Karvi) Family"   with some plants have a flowering cycle after 16 years ! The "Neela Kurunji(Strobilanthes kunthiana)" a relative of the Karvi Species  that grows in the Nilgiri  and Shola forests of South India blooms every  12 years into  blue coloured flowers.This gives the Nilgiri mountains its nickname "Blue Mountains".
After a long trek through the forest along the "Karvi Trail" route and seeing a abundance of the purple flower we finally arrived at this small narrow monsoon stream which had a rickety  de-commissioned bridge across it.We walked below the bridge and waded through this stream and  akin to "Film City" we all had our own personal photo shoots.
"CATERPILLAR :- Along the Karvi trail we suddenly stumbled upon this caterpillar spotted by guide Pratik.It resembled a leaf from a distance and if not for Guide Pratik's trained "Naturalist Eye" we would have just walked past this beautiful caterpillar resembling a tree snake from a close-up view and a leaf from a distance. Nature's camouflage for evading predators. The Conservation centre has a "Butterfly Park" and we came across various types of butterflies along the trail.Rare to spot a caterpillar in its natural metamorphosis habitat. Mr Isaac.Kehimkar  ,B.N.H.S  General Manager   and  author of the  "The book of Indian Butterflies" has done a study on the "Karvi Flowering" cycle as also has established the "Butterfly Park" at the Conservation education centre.
SIGNATURE SPIDER(Argiope Anasuja) :-  From the "Karvi Trail" after crossing the stream we later diverted to the "Dr Salim Ali Point" which is a trail that leads to the highest point of the 33 acre "B.N.H.S Conservation research centre". On the trail we came across this beautiful "Signature Spider"  or "Writing Spider".This species of spiders have a habit of weaving zig-zag patterns on its web akin to a signature and hence the name.There are over 75 different spiders of this genus all having the peculiarity of weaving signatures on their webs.
After trekking for almost  one and a half hours along the "Karvi Trail"and a part of the  "Dr Salim Ali Point" trail we came across this large orchid on a tree.
Snail on a leaf :- The "B.N.H.S Conservation Centre"  trails are excellent for beginner naturalists, children , students and tourists wanting to experience the forest environment in one of the densest populated concrete jungle city of the World, Mumbai.

At the peak of "Dr SALIM ALI POINT" :- Finally at the highest point of the "B.N.H.S Conservation Centre"  nature forest. A "SELFIE" as usual. 

Finally at approximately 1130 hrs we returned back to our starting point the "B.N.H.S Conservation Centre" building after a strenuous 2 hrs forest trek.Strangers became acquaintances and realized that fellow trekker Mr Nitin .Khabaria  resided in Prabhadevi locality in close proximity to my residence .A very cosmopolitan group of male and female  trekkers from all walks of society sharing a single common passion for the outdoors and nature.As i was coming out of the building came across a large group of students from a "International school" entering the building for the next scheduled trek.As for me i had ticked off "Karvi Festival" tour from my bucket list and was happy that the elusive "Karvi Flowering" was no longer a mystery to me.Mounted my motorcycle and headed home stopping at the "Film Sets" en-route to the exit gate of "Film City".
"Film City" and "Film Sets" in the Forest :-  The popular Hindi hit film "Ankhen" is having a sequel "ANKHEN 2"  in production in film city. Now only hope that in future a larger portion of the Sanjay Gandhi National park is not encroached by "Film City" or private luxury apartments and this unique forest environment with its "Big Wild Cats" is preserved for future generations. 

FILM CITY ENTRANCE GATE :- The common entrance gate to "FILM CITY" and further ahead the "Bombay Natural History Society Conservation Education Centre" forest reserve.Got to tour the "FILM CITY" as well as the "Karvi Flowering Festival"