Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

In Your Backyard: 10 Must-See Wilderness Destinations In Urban India

In Your Backyard: 10 Must-See Wilderness Destinations In Urban India

You don't have to go far to experience wildlife. There are plenty of spots in Indian cities where you can enjoy the call of the wild

Walking through the mangroves at Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Goa
Walking through the mangroves at Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Goa Natasha Karpuk / Shutterstock

Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Where: Mumbai, Maharashtra

Surviving and thriving in a city that is constantly bustling can be a little overwhelming. But Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park has managed to do that with considerable ease. With an area sprawling across 104 sq km, the park is set in the suburbs to the north of Mumbai. Close to the residential area of Borivali, the national park is home to a wide array of species including the likes of macaque monkeys, spotted deer, four-horned antelopes and striped hyenas, to name a few, but is best known for leopards. Amid the daily headlines of forested areas being axed down, this park acts as the ‘lungs’ of the financial capital in its truest sense. Offering a real sight into the wilderness, the park is considered to be historically significant with archaeological sites that date back to 2,000 years. This urban jungle also houses the 2,400-year old Kanheri caves. With a footfall of two million visitors annually, this park is one of the most frequented urban national parks in the world. 

Aravali Biodiversity Park
Where: Gurugram, Haryana

The Aravalis may be India’s oldest mountain range, but its influence in spawning secondary ecosystems continues to this day. When in Gurugram, get a taste of the Aravali Biodiversity Park, where the mountains’ ancient vegetation patterns were refurbished almost a decade ago. Featuring nature trails, native plant nurseries, and multiple habitats, it’s a testament to what can be cooked up when man and nature work together in a region that’s combating aridity, invasive species, and lack of environmental awareness. An ecologically-restored zone, the park plays host to over 300 native plant species and is an eBird India hotspot—there have been multiple counts of purple herons, cattle egrets, the steppe eagle and the Oriental white ibis. Nilgai, golden jackals and the Indian hare give them company. Once a mining pit and stone crushing area, you can find this unusual patch of green near the Guru Dronacharya metro station along Delhi’s Yellow Line.

Bannerghatta Biological Park
Where: Bengaluru, Karnataka

Set on the outskirts of  Bengaluru, the Bannerghatta National Park was formed in 1971. In 2002, an integral part of the park was declared a biosphere reserve and was named Bannerghatta Biological Park. With an aim to promote wildlife tourism, eco-tourism and eco-recreation, the park spreads across 25,000 acres of land, providing enough space for the animals to roam about in their natural habitat. It comprises of a zoo, a pet corner, an animal rescue centre, an aquarium, and a snake house. Housing the country’s first butterfly enclosure, the zoological reserve is also home to a wide variety of panthers, tigers, lions and avifauna. It is one of the globally renowned conservation centres of Karnataka. Though the weather conditions are quite pleasant throughout the year, the ideal time to visit the park is from September to January.

Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Where: Pune, Maharashtra

The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Pune was established by ecologist Prakash Gole and inaugurated by Dr Salim Ali in 1973. Set on the banks of the Mula Mutha River, the sanctuary is home to over a hundred species of birds that visit the area for nesting and breeding. It is frequented by birds like the northern pintail, marsh harrier, grey wagtail, wood sandpiper and Siberian ducks, along with some birds of prey. These migratory birds play a crucial part in the river bank ecosystem by controlling the population of invertebrates. In turn, the birds of prey control the resident bird population, keeping the ecosystem in balance. Just off Nagar Road near Yerawada, the sanctuary is a welcome escape for birders, but since it is not an official protected area, there is much to be desired in terms of upkeep and maintenance. It has also recorded over 30 species of butterflies.

Van Vihar National Park
Where: Bhopal, Madhya pradesh

There is something to be said about the long stretch of land that runs parallel to the Upper Lake. This land is a haven for flora and fauna, called Van Vihar National Park; declared so in 1981 under the Wildlife Protection Act. What was once a rapidly-depleting forest is now a land that wildlife thrives on. An open zoological park and a rehabilitation centre, herbivores are allowed to roam freely while the carnivores are given vast lands protected by wire enclosures and deep trenches. Tigers, bears, hyenas, panthers, cheetal and blackbuck are found in plenty. The park is also home to butterflies, insects, reptiles, crocodiles and tortoises. It is best to drive around the park early in the morning (visitors are encouraged to hire cycles); a road wraps around the park, providing a vantage point to observe wildlife and the park’s natural beauty. 

Najafgarh Drain Bird Sanctuary
Where: Delhi

The Najafgarh Drain Bird Sanctuary is a wetland ecosystem that passes through southwest Delhi. It is an important habitat for migratory water birds, waterfowl and other local wildlife. Greater flamingoes, ruffs, bar-headed geese, godwits, little stints and various kinds of ducks have been spotted at the sanctuary. The ‘drain’ is actually an elongation of the Najafgarh jheel, or lake, and a tributary of the river Yamuna. There have been more than 150 bird species spotted at Najafgarh, including those that migrate from Tibet and the Greater Himalaya. Several thousands of winterfowl like the northern pintain, ruddy shelduck, gadwall, northern shovelers and garganey also frequent the ecosystem. Even more uncommon species like the greater white-fronted goose and the ferruginous pochard visit Najafgarh. Apart from birds, the wetlands are rich in other flora and fauna, as well as trees and fields creating a semi-agrarian wilderness around it.

Surajpur Wetland and Natural Forest
Where: Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Nature’s adaptability comes forth at full force in Surajpur Forest. Despite being pushed to the fringes of the city, the Yamuna wetlands are a resilient breeding ground, home to a biosphere of species. The river’s basin has fish, waterfowl, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Records show 82 water birds, 99 woodland birds and around 49 grassland birds. Truly a birder’s paradise found amid a concrete jungle. If one were to opt for a nature trail, they would find themselves in the company of red-crested pochards, greylag geese, common teal or gadwall. For butterfly enthusiasts, great eggfly, lemon pansy and striped tiger are easy to spot. And, if one were to search closer to ground, garden lizards, common sand boas and Indian bullfrogs could all show up. Great trees provide shade near the riverbank, and patios have been installed for picnics or wildlife-watching. In the winters, migratory birds and birdwatchers alike flock to this wetland.

Jhalana Safari Park
Where: Jaipur, Rajasthan

Rajasthan may be a desert state, but it is rich in wildlife. Did you know that you could enjoy a safari on a weekend break just five kilometres away from capital Jaipur’s city centre? The Jhalana Safari Park is one of the best places in the country to observe leopards in the wild. Apart from the big cat, there are panthers, golden jackals, striped hyenas, jungle cats and desert foxes to keep you hooked. Located in the industrial area of Malviya Nagar, this small park is an urban wildlife delight. A small temple inside the park is an added attraction. There are about 30-odd leopards in the vicinity and constant sightings over the last three years has put the park in the limelight. 

East Kolkata Wetlands
Where: Kolkata, West Bengal

The East Kolkata Wetlands wear many hats—that of a teeming marshland habitat for micro and macro fauna; of sewage-fed fishery and vegetable garden; and of a wetland of ‘international importance’ under the Ramsar convention. Bordering Salt Lake, one can spot over 40 species of waterfowl and migratory birds here. Commonly-seen species are kingfishers, dusky warblers and the scaly-breasted munia. Their neighbours include civets, buff striped keelback, mongoose, and a variety of hyacinths. The wetlands naturally treat the city’s sewage via sunshine and oxidation, act as a carbon sink, as well as a flood defence mechanism for a metropolis of 4.5 million. It’s a case study in scientific serendipity. 

Guindy National Park
Where: Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Established as a national park in 1976, Guindy National Park offers rich diversity in terms of flora and fauna. Statistically, it is the ninth smallest national park in the country and is an extension of the grounds surrounding Raj Bhawan. The IIT Madras campus lies adjacent. Boasting of tropical dry vegetation, Guindy has over 350 species of plants and over 20 varieties of trees. Acacia can be seen interspersed with larger banyan trees in the area. It’s a paradise for migratory birds, reptiles (the snake park in the premises is an added attraction), blackbucks, jackals, pangolins, spotted deer (introduced in the area in the 1950s), and Indian civets among others. It’s best to visit the park from October to May except on Tuesdays.