Monday, January 21, 2013

Visit of Maharashtra Nature Park

On 12th January 2013, IIT Bombay Alumni Association (IITBAA) arranged a visit to Maharashtra Nature Park - a 37 acre man-made forest created on a garbage dumping ground. It is located at Mahim-Dharavi, near Sion. I attended the same along with my son.

Background of Maharashtra Nature Park (also known as Mahim Nature Park):
When people come today to the Mahim Nature Park (MNP) they find it difficult to believe that, the forest they see before their very eyes was once a city garbage dump. But that is exactly what it was less than 20 years ago. Conceived by the WWF-India in the late 1970s, an area of about 37 acres in the "H" Block of Bandra-Kurla Complex, which was earlier a garbage dump or land fill, was decided to be ecologically restored and developed as a Nature Park by MMRDA. Located on Bandra-Sion Link Road and on the Southern bank of Mithi River (which starts from Borivali National Park highlands skirting the airport and meets the Arabian Sea at Mahim Bay and which is one of the major drainages of Mumbai), this mini-forest is nothing short of a miracle. Apart from being a vital green lung for pollution-ridden Mumbai, the MNP also offers Mumbai's citizenry a welcome change from the din and hustle of city life.

Today experts from around the world visit the MNP to study how so many trees could grow on a dumping ground used for decades by the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. Naturalists from the Bombay Natural History Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature-India confirm that MNP plays host to about 38 species of butterflies and more than 80 species of birds. What is more, as many as 200 tree species have been listed, many naturally planted by birds and insects. When you walk in the precincts of the MNP you will see numerous insects, amphibians and reptiles and together with the many species of fungi that thrive, the place has a feel of true woodland.    More...
Here is a report of same prepared by Madhur Kotharay. I'm reproducing same here because I found it to be extremely well written. I've added photographs to add visual appeal.


Last Saturday (12th Jan 2013) morning's IITBAAMCMMM (!!) to Mahim-Dharavi Nature Park must have been the second most inhuman thing, at least for the humans. To get up so early in the morning and head straight to Dharavi was not quite on my dream list. Often, I passed that stretch with nostrils closed (if in rickshaw) or windows closed (if in car). But there I was, at the break of dawn (ok, ok, a bit later, around 7:30 am), standing at the gates of the Nature Park.

I was told to wear neutral colours so as not to startle the birds. I wondered what a neutral colour would be, as against a positive or a negative one. A google search told me that 'neutral colours are the colours that don't show up on the colour wheel'. Now this was rapidly getting high-tech, in IIT tradition, with a quick study needed of the Colour Wheel.

I found that all of my t-shirt colours squarely sat somewhere on the colour wheel. Finally, I decided to settle for greens in my wardrobe, a party green shirt and shoes to match. Of course, I needn't have bothered. Some participants were dressed in Ferrari Reds.

We had 96 registrations. So we expected 48 folks to turn up, given the equal odds of 'will they, won't they'. In the eventuality, we were on the dot (IITians are really predictable, on an average). Interestingly, 28 of us turned up on time; the remaining were fashionably late.

After resolving that the latecomers would be made to do two rounds (running) of the central hall as punishment, we started our exploration of Mother Nature. We were divided into 9 groups and were given to track 9 different laws of Nature. Many laws were deep in meaning. e.g. Nature purges all excesses. I had a light dinner the night before but the law had prevailed even then.

First we saw a huge lake, that was full of water hyacinth. We were told that the lake (Four Olympic swimming pools-size) was made with the efforts of some NSS students. I thought our IIT NCC was the punishment posting; but it appears that NSS is much worse.

We were told that there were snakes near the lake. On hearing that, Ashwin 'Gujju' Doshi promptly ran to the edge of the lake. Poor Gujju! We had to tell him that 'snakes' will be served only at the end in the main 'hole'. :-)

Then we reached Dharavi Creek. All sorts of detritus were floating in the water. Someone said it was river Mithi. I wonder who tasted its water to vouch for the sweetness. However, people were excited about some white birds sitting on the garbage. They started filming them with vehemence. Ooh's and aah's filled the air.

Some people pointed to something like a crow but they called it funny names such as 'egret'. Suddenly, someone shouted 'there is a kite'. Given that we were 2 days away from Sankranti, I was not surprised. However, it was actually a bird they were referring to. I was feeling like a lost soul. So much ignorance.

Then someone clicked something that looked like a faded crow. The person claimed it was a 'Grey Heron'. That sounded familiar. On deeper thought, I realised that there was a vodka by that name. At the next instance, he clicked Sachin's mugshot (sorry, Sachin, I don't know your last name). I politely suggested that he could caption that photo as 'Grey Hair on..."

We moved further. There were weird trees. Actually, there were normal trees but people had weird names for them. For example, I spotted a Banyan tree but they said it was something else, 'Strangler Fig'. I was getting lessons in botany and zoology, left, right, front, back, and up. I wondered what I was going to learn from 'down'.

Then, we came to a funny formation of bamboo trees. Instead of shooting up in the sky, this bamboo gang was spread out like a bunch of optical fibres, bent outwards. We were told that it was because the bamboo roots could not go too deep as the place was built on a landfill. Apparently, there was garbage underneath and the roots were stuck there. Some of you are bent like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Perhaps, your roots are not deep enough or you are sitting right on garbage (as per my botany lesson from 'down').

Then, we saw some creepy creepers. We were told that "Nature makes form fit the function". So we learnt that the 'touch-me-not' plant shrivels on touch because it grows very close to the ground and when grazing animals come closer, its leaves collapse to protect them from being eaten. I noticed many of us had ample paunch. So I started wondering what function that form fitted.

Then, we reached a nursery where we could buy various saplings. At Rs 5 each, they seemed like a great bargain. However, given that the carpet area rates are Rs 45,000 per sq ft in my Khar area, I quickly estimated that those saplings, with 10 cm diameter, would cost me at least Rs 3750 each. I skipped the deal. Ajay Kunnath's tiny daughter, Tia, was super excited to be in this part. After all, this was 'nursery'.

Steeped in our biology wisdom, we returned to the main 'hole' for 'snakes'. The late-comer group had skipped the running punishment, wound their biology lessons up double-quick and were merrily hogging the 'snakes'. Life is unfair.

We had fresh natural breakfast. mashed Solanum Tuberosum mix cooked in arachis hypogaea extract, with baked fleur de farine leavened with saccharomyces. Well, for the uncouth amongst you, I am referring to Batata-wada-Pav, naturally. We also had antioxidants in the form of tea.

Now, it was time for a lecture. We went inside their main auditorium and the lecture started. They were talking about how Bio-Mimicry or imitating nature helps us. They talked about the invention of Velcro, inspired by burrs on plants. I promptly went to sleep as I suffer from a severe disease called Minuophotosomnia (wherein you go to sleep in auditoriums as soon as the lights are dimmed. Tee hee!) After I woke up, they were still talking about Shark Skin and how copying it enabled mankind make bodysuits that helped break swimming records.

I thought about how we could copy nature to improve running. After all, the most inhuman thing on a weekend morning will be happening next Sunday, when I would have to run the whole 42 km Mumbai Marathon starting at 5:40am. The answer is easy: run without shoes. Apparently, the fastest way to run is to run barefoot. The best form, the best motion, the best propulsion is when you run without shoes, provided Mumbai roads spare your feet. It turns out that the best thing you can learn from nature about running is not to add your 'research' to improve upon it.

It was nearly 11 am and I decided to leave the place. It was a nice morning, learning about the bees and the birds and the bougainvillea.

I learnt that over millions of years, nature conferred various evolutionary advantages to plants and animals - the shape of their leaves, barks, flowers, thorns. But I realised that unlike us humans, most trees and animals did not learn from one another. They only learnt from the relentless march of life. Survival of the fittest, it is called. How inefficient! For once, I felt proud of my race, the human race: Animalia kingdom, Chordata phylum, Synapsida Mammalia class, Primates order, Hominidae family; Hominini tribe; Homo genus; H. sapiens species.