Mumbai Memoirs: Amidst the concrete jungle!
Most nature lovers yearn to visit places that are known of its wilderness and natural beauty. The brunt of routine life, especially if one hails from an electrifying city like Mumbai, can sap one’s energy even before the weekend arrives. A tourist visiting Mumbai usually is well prepared to experience the hustle bustle of the city and seldom expects to visit a green patch amidst the concrete jungle of Mumbai. But the botanical garden at Veer Jijabai Bhosle Udyan (formerly known as Victoria Gardens), located in Central Mumbai, is a pleasant surprise to all nature lovers. Named after the mother of a 17th century Maratha warrior King Shivaji, locally the gardens are referred as ‘Rani Baag’ (literally meaning ‘Queen’s Garden’). The place is known for its beautiful botanical gardens and for its once functional zoo.
Last weekend I decided to unwind myself by exploring the botanical gardens of Rani Baag. I wanted to experience a lazy evening walk under the shade of some century old trees that the 150 year old institution proudly boasts of. The 53 acres property, on which the garden is situated, originally belonged to a rich Jewish businessman and Philanthropist named David Sassoon. After the land’s donation in 1861, a public botanical garden (known as Victoria Gardens during the British governance of India) was established on the property by the then Agro-horticultural society.
As I entered the garden premise I could feel the freshness that the city’s lung was exhaling on me. No artificial air conditioners in the world can beat the natural operation of 3,213 trees of 286 species that the garden has been nurturing since long. It was practically impossible to photo shoot all the botanical wealth that surrounded me, but it was a delight to click few snaps and witness the bloom of some rare and endangered flora like Amherstia Nobilis Wall, Annona glabra L, Caesalpinia ferrea Mart and Colvillea racemosa Boj, to mention a few. The best moment of the evening was when I entered the Yokohama Japanese garden which radiates a Zen like aura. Situated in the centre of the botanical park, the garden is a gift from Mr. Michikazi Saigo, the Mayor of Yokohama, Japan, to the citizens of Mumbai. It is a token of Mumbai-Yokohama friendship which was inaugurated in 1986. The lotus pond and a mini temple housed on its bank, naturally inspire its visitors to resonate with nature and experience the serene ambiance which the garden offers.
As I furthered explored the botanical garden, I noticed that the trees serve as natural habitat to various animals, birds, insects and other organisms. It was a spectacle to see a family of flying fox on a huge tree above me. Many squirrels were seen running around as they fetched their day’s food. Like me, if one visits the garden just for an evening walk then getting a glimpse of few animals around would be an added experience. Very few visitors are aware that the garden was once known for its zoo, which housed different species of animals till few years back. In 2007 the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai announced about the zoo’s revamp plans. Soon thereafter most of the animals were shifted to other zoos in India. The animals still seen around in the garden are the last ones awaiting migration, before Rs 150 crores worth reconstruction work starts. Besides this an activist group has started a ‘Save Rani Baag’ campaign to protect the botanical wealth of the garden so that the proposed modernized zoo plan doesn’t disturb the ecology of the heritage institution. More about it on this site: www.saveranibagh.org
Elephants, spotted deers, crocodiles, hippopotamus, bear, and few exotic birds are seen around as one strolls through the beautifully maintained garden. I could see a drastic difference in body language between the free and caged animals & birds in the garden. The former seemed happy in God’s nature and the later awaiting their fate at the mercy of ‘human nature’.
A board at the garden quotes few lines from the Atharva Veda, one of the ancient books of India:
“We are the birds of the same nest,
We may wear different skins,
We may speak different languages,
We may believe in different religions,
We may belong to different cultures,
Yet we share the same home- Our Earth
Born on the same planet
Covered by the same skies
Gazing at the same stars
Breathing the same air
We must learn to happily progress together
Or miserably perish together,
For man can live individually,
But survive only collectively.”
I found these lines to be a take away message from the garden for visitors to accordingly play their part in the conservation of Mother Earth. This weekend most of us around the globe will celebrate Mother’s Day, and what best gift can we give to our mother than caring back what we have so unconditionally received from her till date? Happy Mother’s Day To All!