Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra, India
I’m back from the Garden of Hell. Where butterflies feed on dead and decaying matter. Moths stun butterflies with their looks. Bugs roll joints and bidis. Butterflies grow bigger than bats. And cats eat dogs.
The Garden of Hell makes up 1/4th of Hell. And Hell is an island with 12 million souls. Here it’s a dog eat dog world. The law is borrowed from the jungle. Here Satan rules, disguised as a Gandhi note (Mahatma Gandhi adorns the Indian Rupee note) or a dematerialised share certificate. You can spot hell on the map. It’s called Mumbai or Bombay. If you know where to look, you will find heaven in hell. It is known as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
While most cities in the world have zoos, Mumbai prefers a natural, semi-deciduous jungle packed with indigenous wildlife.
Mowgli kush hua! (Mowgli is pleased!)
Most of Hell’s 12 million souls, pressure cooked by the city’s humid heat and life’s stark realities do not know that the Garden of Hell occupies 104 sqare kilometers of the city’s area. Foreign tourists never ever come here. Even fewer people know that no other mega city in the world has a national park within its municipal limits. Even fewer people realise that the city exists because of the Garden of Hell. It supplies most of the drinking water to the city from lakes situated within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Within a few meters of stepping into the national park, you will discover that you have entered a different world. On a good day, you can see 6 different types of butterflies on a single flowering bush. If you observe carefully, you will learn that butterflies don’t just congregate around flowers, they find decaying life just as attractive.
Look even more carefully at some resting butterflies and you will see that some of them are not butterflies in the first place. They are moths and they can give butterflies some serious competition. The butterflies always keep the wings together, vertically, unlike moths. When a predator attacks them, they unfurl their wings stunning them with a flash of light. It gives them just enough time to fly away.
If you are even luckier, you will see the atlas butterfly. The tiger among butterflies; with a wingspan that can stretch to a foot. They are extremely rare. Seen them and you have seen the closest things to angels on earth. A few days back, a group of children from an orphanage saw 6 atlas butterflies within a span of 15 minutes. Clearly angels prefer to appear only before a chosen few.
Hell has 27,120 souls packed into every square kilometer and is spread over 468 square kilometers. The Garden of Hell has the highest number of predatory cats per square kilomter in the country. Mostly leopards. These cats eat almost anything. Lately they have taken a liking for domestic dogs and my neighbourhood kitty must be rejoicing. But she is not. The leopard also eats domestic cats, rats, besides the deer, porcupines and other mammals found within the national park. It’s a ‘cat eat anything’ world.
If the national park was a play and the animals are the actors, then the flora is the stage. You will find wild vines, the wild cousins of turmeric, mushrooms, yams, palms, and thousands of flowers. Pluck a weed here and you could land in jail. Many of the plants are protected. By law. They are also have the 4 most venomous snakes of the Indian Subcontinent including the majestic cobra to protect them. You usually find them cooling off among the thick tufts bamboos. Bamboos that flower once in 25 years. And once they flower, they die. I was with my wife when the botanist guiding us was telling us this fact. My wife, who had just turned 25 last month remarked, “If I was a bamboo, I would have flowered and died one of these days.”
Without the Garden of Hell, Hell would burn itself out. Die of thirst. For decades Mumbai has been constantly trying to kill the national park from all direction. It has survived. Thankfully it has been designated as a national park, the highest protection this natural treasure can get from the government. So it has a chance to survive. Given a chance, the builders and officials would gladly have it razed to the ground. If that happens, hell will break loose.
Would you like to take a walk in the Garden of Hell? Take a local train to Borivli. Take the eastern exit. Walk or rick it up to the national park. Pay 15 rupees and explore the place, at least the part open for general public. Bombay Natural History Society has an information centre inside the park, close to the entrance. It is headed by a hepretologist named Amit. No, he can’t help you if you have herpes; a herpetologist is an expert on reptiles and amphibians. He will be able to answer all your questions on the diversity of the place and how it makes Hell, close to heaven as possible.