Visit Mumbai and there’s a beautiful canopy of green just outside the city that you knew about but never cared to get intimate with. Do take the trouble, you’ll find the air here refreshing, the walks energising and the getaway completely revitalising. Karnala is a great place for a weekend break with friends and family, especially because most Mumbai kids get no opportunity to experience the wilderness. Thick forests, entwining vines, mushrooms and toadstools, wild ferns, chirping birds, frolicking squirrels, observant lizards and geckos, flitting butterflies, monkeys swinging in the trees and the shrill call of jungle fowl.… These are some of the elements of the natural world you’ll encounter in Raigad District’s Karnala Bird Sanctuary, just a short drive around the corner from Mumbai.
While driving down the Mumbai-Goa Highway, stop when you see Hotel Ekvira or a board in Marathi that indicates you’ve reached the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, just opposite the Range Forest Office. There’s no entry fee but if you want to bring your car up to the main open area where the forest rest houses are located, you have to pay Rs 30. Most people head to Karnala Fort, but you could also cross the highway and venture down less used trails where you may see more bird life, as you’ll be on your own.
Visit Karnala because the intriguing hill fort has always attracted trekking Mumbaikars because of its proximity and great views of the Mumbai harbour. The peak itself is crested by a thumb-shaped pinnacle — the famous Karnala ‘Thums Up’, actually a 1,538-foot-high volcanic plug. Start your hike to the fort early, to ensure you are not walking in the midday heat. Just after the monsoon is one of the best times of the year to be making this trip.
Expect to walk for at least an hour before you reach the fort, where there is a small Bhavani temple. The walk up is bound to make you perspire but the sense of achievement, the views and the stunning beauty of the Sahyadris all round make it worthwhile. The loud swishing you hear in the trees is likely to be the ever-present black-faced langur. At the base of the pinnacle are some rockcut caves and water tanks of Buddhist origin, which go back to an era when monks spent time here meditating.
Scaling the pinnacle
If you have the expertise and equipment, you can scale the ‘Thums Up’ Pinnacle. From one side it is a sheer rock face with a couple of overhangs, but on the other side, there is an obvious and clear route. Stay clear of the beehives — try not to smoke, as this aggravates the bees
Do the Bird Walk
Many visitors come to Karnala and ask the staff, “Where are the birds?” A bird sanctuary is not a place where you see birds in cages. You have to be quiet and observant if you want to see anything. Whether you walk up to the fort or take one of the lower trails, you’ll be entertained by the different calls and chirping of the many birds that resonate through the forest.
Birds are not the only attraction in these forests. Spend time looking at the trees and the vines, at how gnarled and twisted they are. Examine the numerous white crabs scurrying across the forest floor. Look closely as giant spiders weave their webs right in front of your eyes. Observe how each tree reaches out for sunlight and supports its own little plant system of orchids, ferns and creepers. Golden orioles, red-vented bulbuls, paradise fly-catchers, hornbills, vultures and owls are just a few of the birds that have made this area their home, and joining them each winter is a large number of migratory birds. To add more fun to this walk, take your bird book along to identify them.
Location Just across the Thane Creek and to the right, 10 km from Panvel Distance 61 km S of Mumbai
Journey Time By road 11/2 hrs Route Vashi Bridge (Thane Creek Bridge) to Panvel; NH17 to Karnala (see Central Konkan Route Guide on facing page)
When to go For birding, go between November and February. Plus after the monsoon, when it’s incredibly green
Wildlife Office– Deputy Conservator’s Office Thane Wildlife Division LBS Marg, Naupada, Thane
STD code 02143
By Niloufer Venkatraman