Sanjay Gandhi National Park: The Complete Guide

Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

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Sanjay Gandhi National Park

National Park New, Western Express Hwy, Rajendra Nagar Society, Kulupwadi, Borivali East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400066, India
Phone +91 22 2886 0389

Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park is one of six national parks in Maharashtra state. The park is an amalgamation of forest and agricultural land that has been carried out over multiple decades (it was initially formed under the Bombay National Park Act in 1950). The site may not be as large or exotic as some of the top national parks in India, but its luring basalt rock formations and accessibility make it very appealing. It's the only national park in India that lies within city limits, and it's full of more than 100 ancient rock-cut Buddhist caves, a lake, and a lion and tiger safari zoo. The park is a great destination for families to enjoy nature amid the bustling city center, complete with plenty of activities to keep both adults and kids entertained.

Things to Do

Sanjay Gandhi National Park covers 104 square kilometers (65 miles) and is divided into three areas: a buffer area, a tourist area, and a core area. There are seven hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty found within the core area. Two prominent temples are located inside the park—the Trimurti Digambar Jain temple, complete with three towering white statues of Lord Adinath, Lord Bahubali, and Lord Bharata, and the Mahadeo Shiva temple near the Kanheri Buddhist Caves.

Those Kanheri Caves are a park highlight and are worth a visit on their own. Scattered throughout a hillside and hand-carved out of volcanic basalt rock, the caves contain ancient carvings, Buddha statues, and prayer halls. Just look out for the monkeys while exploring.

The Vanrani (Forest Queen) Toy Train takes visitors on a scenic 20-minute joyride around the park. And the lion and tiger safari (which contains two lions and four tigers kept in enclosures) provides a trip highlight for families with children.

You can also paddleboat Vihar and Tulsi Lakes, and learn about the different species of resident wildlife through one of the Nature Information Center's guided activities. The center's butterfly garden is also a popular park destination.

Best Hikes & Trails

Hiking Sanjay Gandhi National Park's trails take visitors out of a city deemed "the financial capital of India" and into what feels like the remote wilderness. Seven designated nature trails meander into the Kanheri foothills, through varied ecosystems and up to 1,000 feet above sea level. However, it's not possible to hike along most of the nature trails without being accompanied by a naturalist, guide, or tour agency, so you'll need to plan ahead for an authentic experience.

  • Shilonda Trail: This gently meandering trail winds its way from the low-lying scrubland into a dense evergreen forest. Once an area occupied by a tribal settlement, nature has reclaimed this space, allowing trekkers to explore the tundra and wade through refreshing crystal clear forest streams.
  • Malad Trail Line: Another easy trail, the Malad Trail Line takes you past a manmade watering hole frequented by the park's wildlife. Along the route, you will see several deciduous trees, including teak, red silk cotton, palash, Laburnum, and bamboo. The trail ends at the suburb of Malad, where the forest and city meet.
  • Highest Point Trail: This invigorating trek starts at the Bamboo Trail trailhead and then crosses streams and negotiates rocky hillsides to the highest point in the park. From here you get a panoramic view of all three of the park's lakes against the backdrop of the city.
  • Nagla Block Trail: This trail is considered the park's most rewarding. However, it's situated in a remote northern part of the park. The trail entrance starts outside the park at the nature center in Sasupada Village, and then ends on the banks of Vasai Creek. It's a hilly hike through a pristine area suspected to be the home of a tigress, and is frequented by butterfly and bird enthusiasts. This trail doesn't require booking a guide in advance, but before you venture out on your own, you'll need to pay an entry fee at the forest office in the village.

Exploring Buddhist Caves

The Kanheri Buddhist Caves date back to the 1st century BC, when a wide trading route brought Buddhism to the region. Kanheri was a major settlement for Buddhist learning up until the 10th century AD, and contained the biggest Buddhist university in western India. The subsequent decline in Buddhism in the region resulted in the abandoned caves, which have now become a tourist attraction.

Cave 3 is among one of the most impressive caves, as it contains the largest number of intact carvings—including two imposing Buddha statues—and one of the biggest prayer halls in India. If you continue up to the hilltop from the caves on the Kanheri Upper Trail, you're rewarded with a panoramic view of Mumbai.

Where to Camp

There is one campground located within the grounds of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, offering stays in tents, pine huts, and guest houses. Five permanent safari tents provide a comfortable night's sleep, as well as protection from the elements and wildlife. Each tent comes complete with bedding, blankets, fold-down canvas windows, a porch, and a picnic spot; a few tents are air-conditioned. Community bathrooms are available on site, and organized hikes and activities can be booked with your stay.

Where to Stay Nearby

Several lodging options encircle Sanjay Gandhi National Park. You can stay right in the heart of Mumbai, experiencing both the park and the metro scene, or choose a budget hotel on the outskirts of town or an upscale business-savvy stay in Thayne.

  • Royal Hometel Suites: Located along the Western Express Highway in Mumbai, the Royal Hometel Suites is just a few miles west of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, making it a good home base. The hotel offers five different categories of rooms and suites, as well as three dining options: a restaurant that serves Indian, Asian, and continental cuisine, a bar that serves custom drinks and food, and a lobby lounge with fast food, beverages, and snacks. When you're not exploring the park, relax by the pool, take advantage of the hotel's complimentary Wi-Fi, or get in a workout at the on-site fitness center.
  • Hotel Samadhan: Hotel Samadhan is a budget hotel located in the Mumbai suburb of Kandivali, just a three-minute walk from the rail station. Choose from a room with one double bed, a flat-screen television, and air conditioning, or a deluxe room with a king-size bed, flat-screen television, air conditioning, a bathtub and shower, and a dining area. Airport pickup, free parking, and a laundry service are available with your stay.
  • Fortune Park Lake City: An upscale business hotel situated on the eastern side of the park in Thayne, Fortune Park Lane is surrounded by the picturesque hills of Yeoor and Parsik, as well as 30 lakes. This hotel offers three styles of rooms: a standard room with a king and twin bed, a Fortune Club room with multiple king beds, and a suite with a king bed, a separate living area, and a spacious bathroom. Two restaurants are located on site and offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

How to Get There

Sanjay Gandhi National Park lies between Borivali, Thane, and Palgar on the northern outskirts of Mumbai. The park's main entrance is on the Western Express Highway in Borivali East, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the city center. The nearest airport is 15 kilometers away in Mumbai and most hotels offer free transport from the airport.

The closest Mumbai railway station is in Borivali on the Western Line. This is the best way to access the park, as you can hire a rickshaw or taxi from the station to take you to the park's entrance. If you're driving, access the main entrance from the Borivali East exit off of the Western Express Highway.

A shuttle bus runs between the park entrance and Kanheri Buddhist Caves, with departures every hour (except during lunch and on Mondays). Separate tickets are required to visit the caves and need to be purchased from the ticket office near the cave entrance. Private vehicles (including bicycles) can be taken inside the park, after paying an entry fee. Having your own transportation once inside allows you to fully experience all the park has to offer.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Sanjay Gandhi National Park opens early in the morning, at 5.30 a.m., for walkers. It remains open for day visits from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. There is a day-use fee and children under five are free.
  • The park is managed by the government, so expect some inconveniences. For instance, all tourist attractions and facilities (except Gandhi Tekdi and the Kanheri Buddhist Caves) are closed over lunch from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and also on Mondays. Information and facilities for tourists are lacking, and many of the park's sparse signboards are written in Marathi (the state's language), making directions unclear.
  • Food options are limited inside the park. There's a canteen with a basic vegetarian Indian menu. You can also buy snacks and water from enterprising locals.
  • In an effort to keep the park litter-free, you'll need to pay a refundable deposit to bring plastic water bottles and food items inside. Bags are usually searched by park officials at the entrance.
  • Bicycles can be rented inside the park, or at Harry's Bicycle Rental Shop, situated 500 meters before the park entrance. You'll need to provide an appropriate photo ID when renting a bike, and if you visit on a weekend, expect a long wait, as the demand to rent is high.
  • Anyone caught venturing off the park's main roads and designated areas will be fined 25,000 rupees.
  • If you prefer not to hire a hiking guide, the Bombay Natural History Society organizes guided walks on the weekends.
  • For the most peaceful experience, visit the park during the week, as it gets very crowded on weekends, especially on Sunday.
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Sanjay Gandhi National Park: The Complete Guide