Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park may not be as large or exotic as some of the other national parks in India, but its accessibility makes it very appealing. It's the only protected forest to be located within the limits of a city. To enjoy nature amid concrete Mumbai, this is the place to come! The park is also a great family destination, with plenty to keep the kids amused. However, it's best to plan your visit well as many attractions close over lunch, and adequate tourist information is scarce. In order to fully appreciate the park, you'll need to pack a picnic lunch and spend a full day there.
- Conveniently located on the northern fringes of Mumbai.
- Has a wide range of attractions.
- The ancient Buddhist hand-cut Kanheri caves are a highlight of the park.
- Great for families with small children.
- Attractions are spread out.
- Difficult to get around the park without transport.
- Attractions inconveniently close for lunch.
- No restaurant or food stalls.
- Gets very crowded on weekends, especially Sundays.
- It's not possible to walk along the nature trails without making a prior booking and being accompanied by a naturalist.
- The main entrance to the park is located on the Western Express Highway, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Mumbai city center. The closest Mumbai local railway station is Borivali East on the Western Line (see map).
- The park is a huge 104 square kilometers (65 miles) in size.
- Attractions include tiger and lion safaris, toy train, boating, trekking, rock climbing, hand-carved Buddhist caves, butterfly garden, and nature trails.
- The park is open for walkers from 5.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., and for day visits from 7.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. All facilities are closed on Mondays. Phone: 022 2886-0362/389.
- The park day entrance fee is 53 rupees for people aged 12 years and above. Children aged five to 12 years pay 28 rupees. Children under five years old are free.
- It's possible to take private vehicles inside the park. The cost is 45 rupees for a motorcycle, 177 rupees for a car, and 266 rupees for a bus.
- An additional entrance fee is payable to visit the Kanheri Buddhist Caves. The ticket office is located near the caves, 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) inside the park. The cost is 15 rupees for Indians and 200 rupees for foreigners.
- A shuttle bus runs to and from the caves, departing from the park entrance every hour or so (except during lunch). Cost is 48 rupees one way for adults and 25 rupees for children.
- 30 minute tiger and lion safaris operate from 9 a.m to 12.30 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. until 4.30 p.m. A minimum of 15 people is required. The tiger safari cost is 70 rupees for adults and 28 rupees for children. Combined tiger and lion safari costs 81 rupees for adults and 32 rupees for children.
- 15 minute boat rides are offered on the lake from 9 a.m to 12.30 pm and 1.30 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. Cost is 48 rupees for two people, and 97 rupees for four people.
- The Vanrani toy train takes visitors on a scenic circuit around the park. Cost is 45 rupees for adults, 17 rupees for kids. A minimum of 20 people is required.
- The safaris, boat ride, and train ride can all be booked online here. However, it's not necessary to do so. It will help you avoid the long lines for tickets on weekends though.
- Bicycles can be hired inside the park at a cost of 60 rupees for two hours. The deposit is 300 rupees and photo ID must be provided. If you go on weekends, expect to wait as demand is high.
- The park has seven nature trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Bookings for walks along the park's nature trails must be made a couple of days in advance at the Nature Information Center (Phone: 022 2886-8686). The fee ranges from 75-300 rupees, depending on the trail. You'll also need to pay for a naturalist, costing from 400-1,000 rupees.
- The Bombay Natural History Society and other groups often organize guided walks on the weekends.
- Events and workshops for children are sometimes held inside the park.
- There's also a campsite inside the park with one air-conditioned family tent (accommodates three people and has private attached bathroom) and one large dormitory tent (accommodates 14 people). The cost is 2,500 rupees per night for the family tent, and 4,200 rupees per night for the dormitory tent.
Review of Sanjay Gandhi National Park
On one side of the busy Western Express Highway, roaring with traffic, is a huge bridge. On the other side is the entrance to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It's a stark contrast to Mumbai's sprawling development.
The park is operated by the government, so it's not surprising that its attractions close over lunch, and minimal tourist information and facilities are provided. The only food available is from enterprising locals selling water and snacks. Many of the park's sparse signboards are are written in Marathi, the language of the state, and there aren't any park brochures available for visitors. This makes it unclear as how to best get around the park.
Substantial effort has been put into keeping the park clean in recent years. If you want to take plastic items into the park, you'll need to pay a refundable 50-100 rupee security deposit at the entrance. Bags are usually searched by park officials at the entrance. Curiously, plastic bottled water is widely available for sale inside the park.
Plan to arrive at the park early in the morning, otherwise your visit will be hampered by the park's facilities shutting down for up to two hours over lunch. This includes the shuttle bus to the Kanheri Buddhist Caves.
The magnificent Kanheri caves are worth a visit on their own. There are 109 of them in various sizes, scattered over a hilltop and hand-carved out of volcanic rock. The largest has a deep chamber for worship and towering sculptures of Buddha.
The park's lion and tiger safaris are also a big attraction, but don't expect to see wild animals as it's a semi-caged environment.
Unfortunately, access to most of the park is restricted, including its nature trails. Anyone who is caught venturing off the park's main roads and designated areas will be fined 25,000 rupees. Currently, the only nature trail that doesn't require an advance booking and accompanying guide is the little-known Nagla Block trail. This is considered by many to be the park's most rewarding trail. However, it's situated in a remote part of the park, in the far north. The trail entrance starts at Sasupada village and ends on the banks of Vasai Creek. You'll need to pay an entry fee at the Forest Office in the village.
Despite its few inconveniences, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park really is a haven to be enjoyed. It provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time in nature without having too travel far. To see it easily, bring your own transport if possible.