Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a greatly loved national park in Mumbai and it is a great place to spot animals and birds including leopards, bears, lions, flying fox, kingfishers, sunbirds, some tigers and also a great variety of butterflies.
Kanheri caves, which are more than two thousand years old are located inside the park premises. These caves have been carved out of the rocky cliffs. These are also a major tourist attraction.
The park is located between the two suburbs of Mumbai and Thane, and is ideal for picnics and getaways as it offers respite from the chaos and buzz of the city.
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is very ancient, and dates back to the 4th century BC. In ancient India, there was a 45km land route between Sopoara and Kalyan, which were two ports in the vicinity that traded with ancient civilizations such as Greece and Mesopotamia. This route was partially a forest, and was later trimmed down and constructed in the form of a park.
The park was initially named 'Krishnagiri National Park' in the pre-independence era. At that time the area of this park was only 20.26 sq. km but in the year 1969, it was expanded to its present size by acquiring various adjoining forest properties.
After this, an independent unit of the Forest Department called 'Borivali National Park Sub-division' administered the area. And hence was renamed as 'Borivali National Park' in the 1970s.
In 1981, it was re-named as 'Sanjay Gandhi National Park', dedicating it to Sanjay Gandhi, the son of ex-Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
The Kanheri Cave(s), which is located in the centre of the park, was sculpted by Buddhist monks between 9th and 1st centuries BCE.
The Sanjay Gandhi National park is very huge – it covers approximately 20% of Mumbai's geographical area (which is almost equal to 104 sq kms) and is said to be the largest park in the world located within city limits.
It is home to almost thirteen hundred species of flora and more than five hundred species of animals and birds, and with over 2 million visitors every year, it is reported to be one of Asia's most visited National Parks.
The Kanheri Caves located in its centre were chiselled out of a massive basaltic rock outcropping. It is now an important Buddhist learning center and pilgrimage site, and a huge tourist attraction too.
There are two artificial lakes within the park, which have crocodiles living in them, and migratory birds come here all year. The lakes supply drinking water to the wildlife and flora in the park.
The Park opens early in the morning, at 5.30 a.m. and remains open from 7.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. daily. The park is managed by the government, so there may be some inconveniences and protocols.
Entry tickets cost Rs. 64 for anyone aged 12 years and over, and Rs.34 for children between 5 to 12 years. Children under five years old can enter free. It is best, for first time visitors especially, to allot a whole day to spend at the park, to experience all that it has to offer.
The park has a small canteen with a basic and limited Indian menu which is mostly vegetarian. Plastic bottled water is widely available for sale inside the park, but if visitors want to bring any other plastic items inside, they need to pay a refundable security deposit at the entrance. All bags are usually searched/scanned at the entrance.
Private vehicles can also be taken inside the park, they also make getting around easier as the park is very huge. These will also have entry costs, as follows:
Bicycles can also be hired inside the park, or at a rental shop situated near the park entrance. This will require an ID.
There is a shuttle bus that runs between the park entrance and the Kanheri Buddhist Caves, with departures every hour or so (except during lunch and on Mondays). These can be boarded for a fee of around Rs.60 to 70 (and about half of that for kids below 12 years). These are some ways to get around the park.
Sanjay Gandhi National park is located at a distance of 15.8 km from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, which can be reached in about 20 minutes by road. The nearest railway station is Borivali railway station on Western Railway, from where the park is just about 1 km away.