Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Kanehri Caves

This national park, on the periphery of Mumbai, is an ecological paradise rich in plant and animal life. Hosting over 254 species of birds, 40 species of mammals, 78 species of reptiles and amphibians, 150 species of butterflies and over 1,300 species of plants, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park holds many attractions for naturalists, birdwatchers and tourists across the globe. The best thing about the park is about 103 sq km of pure wilderness, right in the heart of a bustling city. The rich biodiversity of this park owes much to its lakes, which were constructed in the 19th century.

Known as Vihar (1860) and Tulsi (1868), the lakes are home to many crocodiles and also invite migratory birds. They were created to supply drinking water to the city of Mumbai (then Bombay) and it was to protect these two reservoirs, that the national park was encouraged to grow around it in strict compliance with environmental laws. At the exit gate of the park, visitors can also visit the Jan Dhan Van souvenir shop, which sells coffee-table books, maps, wildlife information pamphlets, monogrammed hats and jackets as well as ethnic handicrafts unique to the area. Jams, jellies, juices and other organic food items from the forest are also available. Visitors to the park can opt for adventure activities like boating, safaris and even a toy ride. One of the main highlights of this park is the network of 2000-year-old Buddhist rock-cut Kanheri caves, numbering almost 129. The Deccan Plateau, located south of Tropic of Cancer, is geologically blessed thanks to its layering of igneous rock soil, which is responsible for the formation of such caves. A visit to this cave reveals fascinating information about Buddhist monks who would go from village to village in this area preaching and then would take shelter inside these caves during the wild monsoon rains. The etymology of the word 'Kanheri' can be traced to the Sanskrit word 'Krishnagiri', which literally translates to black mountain. Tourists can view magnificent relics of Lord Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, and walk along the pillared corridors of prayer halls. One can walk, take a bus ride or even cycle up till Kanheri Caves.

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