The Sanjay Gandhi National Park area has a long written history dating back to the 4th century BC. In ancient India, Sopara and Kalyan were two ports in the vicinity that traded with ancient civilisations such as Greece and Mesopotamia. The 45 km (28 mi) land route between these two ports was partially through this forest.
The Kanheri Caves in the centre of the park were an important Buddhist learning centre and pilgrimage site sculpted by Buddhist monks between 9th and the 1st centuries BCE. They were chiselled out of a massive basaltic rock outcropping.
The Bombay Municipal Corporation acquired the catchment areas of the Tulsi and Vihar lakes, and also added the land from the government dairy of Aarey under protection. The Krishnagiri National Park was established under the Bombay National Park Act in 1942. At that time the area of the park was only 20.26 km2 (7.82 sq mi). The dairy development board began operations near Krishnagiri National Park in 1954, but outside the area of the park. In 1969, 2076 hectares of land of the Aarey Milk Scheme (now known as Aarey Milk Colony) was transferred to the forest department. However, this area was not notified as reserved or protected forests. In 1976, an area of 68.27 sq km was officially designated as Borivali National Park.
The Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Limited (FDCM), Nagpur sent an official communication to the Regional Manager, FDCM, Thane on 22 July 1980 stating that the 2076.073 hectares of revenue land that was transferred from Aarey Milk Scheme was to be included in Borivali National Park. The communication also directed that 575 ha of the revenue land should be used to build a recreational zone, while the remaining 1501.073 ha will would remain a part of the Borivali National Park. On 10 October 1980, another communication from the FDCM, Nagpur to Thane directed the latter to declare the area as either as reserved or protected forests to allow the department to have stricter legal control. However, no such declaration was made.
The park was further expanded to a total area of 82.25 sq km in 1981. The park was renamed Sanjay Gandhi National Park in 1996, after Sanjay Gandhi, the son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The same year, some forests from the Thane division were merged into the park, further expanding its total area to 103.84 sq km.
The park occupies most of the northern suburbs of Mumbai. To the west lie the suburbs of Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali, Borivali and Dahisar. To the east lie the suburbs of Bhandup and Mulund. To the south lies the Aarey Milk Colony and the university campus of IIT Bombay. The northern reaches of this forest lie in Thane city. The park and these areas surrounding it, except Thane city are all part of Mumbai.
The region is hilly with elevations between 30 m (98 ft) and 480 m (1,570 ft). The park encompasses two lakes, Vihar Lake and Tulsi Lake, which meet part of the city's water requirements. The park is said to be the lungs of the city as it purifies much of the air pollution of the city.
The park is a bustling forest, with an estimated 800 types of mauve. This flower is native to the park and the surrounding regions, including Karnala, the Yeoor hills, Tungareshwar and some parts of Goregaon’s Film City. The park is also home to a small population of leopards.
The park is home to a number of endangered species of flora and fauna. The forest area of the park houses over 1000 plant species, 251 species of migratory, land and water birds, 50,000 species of insects and 40 species of mammals. In addition, the park also provides shelter to 38 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibians, 150 species of butterflies and a large variety of fish.
Flora: Kadamba, teak, karanj, shisam, and species of acacia, ziziphus, euphorbia, flame of the forest, red silk cotton and a number of other varieties of flowers. Karvi or karvy, a flowering plant that flowers once in seven years, can be found in the park.
Fauna: The forest cover in the park helps provide the ideal habitat for many wild animals. Chital (or spotted deer), rhesus macaque and bonnet macaque are some of the wild mammals that can easily be spotted roaming inside the park. Other large mammals found in the park are: black-naped or Indian hare, muntjac (barking deer), porcupine, Asian palm civet, chevrotain (mouse deer), Hanuman or grey langur, Indian flying-fox, sambar deer and leopard. One can also spot striped hyena or four-horned antelope.
Reptiles living here include: crocodiles in the Tulsi Lake, pythons, cobras, monitor lizards, Russell's vipers, bamboo pit viper and Ceylonese cat snakes.
A total 172 species of butterflies have been reported here, of which the spectacular ones are blue Mormon, the phenomenal artist of camouflage the blue oak leaf, the bright jezebel and large yellow and white orange tip, tiger butterfly, eggflies and sailers. There are a number of moths too. The largest moth is the size of a sparrow (30 cm).
Avifauna: Some of the birds one may see in the park are: jungle owlets, golden orioles, racket-tailed drongos, minivets, magpies, robins, hornbills, bulbuls, sunbirds, peacock, and woodpeckers. Migratory and local birds such as paradise flycatcher and various species of kingfishers, mynas, drongos, swifts, gulls, egrets, and herons have also been spotted.
In 2003, pug marks and droppings of a Bengal tiger were found in the park. Although the tiger was never widely seen, it did bring some excitement to city folks as records of tiger being found here are quite old and forgotten now with the last tiger being shot down 80 years earlier in the region. Conservation was also proposed for the interlinking habitat corridors and nearby wilderness areas in the state and upgrade their status as tiger habitat.
The karvi shrub, as it is locally called in the Marathi language, sometimes also spelled as karvy in English, only blooms once in eight years in a mass flowering covering the forest floor in a lavender blush. It grows in abundance in the Western Ghats hills near Mumbai including throughout the Sanjay Gandhi National Park as in other parts of its natural range. In Sanjay Gandhi National Park its latest blooming took place in 2008, and it is scheduled to bloom here again in 2016. Termed by nature enthusiasts as 'nature's miracle' its maximum bloom can be seen on some of the inner paths and trails that lie undisturbed in the park. It survives best on the vast sloping expanses of the hillsides, with the Kanheri caves area of the park being one of the best places to observe large areas of blooms.
In the state of Maharashtra, the mass flowering of karvi has been observed to occur in Mumbai the same year as in the hill station of Khandala and one year earlier in Bhimashankar and Malshej Ghat, beyond Kalyan. Near Mumbai, the karvi is also found in Karnala, the Yeoor hills, Tungareshwar and some parts of Goregaon including Film City.
The park has faced a number of similar problems to those faced by national parks elsewhere in the world, involving conflicts between natural and human interests.
In the early 2000s a road, as proposed, would have cut through the park. Animal Activist Tarun Nayar went to court to halt this project.
The lack of space in Mumbai has pushed residential colonies right up to the park boundary. This boundary is poorly fenced and has often allowed wild animals into human habitations. Slums have mushroomed around the park as well. Corruption among local politicians and Mumbai's influential builder lobby are commonly seen as responsible for a perceived shrinking of the park.
In June 2004, leopards were responsible for the deaths of 20 humans within the span of a week. This was not the first attack: for the past 10 years, there have been attacks attributed to leopards stalking children and adults outside the park fringes. After an outcry was raised and the situation reached alarming proportions, eight leopards were caught and relocated.
The leopard threat still continues in and around Thane district today with repeated sightings as well as attacks on pets and humans. On 16 July 2012, a seven-year-old girl was killed in Mulund right outside her home by a leopard. A year later, a 40-year-old woman was attacked and killed by a leopard in Bhiwandi, Thane City in 2013. Five days later, a 14-year-old shepherd survived a leopard attack in the same region. In 2014, a two-year-old child went missing from Ghoong village in Wada. August 2015 saw four leopard attacks in Thane city. In one incident, a leopard and her cub dragged a one-year-old Rottweiler off.
Sanjay Gandhi national park has played home to many poachers in the recent years. Usually, leopards are attacked. In many cases these animals had been poisoned, and claws or other valuable body parts were cut off and sold. Poaching could soon wipe out Mumbai's leopard population.
During the summer and any time before the monsoon, fires burn in the park, at least one every two weeks. This has resulted in the loss of rare trees and loss of habitat for wild animals. The locals are often suspected of burning the trees on some of the outskirts of the forest to build their homes there.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park is said to be one of the most visited national parks in Asia. According to estimates, around 2 million visitors visit this park annually. Collection at the gates in November 2004 touched ₹9.8 million (US$150,000).
The Krishnagiri Upavan is an area of approximately 5.5 km2 (2.12 sq mi) reserved as an easily accessible public recreation zone inside the park. The remaining core area has restricted access. Among the several attractions of the Krishnagiri Upavan is a mini-zoo where visitors can view animals up close. There is a crocodile park where one can easily view different sizes of these reptiles all at one place. The lion and tiger safaris educate and guide visitors through the natural habitats of these animals. A narrow gauge train travels around the tourist zone showcasing parts of the rich biodiversity. There a boating facility where visitors can rent a two-person pedal-powered boat for Rs. 15 per 15-minute increment. Two watchtowers are available for panoramic views of the park.
Many visitors also travel to the Kanheri Caves, especially on an auspicious day in August. Nature trails and treks are also popular. Rock climbing enthusiasts often come to national park. Many rock faces around the national park and the Kanheri Caves offer a great opportunity for rock climbers. The national park is also a paradise for morning walk lovers. Every morning, thousands of people, elderly, youth, children visit the park to get a breath of fresh air. Many practice for Annual Marathon here. There are so many who practice cricket, badminton and other sports here. The entree fee is Rs 133 per year. Senior citizens get a discount. There are many parks created inside the national park. Those who want to go on long walks prefer the straight routes whereas those who want to enjoy the beauty and fragrance of flowers, see mini waterfalls, rest in between, prefer the parks. many people carry their cameras to take pictures of the rising sun, lotus flowers, occasional deers who can be spotted if you are lucky and finally the mist covered boating lake which looks heavenly.
The park also features a "toy train" that runs on a narrow gauge railway. The toy train Van rani, which means "jungle queen", ran for around twenty-five years. It was discontinued in 2001 because of the poor condition of the track. The circuitous route covers a 2.5 km (1.55 mi) distance. However, in 2004, fresh bids were announced for the repair of the track, which was estimated to cost around ₹3 million (equivalent to ₹7.4 million or US$110,000 in 2016). The tracks have been repaired and the train is now operational. The fun train ride of about 15 minutes takes you along the foothills of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial on 190 m (620 ft) Pavilion Hill, traverses a couple of bridges and tunnels and passes over the Deer Park.
You would be able to see deer in their allotted cages. The train passes through the jungle area where we can see hutments where people dwell. Deer are also seen near these hutments walking in the jungle.
Another attraction is a boating service available near the Vanrani start point. 2 as well as 4 seater pedalos are available for calm evening along with your dear ones in a small lake. There is a bridge on this lake where you can stand and watch the boats in water. The bridge is used as a marker for limiting the boats to one side.
Main attractions of the park are a lion safari and a tiger safari for encouraging eco-tourism. The lion safari is a 20-minute ride through a 12 ha (29.65 acres) fenced forest area in one of the park's green buses. The park is said to have a total of about 25 lions and lionesses. There are hardly 2 lions which visitors can safely see up close from inside the caged buses. The remaining 23 have been relocated or placed in fenced areas far away from the roads used by the green buses. During visiting hours, some of the resident lions are let out into the enclosure, and can be viewed from the safety of the bus. There are 4 tigers that are kept semi-confined in a 20 ha (49.42 acres) fenced area that is toured by the buses. A 5 m (16.40 ft) high and 2,200 m (7,217.85 ft) long protective fencing surrounds the area. This is done so that all visitors can safely view lions and tigers in their natural habitat. Here the visitors are caged in the bus so the big cats can roam like in the wild. Two other tigers roam in a much larger area. There are many claims that many times these tigers and lions are tranquilised, so that the number of tourists can be increased it is not good for tourister
There are several public walking trails in the park. The popular Ashok Van trail winds up through thick forest to a dense cluster of Ashoka trees that are a welcome half way resting spot. One can return by Gaumukh trail to an open place of volcanic rock to return to the Kanheri caves. A more ambitious route is the 'View Point' trail to the highest point in Mumbai, for a panoramic view of the city and a view of the three lakes of the city – Tulsi Lake, Vihar Lake and Powai Lake. New jungle trails at Sanjay Gandhi National Park allow visitors to see the more unexplored parts of the park. They are the 4 km (2.49 mi) Shilonda Trail, the 5 km (3.11 mi) Malad Trail, and the 6 km (3.73 mi) Yeoor Trail. Trails access cost is Rs. 25 per person.
Local conservation NGOs such as the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and World Wide Fund for Nature - India (WWF-India) bring groups of urban residents from Mumbai and elsewhere, sometimes in collaboration with other organisations, for regular guided nature education walks in the nature trails of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and organise special trips when the rare karvi flowers are in full bloom which only happens once every eight years.Trimurti Temple
In the forest, there is a famous Jain temple called Trimurti or Trimurti Digambar Jain Mandir. This temple is widely visited by Digambar sect of Jain community. It has three huge idols of lord Adinath and his two sons, lord Bahubali and lord Bharata. Statue of Rishabhanatha is 31 feet in height and tallest in all three on both side statue of Bharata and Bahubali are 28 feet tall. There is a 51 feet kirti stambh also present here. Many Muni maharaj (Jain Saints) do stay here to preach the followers before moving ahead to other city or town.
This is also a small station on the Vanrani trail.
The Kanheri Caves are a protected archaeological site at 19°12′30″N 72°54′23″E. The caves were sculpted by Buddhist residents starting in the 1st century BCE. The area was actually a settlement and once served as inns for travellers. The word Kanheri comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri which means "black mountain".Buddhist Viharas
Seven Buddhist caves, older than Kanheri Caves have also been discovered very recently. Detailed exploration and documentation is awaited from The Archaeological Survey of India.
The park's main entrance is located in Borivali, 0.9 km (0.56 mi) east of Borivali railway station, which is approximately 40 km (25 mi) north of southern tip of Mumbai city, with suburban trains running every 5 minutes. From Borivali station, one can walk or hire an auto rickshaw to reach Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It is well connected with all parts of Mumbai and Maharashtra by road. The Western Express Highway (NH 8) passes by the park entrance. Buses are available on holidays and Sundays from Mumbai to the park. Also, chartered vehicles can be hired for groups to visit the park.
The park can also be accessed from Goregaon (BNHS, Film City).
The park is accessible from eastern side as well, through Mulund (Vasant Garden) and through Thane from two locations - Yeoor and Tikuji-Ni-Wadi, near the Nature Center.
The nearest airport is Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at Santa Cruz 18 km (11 mi) from the park. Nearest railway stations are Borivali and Goregaon on Western line (Mumbai Suburban Railway), which are connected to Churchgate railway station & also Mulund and Thane on Central line (Mumbai Suburban Railway),which are connected to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Main gates open at 7:30 am and close at 5:30 pm. The park also provides monthly and yearly passes for morning walks. Timing for these types of passes are 5:00 am to 7:30 am only.
You are allowed to take your mode of transport along, till the Kanheri caves by paying a nominal amount at the main gate.
The trails are absolutely picturesque during monsoon season. One can enjoy walking through fog while having a great view of lakes, lush green hills, as well as bird's eye view of the city at the same time.