The best of what to eat/shop/do in your city, delivered in a brown paper bag

Wake up to daily updates in your inbox

29.08.2017

Vijay Dhasmana, who has lead conservation efforts at Aravalli Biodiversity Park since 2011, is farm-fresh and bursting with all kinds of juicy information. He wastes no time in telling us that “the park is a 692-acre old mining site which was restored into a green forest like the ones found in the Northern Aravallis.” He explains that the park is patchwork of different shrubs “like the kher forest, the kumud forest, the babool forest, all of which are self-sustaining units that replenish themselves,” and clarifies, “it’s not a manicured garden. It’s about bringing the Northern Aravallis into the cityscape.”
 
We barely walk a couple of feet into the park before being assaulted by a cloud of butterflies, and suddenly, a bright green chameleon darts across our path.
 
***
 
It is enough that the ABP provides a much-needed, well-seeded lung to the road between Delhi and Gurgaon, but it’s also set up to offer visitors an impressive range of activities. Here is our guide to spending a day (or ten) in the wilderness.
 
Take A Walk: The paths are well-maintained and clean with benches and dustbins at regular intervals. The pet-friendly walking trails, which run for 3.2 kms, circle the park and are lined with shrubs, scrub, and flowers; you’ll run into dragonflies, peacocks, bees, and beetles. Half a kilometre in, there is a path that descends into greenery and leads you to a more rustic area where trees like the frangipani and the jacaranda are filled with drongos, bulbuls, swallows, sparrows and bluebirds. The paths with leaves engraved on them lead deeper into the forest, where we encounter the resident gardeners, busily trimming the overgrowth. The main path has plain stones. Maps of the park will be put up in multiple locations over the next six months.
 
Bird-Watch: The planting of native Aravalli vegetation over the last five years has made the park the most densely populated bird hub amongst similar forests with 175 species. Even the very rare rufous-tailed scrub robin with an impressive crest-like tail was recently sighted. We see white-eyed buzzards, red-whiskered bulbuls (a lovely bird with a red crest), wood shrikes, the brightly coloured bee-eater and pigeon doves in the afternoon; expect to spot nightjars, prinias, eagle owls, and Indian rollers later in the evening.
 
Bring Your Bicycle: The biking track begins near the entrance and runs for 4 kilometres. It diverges into five different routes before circling back to the main track. Unlike most biking trails in Delhi, it isn’t flat, so break out your geared bikes.

We barely walk a couple of feet into the park before being assaulted by a cloud of butterflies, and suddenly, a bright green chameleon darts across our path.

Climb to the Viewpoint: Wide steps lead to a clearing with a panoramic view of the park including a valley, a low red hillside, a wetland, and Gurgaon in the distance (we tried to ignore that). There are four benches and a grassy clearing close to the cliff.
 
Visit Lily-ponds and Seasonal Wetlands: We are charmed by small, cemented ponds with lily pads, which provide a perennial source of water for the birds. Close to the amphitheater is also a monsoon-fed wetland which remains full for a few months every year. Birds like the river tern, pond heron, Indian spot-billed duck, shrikes and swallows bathe here.
 
Listen To Sufi Music: The entrance to the amphitheater is through laterite walls covered in creepers followed by a short tunnel that opens into the 500-seater space made of stone, Gurgaon’s answer to Purana Kila and India Habitat Centre. Every March, this space hosts the Gurgaon Utsav, with Qawwali and Sufi music, and Hindi adaptations of Shakespeare. Passes are free but limited.
 
Pitch in during Planting Season: The local villagers and the residents from other parts of Gurgaon have helped the non-profit, I Am Gurgaon, to plant close to a lakh saplings of 200 species here, most of which are flowering plants. You can volunteer too.
 
Be a Botanist: I Am Gurgaon enlists the help of interested people to map the flora in the park. They train individuals to measure the height of plants, note the species, count the number of branches. Vijay explains that the purpose is to “understand which species are thriving in a semi-arid forest-scape.”
 
Spot Wildlife: Nilgais, Indian grey mongoose, jackals, porcupines, small Indian civets, jungle cats and rufous tailed hare can be spotted through the tall reeds. 24 species of snakes, including venomous ones like the viper, hang out in the low branches and the grass which is why Vijay advises people to stick to the main path. “It’s very easy for snakes like the common krait and the saw-scaled viper to strike from the bushes,” he warns. We instinctively step back.
 
Shop the Native Plants Nursery: The park doubles as a conservatory and nursery for native Aravalli species that are in danger of dying out. If you fancy any of the plants on your visit, you can request I Am Gurgaon for seeds.
 
Happy growing!
 
Getting there: The closest metro station is Guru Dronacharya. It is situated on the main road and is easily reachable by cab, auto or car.
 
Accessibility: The paved paths can be accessed by wheelchairs, although the steps to the viewing point and the amphitheater can not.

This story was contributed by Urvashi Bahuguna, a writer based in New Delhi.

Image Credit: Adhirup Ghosh
 

Wake up to daily updates on what to eat/shop/do in your city

Show me more
Intel