Visiting Karnala Bird Sanctuary

Last year, just as the rains had started, some friends and I decided to do a road trip and a trek. And since we had explored most of the places around Pune (including Lonavala, Khandala, Rajmachi, etc.) we decided to go to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. It is in Panvel, an hour from the main city and is a part of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Although it is technically a sanctuary, the natural enclave made for a great place for a day trek, or so many had told me. And so we started for our adventure. The idea was to drive till Karnala, spend the day exploring the forest, and spend the night in Mumbai at a friend’s place.

Reaching Karnala

Since it was our first time to Karnala, we booked a taxi from Pune to Mumbai with an experienced driver.

I find the route between Pune and Mumbai to be the most scenic in the state, especially during the monsoon. I often take a break in Lonavala and soak in the stunning views of the landscape. But this was a different kind of a drive.

In almost two hours we reached Panvel. It was really surprising to find such an abundance of greenery right next to the most bustling city in India. This serene side of Mumbai’s persona was a pleasant sight. The sanctuary was not very big, unlike most wildlife reserves that I had been to. But then again, it was thickly forested and the rains made it all come alive. The hilly terrain, nature trails, and small streams cutting through the forests did make for a quaint little world of its own, perfect for a quick respite. One would forget that they are just a few miles away from the biggest concrete jungle in the country.

The trek

There was a checkpoint at the entrance, where we had to pay an entry fee and get our bags checked for plastic and disposable items. A paved road led us inside the park. A detailed map displayed at the starting point showed two trek routes that we could choose from. The one on the right-hand side of the entrance seemed more challenging than the one on the left. For people who had come with the sole purpose of a trek, we obviously chose the path on the right. This was a longer route with streams and waterfalls to cross on the way. At some point, both the routes met and finally led to the Karnala Fort, at the northern edge of the sanctuary.

Our chose trail passed through densely wooded areas, with some parts completely blocking out the sunlight. The rains and lack of sun had kept the ground moist and already managed to cover the tree trunks in a thick layer of moss. We had to wade through narrow streams and hold onto tree branches for support where the ground felt slippery. The path became steeper as we moved further ahead. There was no resting point along this route. So we managed to catch a breath at one point where tree branches had entwined and hung like a swing.

People who had visited the bird sanctuary had told me that there are more than 100 species of resident and migratory birds. But they can be mostly spotted in winter or spring. In the rains, not many birds were to be seen, except for storks near the waters and parrots high above the trees. At the junction where both the trek routes met, there was a ‘bird care center’. Wounded birds were kept in small cages and taken care of.

Views from the top

It took us nearly an hour to reach the base of the fort. This also served as a resting point for trekkers. From there the fort was another 10-15 minute climb. The fort perched on an elevation of some 1000 feet or so and was not very difficult to scale at all for us. For beginners, of course, there were railings to support.

The fort was more of a relic with walls covered in overgrown plants and moss. The only things that reminded us of its original structure were the ramparts and the pillars. It served more like a viewing point for people, or probably just a destination for a trek.

From the top of the fort, we got spectacular views of the villages and the highways below. Even the air felt much cooler and clearer.

We relaxed in the fresh, moist air for some time, and decided to return via the easier route. That way we would have explored the entire sanctuary. Though the climbing route was difficult and longer, it was much more peaceful, because the descending route had too many monkeys hopping around and pestering the trekkers. And thus the day ended with a wonderful trek in the heart of nature, leaving us rejuvenated and refreshed! If you don’t wish to go all the way to Mumbai, then book a top-rated and licensed taxi from Pune to Lonavala.

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