Popularity of city tours, food & nature trails at SGNP, Aarey peak post lockdown


UNTIL THE Covid-19 pandemic interrupted overseas travel or going to theatres and clubbing, 32-year-old Shruti Tomar did not believe that the city she called her home for over a decade had any other leisure activity to offer.

Whenever Tomar wanted a break from the monotony of her job in finance, she planned a trip outside Mumbai. As the lockdown due to the pandemic put a limit to her options, she began exploring leisure activities in Mumbai.

“After months of being held up in the house, when the walk to forage wild foods at Aarey forest came up in December, I signed up. I had read about Aarey, but I never imagined that it would be my weekend plan. This weekend plan was liberating,” she said.

As Covid-19 restrictions gradually began to be relaxed in the city, one-day city tours, food and nature trails at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and Aarey Milk Colony in the western suburbs, football and cricket tournaments in long-forgotten public parks and gardens have become more popular.

The BMC, which maintains these parks and gardens, has received numerous requests for kabaddi and football tournaments to be allowed, since December.

Jayesh Vishwakarma, education officer at SGNP, said, “Usually, our popular events like stargazing, walk-in show on fireflies would be booked within hours. But after we opened this month, our nature trails, bird watching tours were booked within a day.”

Worried about reduced physical activity among children with schools moving to laptops and phones, many parents are exploring the city with their children, Vishwakarma said.

“An interesting trend that we noticed after lockdown was that we are getting requests to organise more ‘parent-child’ nature trails and workshops,” he added.

“I look for trips and activities that I can get my children involved in. I dislike being in the city. Open spaces in housing societies are small and manicured and usually restrict kids,” said Abhishek Ray, an architect who took his seven-year-old son on a natural trail to SGNP. “He was tired by the end of the trail, but he thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Quarantined in containment zones during the first four months of the pandemic last year, many have felt that stepping out was also a privilege they never truly appreciated.

Worried about contracting the infection in closed spaces, many now prefer recreational activities in open spaces.

“No one ever thought that they will suddenly be asked to not move out of their homes for eight months. We are used to travel, meet new people, take short breaks from our routine. In the era of the pandemic, these short nature trails provided us relief and were a stress busters,” said Aruna Amarjothi, who works at an investment banking firm in the city.

In December, witnessing that more people from the city were interested in exploring sites away from the tourist gaze, Aslam Saiyad, a photographer and co-founder of ‘Go Hallu Hallu’ initiative, organised three walking and food trails to Ambu island — a relatively unknown place that houses a dargah, temple, a Christian shrine and a remnant of a Portuguese bastion off the busy Madh Island. Participants explore the Koliwadas in Versova and Madh, then take a private boat to the island where they can enjoy local food and a peek into community life.

“It’s not a heritage walk, not a bird walk, not a photo walk, but after Covid-19 we saw people expressing interest in these events. We are seeing more parents coming to these events with their children,” Saiyad said.

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