Under the tutelage of Renee Vyas, the Save Aarey group conducted an Aarey Tree Trail on 2nd December, 2018.
I have visited Chhota Kashmir with my grandparents several times before, and why wouldn’t I have? My grandparents, whilst spending their youth in South Mumbai, would travel up here with their friends for picnics – days packed with enjoying each other’s company and cooking food. So naturally, I am, too, very attached to this place. As my grandfather introduced me to the snails residing on huge lily leaves in Chhota Kashmir, he injected his love for conservation of nature into me.
But today, we had the opportunity to see Aarey Forest through a more complex lens.
We started our trail from the gate just opposite to Modern Bakery Bus Stop. Around 80 nature enthusiasts had gathered around and were listening to Vyas’s brief, after which we began walking on a slightly inclined path towards a tekdi. I could hear some murmurs going about how we might get to even see a leopard if we were lucky enough. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we did not encounter leopards. However, we did see many people enjoying their morning bicycle rides in Aarey. Some were walking their dogs, some others were taking brisk walks – it seemed like they all were here to relax their exhausted souls in the pristine nature of Aarey Forest.
Soon enough, we approached a huge tree with a dark bark called ‘Ratan Gunj’. The tree bears red bead-like seeds in its pods. Along our trail, we came across other trees like Kaate Sawar, Australian Acacia, Aasan and Toddy Palm. We also saw a Banyan Tree, serving as a host to many other trees, completely entangling a Tad palm. We were shown Aghada and Murud Sheng as well, and were informed of their high religious and medicinal value.
Then we took a hike to the top of the tekdi from where we witnessed a breath-taking view of Aarey Forest, as well as the concrete jungle looming over it on its western side. It was disheartening to see that this concrete jungle seemed like it was about to swallow huge morsels of this beautiful forest as it approached it slowly. As we saw the threat with our very eyes, we were informed that the government had planned a Metro III car shed, a new RTO office, another zoo as well some other commercial establishments in this forest!
I could imagine standing here after 10 years, staring aghast at the ‘development’ of this land, remembering the scenery I am honoured to look at today.
Now, the question bubbles up in my mind, who are these people to grab our Aarey Forest and hand it over to the other greedy parties responsible for this destruction? Who has given them the right to destroy our gorgeous environment? These political parties severely lack empathy and connection towards Aarey, and towards Mumbai as a whole. We are the ones who have chosen this government, we are the ones paying taxes to sustain it. It is the government’s responsibility to repay us by providing us with benefits, and not by destroying the very air and water and earth that envelops us. These agencies are not just axing away at trees in Aarey but also at the common people’s health!