Sunday mornings are always lazy for teenagers like me. But on a Sunday last month, I decided to do something different. I planned to explore the green patch of Byculla zoo botanical gardens amidst the concrete jungle of Mumbai. I went with Ghumr’s Nature Walk at Veermata Jeejabai Botanical Gardens led by Gauri and Dr. Shreya. It was quite informative as they walked us through plants and trees of the garden. It was a refreshing experience.
Situated in the middle of the main city, Veermata Jeejabai botanical gardens is a home for more than 3000 trees. It is the most visited & largest public place of the city. The park has numerous rare trees; many are native, and there is an equal number from other continents. Because of the diversity of species, some tree is always fruiting and flowering. It supports a bio-diversity of birds, butterflies and small mammals such as mongoose and bats.
About Byculla Zoo Botanical Gardens – brief history
Byculla is one of the oldest settlements of Mumbai city. It still has city’s heritage monuments and public spaces giving us peek into our city’s origins. One such place is the green jewel of Mumbai – its 150 years old Botanical Garden located in the environs of city zoo or Ranicha Bagh, now known as Veermata Jijabai Bhonsle Udyan. The garden was inaugurated in 1861 and is Mumbai’s oldest public park. The gardens were then known as Victoria Gardens after Queen Victoria. Hence in local Marathi language, it was and is still called Ranicha Baug (translated as Queen’s Garden).
There is interesting history about the gardens on Wikipedia. In 1835, the Agro-Horticultural Society was given a large piece of land in Sewree, far from the hub of Bombay city, now Mumbai. When the Sewree location was converted into a cemetery, the plants were transferred to the present site at Byculla, and in 1861 the Victoria Gardens were established on a plot of 35 acres. In 1873, an additional 15 acres was granted to the society. This was when the zoo was started. At the same time, a museum, a clock tower and a bandstand were built on the site to further its grandeur. All these grant heritage status to Byculla zoo gardens.
Our experience at Byculla Zoo Botanical Gardens
As we entered the gardens through giant archway, Gauri told me about baobab tree right near the entrance. The Byculla Rani Baug has one of the city’s oldest Baobab tree. There is no data available on how old this tree is but some think it could date back to 1861 when the zoo and garden were set up. Originally from Madagascar, Africa, the baobab tree is known to survive for a maximum of 2,000 years. Wow!!
There are other rare trees in the garden. There is Cannon Ball tree known for its fragrance spreading flowers also called Kailashpati. Then there is Apta or ‘Sonyacha jhaad‘. Maharashtrian communities exchange Apta tree leaves (Sona) during Dusshera. There is Kajuput Oil tree known for its medicinal properties, Palas tree known for its big red flowers. Also, we saw ‘Tree of Heaven‘, native to Myanmar which has small red flowers known as ‘Urvashi’. Dr. Shreya also showed us the famous ‘Krishna’s buttercup tree’ or Krishnavad. Its leaves have pocket-like folds at the base which Lord Krishna used to steal butter and hence the name. We also saw some mongoose and bats inhabiting in the garden.
All this information was brand new as well as interesting for me. Also, it was fun interacting with the group having common interest in nature. The walk surely piqued my interest in botany.
Other attractions at Byculla Zoo Botanical Gardens
Although our walk was focused on biodiversity (mainly flora) of the garden, there is of course Byculla zoo which along with jungle animals has the exotic Humboldt Penguins. Another major attraction of this garden is the Bhau Daji Lad Museum (previously known as Victoria and Albert Museum). This museum is located in the same premises and is a treasure house of the decorative and industrial arts. There is also a giant statue of an elephant outside the museum which was originally found at the Elephanta Caves.
When to visit Byculla Zoo Botanical Gardens
Byculla zoo is open all days except on Wednesdays from 9 am to 6 pm. There is entry ticket to Byculla zoo which is about Rs.50 for adults and Rs.25 for kids. The best time to visit zoo is either during mornings from 9 to 11:30 or after 3 pm to avoid afternoon heat. If you are planning to visit zoo as well, animals typically take rest in the afternoon and hence are not easily seen or active.
How to reach Byculla Zoo
Nearest railway station is Byculla (Central Railway). Yet, taxi from Mumbai Central railway station is not far if planning from Western Railway Route which takes hardly 10 to 15 minutes.