Nature Walk at Sion Fort

Mumbai, the city that never sleeps is altogether different on early weekend mornings. The whole city takes a short respite from otherwise non-stop bustle of city-life. On one such quaint morning, we went to Sion Fort Nature Walk. The walk, led by biodiversity experts Gauri and Dr. Shreya was a wonderful experience.

About Sion Fort – brief history

Sion fort is actually remnants of a fort atop a conical hillock with Jawaharlal Nehru Udyan (park) at its foothills. It is situated right in the middle of prominent area Sion of Mumbai city. Although only broken walls remain of the fort today, once it was strategically located fort for the British East India Company. It was built under the regime of then Governor of Bombay, Gerard Aungier between 1669 and 1677.

James Wales’ 1791-92 depiction of the view from Sion Fort
James Wales’ 1791-92 depiction of the view from Sion Fort source: British Library

The erstwhile Bombay island was separated from the mainland at Sion by the Mahim river, where a causeway connected it to the Salsette (Shashti) island to the north.The fort was used to guard the only point of entry (Sion Causeway) into Bombay island which was under the control of the British. Sion (Sheev) is derived from the Marathi word Shiva, meaning boundary or an entrance to a city or village, and the fort aptly served its purpose as a lookout post for the British. The island separated from the ‘mainland’ island of Salsette and thus fort provided vantage point to keep watchful eye on the Marathas who controlled Salsette island.

Map of Bombay Island and Salsette Island. Both islands are separated by Mahim River. The red spot is Sion Fort
Map of Bombay Island and Salsette Island. Both islands are separated by Mahim River. The red spot is Sion Fort

Of course, today none of these places exist. Sion Causeway is nothing but Eastern Express Highway whereas Salsette and Bombay islands are a single landmass. The fort and garden are maintained by Archaelogical Society of India.

Our experience at Sion Fort

I was part of nature walk led by two biodiversity experts Shreya and Dr.Gauri. Although it was nature walk focused on biodiversity of the region, both leaders had knowledge about the brief history of the region as well. We met at the entrance of the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Udyan at 7:30 am. It was still monsoon and hence garden soil was still damp providing habitat to earthworms. The leaders provided information about earthworms and its significance. Although the park is decently maintained, it has rich flora which is not clearly named. The leaders helped us identify flora of the park such as Ashoka, Chapha (Plumeria Frangipani), Karanja (Milletia Pinnata), Erand, Palm, Jackfruit, Tamarind, yellow Bahava (Cassia fistula) and rare, medicinal Kailashpati. We also indulged in bird-watching. Gauri helped us identify uncommon birds such as tailorbird, sunbird and parakeets along with usual crows, sparrows and parrots. The garden also attracts different types of butterflies.

Kailashpati Flowers
Kailashpati Flowers

Few steps from the garden take you atop the hillock. We saw the ruins of the fort and were sad to see the current state of the fort. But Gauri told us that things have improved in past few years due to efforts of Archaelogical Survey of India. Today, the fort is cleared of all slum encroachments and old wooden structures of fort has been reinforced with plaster.

Sion Fort Bastion
Sion Fort Bastion

However, there is huge room for further improvement. People have left graffiti on the walls of the fort. As you climb the steps, you begin to see the structure of the fort at the top of the hill, with its square windows presumably having cannons to dissuade possible attacks. The view from the top of the fort provided a great panorama of concrete jungle of Mumbai. After a look through a window in the tower, you can climb around it and take a look at the sole remaining cannon in the fort. We sat on the foot of the fort admiring its glorious history and contemplating about its current state. Nonetheless a quiet moment.

Sion Fort Nature Walk Group
Sion Fort Nature Walk Group

The fort protected the British from its enemies in the past, today it protects the crumbling natural beauty from the the concrete jungle.

When to visit Sion Fort

Sion Fort timings are from 7 am to noon and then from 4 pm to 8 pm in the evening. The best time to visit the fort is of course early morning when there are fewer people. Else during day time, the fort is visited by the usual suspects – lovers, teenagers and sometimes by drug peddlars. The best season of course is post monsoon till early summer (September to February-March). We spent about couple of hours at the fort which I believe to be ideal time.

How to reach Sion Fort

The fort is about 500 meters from Sion railway station.
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1 Comment

  1. Simon says: Reply

    Hi there,
    Thank you for sharing about Sion fort walk.
    Sion fort in the Sion area is famous among couples, lovebirds and budding photographers. The fort is on the hillock of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru garden and probably the tallest fort in Mumbai region.
    I enjoy a lot at my visiting time to Sion fort…

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