Tungareshwar

A wilderness with three different types of forests, right on the outskirts of Mumbai? Yes, please

Kuldeep Chaudhari

Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary

On the periphery of Mumbai, in Vasai, lies Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. Spread over 85 sq.km, it forms a corridor between Sanjay Gandhi National Park (also known as Borivali National Park) and Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. There are three different types of forests – Dry Deciduous, Moist Deciduous and Semi Evergreen. The region is rich in biodiversity: the Leopard, Wild Boar, Barking Deer, Langur, Bonnet and Rhesus Macaque, and Black-naped Hare, as well as a multitude of birds, including the Crested Serpent-eagle, Jungle Owlet, White-eyed Buzzard, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Emerald Dove and Heart-spotted Woodpecker can be found here.

However, the sanctuary is not without its share of problems. Irresponsible tourism, deforestation, illegal construction, encroachment for agriculture, and hunting have taken a toll on its natural beauty.

Plan Your Trip

Getting there

Air

The nearest airport is Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (40km; around 2 hours away). 

Rail

The nearest suburban railway station is Vasai Road, on the western line. Take the exit on the east side. From here, buses ply around every half an hour. Alternatively, auto rickshaws are available too. It takes about 45 mins to reach the base of the plateau.

Road

Tungareshwar is at a comfortable driving distance from Mumbai city (50km; around 1-2 hours away, depending on traffic). 

best time to visit

Tungareshwar can be visited throughout the year. The sanctuary doesn’t have any fixed timings, but early mornings are the best time to visit, especially for birding.

  • Summer: April, May and June are the hottest months, with temperatures reaching over 35°C.
  • Monsoon: Monsoon in Tungareshwar lasts from June to September. During this time, there is a high influx of tourists, as this is a popular picnic destination. With the noise and footfall, not much can be observed as far as birds and mammals go, but the season does provide excellent opportunities for macro photography. Having said that, though, if you do happen to visit the place on a quiet weekday, be on the lookout for the Oriental dwarf kingfisher (a migrant bird known as the Jewel of the forest) when you walk along the streams.
  • Winter: November to March are the coolest months, with temperatures between 18-30°C during the day. This season is the best time for bird-watching enthusiasts to visit, as there are a variety of migratory bird species wintering at Tungareshwar. Around 10 types of flycatchers and various warbler species can be seen regularly during this season.

History

Tungareshwar is a mountain plateau situated between Virar and Vasai. It is a dense forest region – in the monsoon, the surroundings are lush and green, and interspersed with flowing waterfalls. At an altitude of about 2,177 feet, it is a popular destination for trekkers. In a bid to improve the habitat for animals, and safeguard more territory for predators such as leopards, Tungareshwar was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2003.

Stay

The trail can be easily covered in a day on foot. Since there are no accommodation facilities available at the sanctuary, most visitors stay in Mumbai and start their day early to reach Tungareshwar by sunrise.

See|Do

  • Tungareshwar is home to a wide variety of birds such as the Crested Serpent-eagle, Emerald Dove, Indian Scops Owl, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, White-eyed Buzzard and Oriental Honey-buzzard throughout the year.
  • From the sanctuary gate, it is around a 3km-trek to reach the famous Shiv mandir. This temple is more than a century old and is a good spot to take a break.
  • The trail after the temple (around 7km to the top) is of particular interest to wildlife enthusiasts because of its dense tree cover. There is less human disturbance here, and the chances of seeing wildlife, especially birds, is good. 
  • Not far from Tungareshwar (around 20km) the coastal belt of Vasai, too, has a variety of bird life. 270 species have been identified there by a group of local birders, including the Osprey, Short-eared Owl, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Greater & lesser Flamingos, Red-necked Falcon, and Amur Falcon.

Good to know

  • Vasai is a big suburb where you’ll easily find ATMs, pharmacies, petrol pumps and supermarkets.
  • There are no jeep safaris in the sanctuary. You will have to explore the forest on foot or in your own vehicle.
  • There are no official forest guides at the sanctuary so you will need to explore on your own. The trail is wide, since it’s the only road to the top, and is used by everyone.
  • Mobile network might be patchy until you reach the very top of the Tungareshwar plateau.
  • If you get hungry, you can stop for a quick snack near the temple, as there are a few dhabas and snack shops around this area.
  • Although studies and camera trap images show the presence of leopards and other wild mammals here, their numbers are low, (there are just 5 leopards, due to the scarcity of their prey base such as chital and sambar). But be alert, as an occasional encounter cannot be ruled out at dawn and at dusk.

What to pack

  • During summer wear loose cotton clothes, sunglasses, a cap, sunscreen lotion, and carry a good amount of drinking water.
  • In the winter you should make sure you have a jacket, and a woollen cap with you. Closed footwear with socks are advisable.
  • In the rainy season a raincoat is a must, since the monsoon in this region is quite heavy. Leeches are not a concern.
  • Carry your camera gear and binoculars.
  • Take a birding field-guide with you.
  • Mosquito repellent will come in handy.
  • Take a torch for emergencies.
  • Emergency medication and prescription medicines, if any.

For photographers

  • A telephoto lens of at least 300mm will be useful.
  • For birdwatching, a good binoculars will be handy.
  • For macro photography a macro lens and a flashlight is a must to capture the species in detail. A camera tripod could help but it's not necessary.

Don't Miss

  • Download Vasai Birds, an Android-only app, before you go. It is a citizen-science initiative that offers in-depth information about the birds of this region and their habitats.

Budget per person

A return train journey from Mumbai to Vasai costs around ₹400. 

In addition, the local transport costs roughly ₹30 (bus) or ₹100 (auto). 

Alternatively, if you take a cab from the city centre expect to pay around ₹1500, one way.

Kuldeep Chaudhari - Photojournalist

Kuldeep Chaudhari

Photojournalist

Kuldeep Chaudhari is a photojournalist and a wildlife enthusiast. Birding is an integral part of his routine, and he spends his weekends documenting local avi-fauna. He has worked on an app called Vasai Birds to showcase the avian biodiversity of the region. He posts as @kuldeepchaudhari on Instagram.