Bird watching in Bombay: the fort of the flamingos

I like getting drunk over the weekend like any other self-respecting corporate slave that’s usually attached to her desk. But my Grab Your Globe alter-ego basically can’t sit still – and that makes settling for knocking back brunch-time margaritas, every Sunday, difficult. Even when I’m stuck in the city, I’m itching to “do things”  – beyond bar nights and book clubs, flying all the way to flamingos.

And that’s how I agreed to wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning (hungover) to chase certain long-legged blushing hotties. Yep, I’m talking about the flamingos that live in the mud flats of Sewri. And if they can fly over 600km to get to their winter home, I could wake up pre-sunrise to meet the flaming feathers, right?

Click zoom

Sewri, on the eastern edge of South Mumbai is an easily-accessible stop off the Eastern Freeway. The jetty however, is a substantial walk or drive away once you take the freeway exit. Once you get to the Sewri mudflats, which have been designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, you’ll be greeted by a mix of selfie-taking teens here to allegedly ‘see’ the flamingos, parents with whiney pre-teens who don’t think viewing the birds through binoculars is good enough and regular walkers and cyclists. As we watched the sunrise, and the sea of pink a distance away through our own binoculars, it dawned on us (hehe), that we would never uncover all of Bombay’s secrets – and that was exhilarating.

Fortified

The thrill of discovering the previously unknown was enough for to inspire us to saunter down to the mostly-abandoned Sewri fort – built in 1680 by the British, it served as a watch tower, atop a hill overlooking the Mumbai Harbour. This fort also offers graffitied walls filled with delinquent morons professing their love for each other, the stray mongoose to scare off explorers like us, and of course, vantage viewing points for the flamingos. With droves of pink and white bougainvillea, the distant arrangement of the flamingoes and the unending silence of the uninhabited, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.  As we teetered stealthily down the steps of a neighbouring dargah, we found ourselves mere feet from the special guests we’d trekked down to see. (Don’t get any closer, this will alarm the birds)

 Pink, it’s my new obsession

 I’m not much of a bird watcher. I’m not really a flamingo person. But finding a quiet, slice of nature, amidst warehouses, refineries and frenetic boats in this chaotic city, is enough to inspire even the keenest Grinch. And it struck me, just how much Mumbai holds within – so much so that even 27 years of living here haven’t exposed everything. So if you think you know your own small-town, or city – I’d recommend a closer look.

Like the lover who never ceases to surprise you, the one that keeps his secrets at arm’s length’, the one that you believed you got used to and discovered in all their naked entirety – Bombay is that lover, that fools you into believing you know its every crevice – until you chance upon a crack, a scar, an opening that you hadn’t noticed before. And then you find yourself falling in love again.

Tips

  • Low tide is the best time to spot them, so check the time before you plan your visit
  • Your own transport is a plus
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes, carry binoculars
  • The area is deserted, so don’t venture alone – it is also frequented by other birds so it’s a great spot for a bird watcher (lesser and greater flamingos, sandpipers, kingfishers, herons, egrets, cranes, swallows and more)
  • Groups like BNHS organise group visits and guides for those wary of venturing alone

All photos courtesy Daniel Sequeira/ @cyclewalli.cyclewalla (instagram)

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