A quiet spot in chaotic Thane is home to the Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden. Sumedha Deo makes a visit and comes away enchanted.
Seven years ago, Rajendra Ovalekar, a schoolteacher and wildlife enthusiast, visited the Bombay Natural History Society’s centre in Goregaon to attend a nature trail. Like everyone else, he was there for the butterflies – and the centre seemed to have plenty of them. As the tour progressed, Ovalekar realised that many of the fluttering beauties on the trail were species he had seen before. So when someone mentioned that the creatures were common to a village in Thane, he was understandably intrigued. It turned out that the village in question was his own: Owala. That’s when Ovalekar decided to turn his two-acre plot, Ovalekar Wadi, into a butterfly garden.
Where to go
Flanked by the Yeoor hills, Thane’s Ovalekar Wadi is tucked away in a corner just off Ghodbunder Road, where Mumbai’s newly minted middle-class is driving up property prices and decibel levels. The park, however offers a slice of green peace in the midst of the construction boom. Ovalekar, along with Mumbai’s best-known butterfly expert, Isaac Kehimkar of the BNHS, have installed hundreds of nectaring plants such as passion flowers, hibiscus and lantanas from the nearby hills, riverbanks and such unlikely places as sewers and railway tracks. They’ve also planted chickoo, berry, mango and banana trees to provide additional fodder for the butterflies, who feast on over-ripe fruits. “I gathered a lot of my information from magazines and Kehimkar’s book on butterflies,” said Ovalekar. “I wanted the butterflies to have a natural place to breed and live, unlike many places in the world where they are reared in laboratories.”
What you will see
Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures that thrive in tropical climates. They start getting active as the sun rises and feed early in the mornings. There are more than a 100 species of butterflies in this garden and on a good day you can see as many as 20, including common ones like the Lime and Plain Tiger. Ovalekar plans a 30-minute trail for visitors and advises them not to stray or they could be bitten by snakes – pretty scary for a butterfly park. En route, he describes the lifecycle of a butterfly, covering the stages from egg to larva to pupa and finally the adult or imago. He also points out eggs, cocoons and caterpillars that are invisible to the untrained eye, since many species camouflage their eggs and caterpillars to resemble bird-droppings to ward off predators. Butterflies have natural enemies in rats, birds and praying mantes and Ovalekar has taken precautions by building wire cages around the nesting plants.
Deeper into the garden, more exotic species of butterflies like the Tawny Coaster and Great Orange Tip come into view. “If you’re really lucky you might see a female laying her eggs or even a cocoon bursting,” said Ovalekar. “It’s quite a sight!” It takes about a month for the butterfly to complete its gestation and the newly-hatched can be seen from June onwards. The best period to see butterflies is between October and November. That’s when the garden is buzzing with activity.
How to get there: Drive down Ghodbunder Road away from the city until you reach Owala village. The garden is down a narrow road next to Sangam Restaurant. The nearest landmark is HyperCity department store. Another option is to take the number 700 BEST bus running between Borivali (East) and Thane stations. Get off at the Owala village bus stop and follow the signs.
The garden is open to visitors only on Sundays. Gates open at 8 am and tours are conducted until 12:30 pm. Entry fee is Rs 50 per head. An Indian breakfast with tea is also available for Rs 25 per head.
Add: Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden, Owala Village, Ghodbunder Road, Thane (West)
Tel: 9820779729 / 9869256054