Vansda National Park
You crane your neck to see the tops of the towering trees, the teak perhaps flowering, the bamboo brakes aplenty. The canopy is so thick you find parts of the forest in darkness, and are amazed to remember you are still in Gujarat, so lush and dense is the world around you. You see wild mango groves, perhaps even a wild relative of the banana plant, and weaving in between are gigantic creepers. You check abashedly behind you for dinosaurs. You stop short so as to not scare away the beautiful butterfly that has landed in front of you, and as it flies away, you are distracted and crouch, like a child, to watch a colorful centipede scurry its fuzzy way along. You begin to notice not only the giant trees but also the tiny creatures that fit between the cracks in the bark. Soon even the ferns and mushrooms on a rotting log seem like ornate decoration. You are surprised by an expanse of the Bharadi grasslands tucked away east of the center of the park. And at the Ambika river, you are enchanted by the varieties of orchids, delicate and colorful.
And since you've fallen in love with Vansda, you decide to spend a night deep in the forest and learn more about it from the Kilad Nature Education Campsite. After an evening campfire and a morning guided tour, you now walk around with even bigger eyes and ears, noticing not only the creatures that you do see, but the tracks and droppings and song that tell you about the creatures that you don't.
- The best time to visit is from the post-monsoon season to winter, when the forest is at its most lush and the streams are full.
- You will most likely see more birds and plant-life than wild animals, but if you keep your eyes sharp, especially if you have some experience, look out for tracks and droppings through which to learn about the lives of the animals.
- Ahwa, 28 km away, has more facilities. Saputara also has comfortable facilities and is often used as a base to explore the area, but is 60 km away. In Waghai, the nearest town to the park, 4 km away, the facilities are more basic, but also more charming, and can serve as an appealing alternative base.
The 24 square km of this national park lie at the east end of the Navsari district in South Gujarat. It forms a continuous tract with both the forests of Valsad district to the south, and the forests in the Dangs to the east, which provide better access than from the Navsari side, so it is managed by the South Dangs Forest Division. It used to belong to the King of Vansda until he gave it to the state. It was declared as a protected area in April 1979, and we are fortunate that there has not been tree felling since as early as 1952.
The terrain here is flat in parts and undulating in others, and is drained by the river Ambika into the sea near Navsari. The park borders land developed by the Revenue Department on the southwest, and by the Ambika along the northeast. The area that surrounds the park marks the northern and western limits of the Western Ghats, also known as the Sahyadris.
The rain gods of these parts are generous, sending over 2,000 mm of average rainfall a year, which keeps the forest lush. Parts of it are so dense that they are dark even during the day. The thick canopy is most easily recognizable by its tall teak and bamboo, with some trees reaching a height of 120 ft. Most parts are moist deciduous forest, with kaatas bamboo, but some parts are dry deciduous forest and have manvel bamboo. Just southeast of the center of the park there are also the Bharadi grasslands. Vansda Park cradles 450 species of plants, and including the bamboo and teak, 443 species of these are flowering plants, such as adad, dudhkod, khakhro, timru, haldu, chopadi, bondaro, shimlo, and ambla. The northeastern side of the park where the Ambika winds its way through is home to many varieties of orchids.
Vansda lost the tiger, wild dog, otter, sambar, and sloth bear, but is still home to a diversity of mammals, including the leopard, hyena, chital, chausinga, jungle cat, common palm civet, small Indian civet, mongoose, macaque, rhesus macaque, barking deer, wild boar, hanuman langur, Indian porcupine, flying squirrel, Indian flying fox, pangolin, rusty-spotted cats, as well as the endangered great Indian squirrel.
There is also an abundance of pythons and 30 other species of snakes, including venomous ones like Russel's viper, cobras, kraits. Along with an entertaining variety of insects, centipedes, millipedes, and snails, there are 121 species of spiders, including the largest in Gujarat, the giant wood spider, and 8 new species of spiders were recently reported. There are about 11 types of frogs and toads to keep the snakes well-fed.
More than the mammals, reptiles, and insects, however, the main draw of Vansda is for bird-watchers for more than 115 species of birds, including the racket-tailed drongo, paradise flycatcher, pompodour pidgeon, grey hornbill, jungle babbler, yellow back sunbird, leaf birds, thrushes, peafowls, as well as the globally threatened forest spotted owlet, and birds found only in the Western Ghats, like the indian great black woodpecker, malabar trogon, shama, emerald dove.
There are various adivasi settlements in Vansda from the Dangi tribes, which are made up of the Bhils, Kunbi, Warli, Chowdry, Gamit, Bhoi, and Kukna. The tribal belt of Gujarat, especially in the Dangs, has been influenced strongly over the last few decades by Christian and Hindu missionaries. Many of the unique features of each of the tribes has been assimilated into the dominant cultures. Places in this area that are sacred to adivasis are now being adopted and ascribed religious importance by Hindu leaders. As modernization happens with increasing speed, traditional ways of life are abandoned in favor of monetary activities, which implies using forest resources to make forest products, resulting in a less dense forest area. As a visitor, it is useful and interesting to learn about these tensions, and especially about the impact of one's own visit to the area.
How to get there
By road: The park lies close to National Highway 8 and is bisected by the Waghai-Vansda State Highway. The nearest town is Waghai, 4km away. It is 28 km from Ahwa, 40 km from Billimora, and 60 km from Saputara. The area is easiest explored with a private vehicle, but public transport is available, though less convenient. There are buses from Surat, Billimora, and Valsad to Vansda village, and from there you can hire a jeep to the park for about Rs 50/- per person. There are no taxi operations close to Vansda, but you can also get a cab from Surat, Bilimora or Valsad. By ST bus, Ahwa, the district headquarters and on a plateau from which begins the ascenscion from Waghai to Saputara, is often the most convenient place to arrive in the Dangs.
By rail: The nearest railway station is Waghai. The narrow gauge rail link connecting Ahwa to Billimora runs through the park, but ask around to check if its still functioning when you come here.
By air: The nearest airport is in Surat, 120 km away.