A secret butterfly park in Owla, Mumbai

A secret butterfly park in Owla, Mumbai

A naturalist and India’s foremost butterfly expert have converted two acres of agricultural land into a butterfly garden for Mumbai

Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly GardenThe Gaudy Baron Male Butterfly relishes fallen, rotting fruits that are rich in alcohol.Non-stop roar of traffic, construction galore and high-rise housing complexes are all that characterize Ghodbunder Road. A blade of grass dare not raise its head where every plot is earmarked for real-estate development.

One Sunday I decided to see for myself if a butterfly garden, rumored to exist in these parts, was for real.

Off Ghodbunder Road, a narrow potholed lane winds through an equally dismal looking Owla village. Stifle your urge to turn back and carefully look out for a dilapidated sign board on the right that says "Ovalekarwadi."

Located on the outskirts of Thane, a suburb to the north of Mumbai, the Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden is a secret few Mumbaikars are aware of and the story of its origin will warm the cockles of a naturalist’s heart.

Nearly five years ago, enthused by a program on butterflies conducted by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Rajendra Ovalekar decided to covert his two acres of agricultural land into a butterfly garden.

Isaac Kehimkar, India’s foremost butterfly expert, lent valuable support to this labor of love.

The first couple of years were trying indeed, said Ovalekar, when he had to grow and cultivate plants that would provide food, shelter and favorable breeding grounds to the butterflies and compel them to stay.

Unlike many well-known butterfly gardens in the world, here butterflies are not bred under artificial conditions.

The nearby Yeoor hills are also useful in replenishing the butterfly pool of the park, adds Kehimkar, who often accompanies BNHS members to the park.

A walk in butterfly park with Major Peacock Pansy

Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly GardenThe Striped Tiger Butterfly is often seen hovering over flowers that generate alkaloids, sipping the sap.

For an amateur visitor, it is best to be guided by Ovalekar.

He will take you around, explaining the life-cycle of a butterfly, pointing to pupa, cocoons and caterpillars on the various kinds of plants, which are not often visible to the untrained eye.

Then as if on cue, the winged creatures begin to appear, hovering among the flower bushes.

Observing and photographing butterflies requires oodles of patience, reiterates Ovalekar. The trick is to stay quiet and not disturb the butterflies. 

It is not for nothing that Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

The garden has more than 70 species of butterflies and on any given day it is not rare to see 25 to 30 varieties. The garden is also sometimes visited by migrant species and so you might be surprised to find a few visitors you may not have otherwise expected.

An early morning visit is recommended as butterflies are coldblooded and become increasingly active as the day warms up.

Some species that are easily spotted are the common sailor, common Jezebels, great eggfly, blue oakleaf, common rose, great orange tip, blue tiger and peacock pansy -- each distinguishable by their colors or wing patterns or shape.

Many Indian butterflies have names alluding to colonial and military terms such as baron and major, because the study of butterflies in India was first pursed by the British officers.

The camouflaging and mimicry carried out by these winged creatures to evade predators is extremely interesting.

The blue oakleaf’s brown underside merges with brown leaves while markings on a female great eggfly’s wings might fool a predator into thinking it is the unpalatable common crow butterfly.

How to get to Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden

Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly GardenThe garden has a Facebook page, <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ovalekar-Wadi-Butterfly-GardenGhodbunder-RoadThaneW/124297987625777?v=wall&filter=2" target="_self">click here</a>.From Mumbai, drive down the Eastern or Western Express highways to reach Ghodbunder Road.

Owla is a non-descript village near the Suraj Water Park on this road.

One can also take a train to Thane and exit by the western side of the station to take an auto rickshaw to the garden.

BEST bus number 700 (running between Thane and Borivali stations) also passes this way.

The garden has a car park.

Open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays, the park charges an entry fee of Rs 50 per head. For large groups, Ovalekar can arrange for simple breakfast at Rs 25 per head, with adequate advance notice.

Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden, Ghodbunder Road, Thane(W); Call +91 98 2077 9729, +91 98 6925 6054. 

Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly GardenThe park is a labor of love that has nothing to do with the state Ministry of Tourism.    

About the author: A freelance features writer, largely focusing on travel, folk art and craft and nature conservation, Uttara Gangopadhyay spends time between Kolkata and Mumbai.
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