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An elevated walkway through the woods will soon be a reality in Mumbai

IMK Architects’—with support from the BMC—will revive an ecological lung in the city in the Malabar Hills, with an enchanting trail through a little-known forest

For a city bursting across all fronts with hyperactive development, the quieter portions of its geography tend to go unobserved. Particularly those that are seamed into its fabric so completely that they hide in plain sight; like a rich forest in the heart of Mumbai’s Malabar Hill neighbourhood, complete with a bubbling brook, fascinating flora and intriguing fauna. It is now set to be the scenic backdrop for a tourist-and local-friendly forest trail, almost like a newly discovered treasure. But for Rahul Kadri, Partner and Principal Architect, IMK Architects, this was a regular feature in his growing-up years.
“This is a little part I have been walking in as a kid. Hardly anybody knows that 12 acres of a micro-forest exists in this part of the city,” he says. Added to that was the fact that over the years, it had become “a dark alley of sorts, taken over by bootleggers, drug peddlers and the like—which was why it has been shut down by the BMC since the past 15 years or so,” he divulges.

Taking Back the Forest

It was in the past year, around the time of the first lockdown, that Kadri reacquainted himself with the area. “My wife Shimul and I started walking around the neighbourhood and one day, I took her in here, I climbed over the fence and we were both enchanted by it.” And that is what led to crystallising the idea of a trail through this forested portion of Malabar Hill, to rescue it from its current state of neglect and get people to visit. It was an idea that went down well with just about everyone Kadri spoke to—from the citizens’ forums at Napeansea Road (where he stays) and Malabar Hill, to the municipal body, as well as the state’s tourism and environment minister, Aditya Thackeray. “He loved the idea and when we took him there for a walk a week later, he was excited by what he saw,” explains Kadri.

At this time, he had already got a team in his firm to work on initial design options—one on-ground, one above-ground and a third that was a combination of both. “As we were working on it, I realised that a lot of people would walk inside, which could destroy the forest. We want people to go but we don’t want them to disturb the flora, fauna and water flow. I also spoke to some experts on ecology—the number of species in the forest is amazing, from snakes to mongoose to birds from a wealth of different species.” Raising it high, therefore, was the most viable plan.

Concept To Reality

Kadri was busy at work on the design even as the municipal body contemplated spreading the net wider and looking at more design options. Around this point, he approached Sangita Jindal and ran the idea by her. “She really liked it and offered to help however she could. At that point, we needed to design it conceptually enough so that it would be acceptable. We got the budget and the JSW Foundation funded that part.” Happily, that conceptual design will now become manifest reality. As of mid-June, the BMC took the final call to go ahead with the design proposed by Kadri and his team and the tenders had been floated and paperwork, documentation and other pre-project requirements are underway.
Visualised as being about 700 metres long (after making adjustments for the contours), the forest trail, Kadri says, forms a loop as it snakes across the upper and lower slopes of Siri Road. “It will be entirely in wood, from the floor to the railings, to ensure it blends in with the forest. The superstructure will be in epoxy-coated steel.” At its shortest point from the forest floor, the walkway is estimated to be a minimum of 2 metres above. “It will change depending on the contour. So at one point, it will almost be 10 metres above-ground.” Kadri and his team have also planned for benches and viewing decks; in a bid to enrich the experience, the floor will be glass-bottomed where the pathway is at its widest. “We want to light it very minimal, illuminating it from the handrail itself. It will be just enough to light the way without spilling onto the forest floor at all.” Plaques will be placed at regular intervals to describe the flora and fauna, which is fascinating in its diversity—from snakes and mongoose to a variety of birds. Meant to be a tourist spot in the city, the forest trail will be ticketed to ensure it doesn’t become a free-for-all and cause disturbances to the surrounding ecology, with a ticket counter and washroom planned at the starting point.
The plans, as of now, are to hopefully finish the project in nine months, though Kadri is clear that hurrying up just to meet the suggestive deadline would not happen. “We’re targeting nine months. We don’t want to prioritise time; we want to prioritise quality.”
And slowly but surely, this little parcel of lush greenery will push its way to the forefront through cracks in Mumbai’s concrete jungle.

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