Updated: October 7, 2021 10:20:37 pm
Picking up from where we left off last week, while the Matoshree Meenatai Thakre Shilpagram is the crown jewel of Jogeshwari parks, there are three hidden gems scattered around it as well. Named in honour of the officers who lost their lives during the 26/11 attacks, the recently renovated Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte parks are nestled amongst Joghaswari’s vibrant urban sprawl. A BMC official described them as welcome patches of green cover in a city that can often seem overrun by concrete.
All three parks fall under the jurisdiction of the BMC K East Ward Garden Department, a close-knit team of six horticulturalists who oversee 15 wards in the eastern parts of Jogeshwari, Andheri and Ville Parle. Each park is meticulously planned and carefully maintained, boasting a wide variety of indigenous trees, shrubs, and flowers. The parks were also designed to promote physical activity and provide a space for families to engage with local artists and performers.
The first on our list was the Hemant Karkare park, a sprawling oasis of approximately 25,000 square meters, lined with a series of interlocking walking paths. The park also boasts a 500-seater amphitheatre, which, in pre-covid times, was the site of several musical performances and other cultural gatherings. During our visit, the amphitheatre was being used by a group of college students to play a game that looked like an amalgamation of catch and cook and hit and run. Acutely aware of the attention they were getting from people lounging on the amphitheatre steps, the students displayed a sense of playful bravado accompanied by raucous laughter all around.
With very little tree cover, the park makes use of Gazebos and other shed-like shelters to provide some much-needed respite from the midday heat. The walls of those shelters also serve as a canvas for local artists, and vandals, to showcase their talent. At the time of our visit, the park was meant to be closed for maintenance. However, the BMC official explained that “if young people come, we let them in because they usually have nowhere else to go.”
Our next stop was the Vijay Salaskar Park. The smallest of the three, the park is located right next to the Oberoi International School and would often host gatherings of school children before and after class. Since schools shut at the beginning of the pandemic, the park has seen a reduction in footfall, but officials are hopeful that things will pick up once schools reopen shortly. Unlike the Hemant Karkare park, the Vijay Salaskar park is almost completely shrouded in tree cover.
Strolling along its extensive walking track, one would be forgiven for thinking they had been transported from the heat of Mumbai to the cool hilly climate of Matheran. As a result of the shade provided by the trees, the lawns are covered in ribbon grass, a lively light green coloured form of grass that thrives away from the sun and makes one feel as though they are walking across a sea of algae. When we arrived, the park was closed to the public, but its security guard proudly asked us to come 5 pm when it would be overrun with children and their parents who come to enjoy the park’s expansive playground with its many swings and colourful slides.
Last on our list, was the Ashok Kampte Park. As with the other two parks, when you enter, the first thing you see is a dominating statue dedicated to the park’s namesake. Behind it, there is a beautiful natural pond, teeming with fish and buzzing with life. Draped across it, is a rickety old drawbridge, that seemed to exist more for its aesthetic value than its usability, given that only the most daring, or water loving citizens would attempt to cross it. The BMC official said this park was designed to maximise green cover and therefore, its planners focused more on planting and less on building structures. There are a few gazebos scattered around the park, but its most prominent structures are its colourfully painted gym equipment, on which 120 daily visitors routinely enjoy a free workout.
Sunil Pawar, the BMC Gardens & Trees Department Assistant Superintendent, said his department had also taken special care to ensure that local artwork was featured across the park. Towards that end, they commissioned artists to paint animals on imposing rocks lining the walkway. One of the rock paintings features a stark orange leopard, a mural that may hit too close to home, given the multiple reports of leopards roaming the nearby Aarey Colony.
Altogether, the most striking aspect of the parks was their quality of maintenance. They collectively cost less than Rs 10 lakh per month to maintain, a relatively small figure given the number of people that use them on a daily basis. The BMC official, who grew up in Kihim in Alibaug, said, “where I’m from, you don’t need parks because there is greenery everywhere but in Mumbai, spaces like these are very important as people need a place where they can enjoy the outdoors.”
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