Getting up before dawn, to watch the sun rise, is a cliched activity that is usually associated with yoga-lovers or senior citizens. Most of us regular folks probably value the hour or two of extra sleep instead, before we begin our daily grind. And on the off chance, when we do manage to wake up early enough, the concrete buildings around us make for a very dull and underwhelming sunrise.
* Unless we are the privileged ones having sea facing apartments on the higher floors
But if one is ready to make an extra effort on a weekend, watching the sunrise at Tiger Hilltop in Thane is one of the most rejuvenating and enjoyable ways to bring in a new day. And a perfect weekend activity which is different from the usual partying and movies/malls. It involves riding to Yeoor Hills in Thane and then a 20-30 minute hike up a well beaten trail in the dark. The hike is very easy and doesn’t require anything other than good walking shoes and the torch from a mobile phone. And the trail is quite popular with locals, so there is always company to be had.
Me and my riding group start our rides from Bisleri junction on the Western Express Highway, in Andheri East. In February this year, when sunrise time was around 0700, we started from Bisleri at 0430 in the morning. The distance from Bisleri to Kokanipada in Thane is 26km, and it shouldnt take more than 1.5 hours to cover. We took the Seepz => JVLR => EEH (Eastern Express Highway) route to Thane and reached the village by 0600.
The official route starts from the gate of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Tikuji Ni Wadi, Thane. However, since the pandemic, entry at the gate is limited to season pass holders. There is no provision to buy either a season pass* or a day ticket at that gate. So there is a good chance that we would be denied entry if we try to enter through the gate at Tikuji Ni Wadi. Thankfully we have an alternative route!
* The pass can be bought at the Yeoor entry gate near Upvan Lake, or in Borivali itself.
Kokanipada* is a small village at the foothills of Yeoor, close to Tikuji Ni Wadi. From Kokanipada, there exists a trail which byepasses the official SGNP gate and joins the trail leading to Tiger Hilltop. If you are driving in a car, it is advisable to park the car on Pokharan road near the turnoff to Kokanipada, as the roads inside the village are very narrow and there is no space to park any four wheeler. Cyclists definitely remember to carry locks, as you would be leaving them in the jungle, in complete darkness.
* Google Maps link to Kokanipada – https://goo.gl/maps/C3Sw8biFFxiMgu9U6
The pic above shows exactly where to park the cycles and the trail to be taken. This is the only tricky part of the trek, if this is your first time. There are no signs or markings – although the trail is well beaten and visible clearly. At this early hour, you would not find any local to help you navigate. And this route is not mapped on Google Maps, so you will have to use Satellite mode on Google Maps and navigate. Also, it is absolutely pitch dark, so our cycling headlights came in very handy. Apart from the risk of losing your way in the dark, SGNP is known for leopards, so being in a group is mandatory.
The trail from Kokanipada joins the main path to Tiger Hilltop in about 600m or so. From here, the trail is wider, the jungle isn’t as dense and usually there are quite a few locals on their daily walking routine. The total hike is 2km long (each way) and the elevation is just 170m or so – fit people would probably do it in 20 minutes, and regular people should finish it in 30. Carrying some water is a must though, as there is nothing available inside.
The beauty of the trek is the elevated view it offers of the city of Thane, which lies to the east. When dawn is still away, the lights of the city of Thane shine brightly. Once the horizon lightens and the sky begins lighting up in pastel colours, this transition from darkened city on the ground to the pinkish hued sky is mesmerizing. And if you are lucky like we were last time, there would be clouds in the sky to add to the drama. I found myself stopping at multiple points on the hike, admiring (and clicking) the ever changing view, even though it was my third visit to Tiger Hilltop
There are a couple of huts just below the peak, which are sometimes used by locals to sell water and other refreshments to hikers later in the day. The last 100m of the hike is a bit steep and one has to be a bit careful of loose stones on the trail. At the top, there is a beautiful view of not just Thane city, but also a vast expanse of SGNP. Even cyclists like us were a bit winded from the climb, but the exertion is quickly forgotten as the sky turns pink, orange and then red as the sun comes up.
I dont think I can describe the sunrise any better than these pictures, so I would let them do the talking.
The crisp air of the national park, along with the cooler climate at dawn, will make this trek worthwhile anytime of the year. Just make sure that you check current sunrise timing in Thane and calculate starting time accordingly. The descent is fairly quick and easy, though remember to keep a tab on Google Maps, so as to not miss the turnoff for Kokanipada village. If you see a watchtower next to the trail, it is right after the turnoff.
Also, Swamy’s is a great place for a hearty South Indian breakfast after the hike.
Strava link for the ride to Kokanipada https://www.strava.com/activities/6738582499
Strava link for the hike alone https://www.strava.com/activities/4627129712