Written by Shail Rao-Rane
My love affair with nature began at Sanjay Gandhi national park. I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I was 13 years old when my father took my sister and me to the National Park of Mumbai, which is in the middle of the city. I will never forget my first visit to the National Park, going out on the river boating with my sister and listening to the call of the birds. That was the only sound heard across the still water. We also visited the zoo and Lion Safari, which was in the National Park. In Mumbai, it seems the more you seek, the more you find. There is so much more to explore in one of the world’s most crowded cities. I don’t know how many people know about Gilbert Hill, which is located in Mumbai. On Gilbert Hill, you can see magic-like misty mornings when a kind of smoke envelops everything, and then the birds appear from these pillars of smoke and fly back in again. In my opinion, there is a kind of enchantment that you would never find anywhere else in the world.
When I first visited Gilbert Hill, it was a soul-lifting experience. Something was troubling my mind. I was preparing for a save-the-environment documentary competition. I had been doing research on Mumbai city. I was on the way to Sanjay Gandhi Nation Park when I had a major motorbike accident, but nature saved me from a fate worse than death! I was upset with myself. While riding in my friend’s car on my trip home from the hospital, I spotted Gilbert Hill. I decided to go there the next morning to explore this natural wonder. I was amazed and surprised when the temple priest told me the history of the old monolith. It was shocking and heartbreaking to learn how the government could allow the building of skyscrapers around the hill. I made a silent vow: I decided to bring out the unfair humanistic aspects and change social and environmental order. It could be two sides of the same coin. I thought if I could create an opportunity, I would do all I could to improve the conditions.
Gilbert Hill is very well located for exploring Mumbai. The hill, with its lovely ocean views, is no more than a five-minute drive from the Andheri railway station. Mumbai is what you make of it and what you want it to be. If history interests you, then this monument has tales to tell. If you simply want to feel the real India – a trip on Indian trains and buses may be the experience for you, although it is without the comforts, it certainly is an experience. Mumbai is not a place you simply and clinically ‘see’; it’s a total experience, an assault on the senses, a place you’ll never forget. Then there is Gilbert Hill, an extraordinary place to escape to if you are in need of peaceful relaxation. I would highly recommend this to all who wish to see the cityscape from within the city.
I first discovered Gilbert Hill while riding on a road in Andheri West. It was off in the distance, approximately 500 meters away. I was immediately drawn to its unusual beauty and decided to go there to investigate and explore further. I made some inquiries about how to get there from where I was and was at the base in a matter of minutes. Although the access road was narrow, I could steer my vehicle and reach my destination without difficulty. The sign board, which was posted there, said that it was closed from 12 pm to 4 pm however, the security guard was hospitable, and he opened the main gate and allowed me to enter. I was surprised when I read on the information board at the base that Gilbert Hill is 66 million years old… I discovered ancient history in my own city! I parked my car inside the compound and climbed a flight of stairs leading from the base to the top of the hill. Once I reached the top, I stood in amazement; the scenery, the panoramic view were breathtaking. While sitting at the top, absorbing the beauty, I felt a sense of relief, like the burdens of my everyday life had somehow dissolved. The entire view is stunning, every morning and evening, the area is full of chirping parrots and Indian tropical birds. Before leaving, I took pictures of the tropical birds that looked like black kites as they soared nearby and some pictures of the cool, shady trees. The green foliage and the view could definitely help people relax and recharge the troubled minds of adults and the youngest of children alike.
India is the home of one of the world’s ‘great’ civilisations- its social structures, as it exists today, can be traced back thousands of years. India’s first major civilisation flourished for 1000 years from around 2500 BC along the Indus River valley in what is now Pakistan. Mumbai’s 66 million-year-old Gilbert Hill still stands, having outlived all of the ancient civilisations of the world. How Indians can ignore this natural wonder’s existence is a question I frequently ask myself. India, it is often said, is not a country but a continent. From north to south and east to west, the people are different, the languages are different, the customs are different, and the country is different. There are few countries on the earth with the enormous variety that India has to offer. Gilbert Hill is a place that gets into your blood somehow. Mumbai is as vast as it is crowded, as luxurious as it is squalid. It is my hope that this monument will survive for future generations to see, enjoy and appreciate.
India’s Gilbert Hill is a 200-foot (61-metre) monolithic column of black basalt rock situated in the heart of Andheri. One of the greatest geological wonders of the world is hard to find. You have to make your way through grubby slums, high rises and busily crowded roads, and when you finally see it, Gilbert Hill can be disappointing. But even then, you can’t help but be awed by the Geological significance of this outcropping! Gilbert Hill consists of Basalt hexagons protruding from the Earth, and it was declared a National Park by the Central Government in the year 1952. The hill has a vantage from which the exhilarating and enchanting landscapes of Mumbai city can be seen. The Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming, USA is the only other structure in the world that shares its geological significance. The two spots in the Bombay-Salsette islands – Worli Hill and Gilbert Hill – stand out, therefore, as prominent landmarks in the geological history of these islands; the former is a hunting ground for fossil collectors. These beds have been known for frog, tortoise and other animal and plant fossils. It has been described as a very unique feature of the geological history of the “Deccan Trap” area. The Deccan Trap is a large igneous province located on the Deccan Plateau, which has been classified as one of the largest volcanic features on Earth.
Gilbert Hill is a remnant of that volatile era and is a stand-out in many ways. Generally, volcanic mountains are formed as lava rises from the depths to the surface and solidifies. With each subsequent eruption, the debris piles up higher and higher to form a mountain. However, sometimes lava behaves differently; it suddenly rises up vertically with great force between the traps (land slabs) in the Earth, forming a block. Such a form is called a laccolith. In Western countries, many such wonders have been preserved as National parks.
The Man who studied and codified this was none other than American Geologist G K Gilbert, in whose honour the hill in Mumbai is named. The environment and geological significance have been recognised in the authoritative Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, Volume 51, published in December 1952. This means Gilbert Hill was here before there was even a trace of humans, who are about 13 million years old, let alone the hyper-city of Mumbai. Gilbert Hill, which affords the city’s best panoramic views, is a playground for Black Kites and the Indian Ring-necked Parakeet. Tropical birds such as Kingfisher, Sun Bird and Tailor Birds have also been spotted around this mammoth structure however; environmentalists fear that the numbers may dwindle as their habitat is destroyed by the “concrete jungle” that surrounds Gilbert Hill. Therefore it is strongly recommended that now at least the relict portion of the hill should be preserved as a “National Natural Monument”. This has already been recommended by competent authorities like the Geological Survey of India. In recent times Gilbert Hill was accredited as a heritage Grade II structure in September 2007.
In past years we have submitted these Nominations for world heritage site status to World Monument Fund, New York and UNESCO, Paris. We have received letters from the Prime Minister’s Office (ASI) commending our efforts in addressing local issues. In this regard, Archaeological Survey of India, Delhi, has been directed to convey that Gilbert Hill does not, as yet, feature on UNESCO’s Tentative List for India, which is a mandatory requirement before any site is considered for World Heritage nomination, The proposal has to be forwarded by the State Govt. of Maharashtra along with input from Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
In 2010, we approached the UNESCO head office in Paris in order to get world heritage status. In reply, UNESCO’s head office in Paris said that UNESCO cannot intervene in the case as the Government of India has not even proposed that Gilbert Hill be listed as a World Heritage site. In 2012, we sought the Bombay High Court’s assistance in recommending the monolith to UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
We find it shocking that such proposals have even found their way to the table and, furthermore, have now reached the stage where they are being seriously considered. Nothing is straightforward, and we would like to have the confidence in the MHCC (Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee) that we could all work together to find a solution, but sadly until a sympathetic, sensible and holistic approach is adopted, it is not likely. It is very discouraging that we have to struggle with our own government to safeguard nature’s beautiful creation. Despite being apparently declared a “national park” under the Forest Act in 1952, the Hill has seen rapid destruction over the years. Gilbert Hill should be included among other natural features as a Grade I structure (the highest possible in this system of classification) as such structures are afforded “maximum protection”. No alterations are permitted to Grade I structures, which is not the case with Grade II. It would be appropriate considering its age and its being columnar basalt. Such sites are rare and should certainly be a part of UNESCO’S Tentative List for India, which is a mandatory requirement before any such consideration.
Mumbai’s 66-million-year-old Gilbert Hill is threatened by a rash of urban constructions around the pre-historical monolith. The government and the authorities have totally neglected to protect and preserve this site in the face of unbridled and illegal activities. The revenue department has given permission to builders to erect 16-storey skyscrapers in front of Monolith, and excavation of the hill is happening. Slowly but steadily, the hill is being trimmed. Today, as stated above, the surviving plateau top is very small. If further disturbance to the hill is not prevented, there is fear of creating more danger to residents around the monolith,
India’s 66 Million-years-old Gilbert Hill stands surrounded by Slums, in the veil of a few Millions.
Currently, despite the availability of public toilets, defecation in the vicinity of Gilbert Hill remains common. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers and residential complexes, this natural wonder faces encroachment from spiraling slum settlements. Sadly, our neglect of this natural heritage is evident, perhaps due to ignorance. Our fervor for preservation and pride in this National Monument compels us to defend Gilbert Hill. It’s disheartening that while Bollywood and Hollywood recognized its beauty, authorities allow construction around this unique geological marvel. Preventing the degradation of Gilbert Hill is crucial; its preservation is a gift for future generations. Our National Monuments deserve better treatment from government officials, truly embodying our “Incredible India” heritage. Let’s not reduce our tourist attractions to slums, dogs, and millionaires through neglecting these cultural treasures.
We humbly request you to sign this petition to the Government of India to get world heritage Status for Gilbert Hill, The Petition is hosted here.