How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Of course, with your partner, right? Wrong, a valentine doesn’t always need to be someone you are sexually attracted to. In my case, it was certainly not. I had decided to celebrate this Valentine’s Day with my 3-year old and her friends.

For all those who are wondering what is Chhota Kashmir, it is a huge green expanse of land in Aarey Milk Colony in Goregon East. It’s green and beautiful, hence the name. Tell you something, it’s not something that has developed overnight. My mother-in-law used to visit it in her childhood, a good 50-55 years ago.

A trip to Chhota Kashmir in Aarey Colony – The green lung of Mumbai

So history aside, we went to Chhota Kashmir on the Valentine’s Day. Being a Saturday and the school’s holiday helped our case. My daughter and I were accompanied by two of her classmates and their mothers. We booked a radio cab and set out for our picnic. Miraculously, the traffic was quite light at 10 am, and we reached there within 30-35 minutes.

As soon as we crossed the Western Express Highway and moved towards the Aarey Milk Colony, we noticed a huge difference; the tall buildings gave way to tall dense trees on either side of the roads, the cacophony of the blaring horns transformed into sweet chirping of the birds and the infamous Mumbai traffic thinned out completely. Nobody passing through the WEH would know that there is a heaven tucked away in the middle of the concrete jungle. It looked like a scene from a period movie, old and untouched. Soon we reached the Chhota Kashmir garden. We bought entry tickets Rs. 20 per person (kids above 3 are charged the same as an adult). Inside, we came across a cafe where we saw furred rabbits and colorful sparrows. It goes without saying that the kids were absolutely delighted.

A trip to Chhota Kashmir in Aarey Colony – The green lung of Mumbai

We moved ahead to find a few kid-friendly amusement rides. They charge Rs. 20 per child and Rs. 30 per adult, and no bargaining. Later on, we decided to explore the park a bit. Sadly, apart from the beautiful trees, cacti and flowers, there was nothing much. The park was in a shoddy condition, the grass was patchy and plastic bags and bottles littered were everywhere. But the love birds (I guess due to the Valentine’s Day, there were a lot of couples looking for some peace and quiet) tucked away behind the trees and bushes hardly cared. We had a good time playing kiddie games like blind man’s buff and oranges and lemons, and racing. If only we had a mat (FYI, we did carry one, but left the packet in the cab 😦 ), it would have been fun sitting under the shade and munching on  junk, but tasty foods like biscuits, fried finger rings, cream cones, chips, and Choco sticks.

There was nothing much to do, so we headed to the Chhota Kashmir boat club, on foot. It’s hardly half a kilometer, so we decided to walk. Yup, kids walked as well. It was midday and it was quite hot. I had thought of hiring a nice functional six-seater boat with a boatman. But when we reached there, we came to know that they had only pedal boats (Rs. 30 per person/child). So, though the boat could accommodate all of us, there was to be no boatman. My friend and I pedalled the boat around the pond, with some help from the kids. 😉 There were ducks sitting pretty at one end of the pond; at the kids’ behest, we pedalled over there, took some pictures and returned all under 20 minutes. Some feat! But the legs, I must tell you, continued to groan due to the unexpected labor even after a few days.

A trip to Chhota Kashmir in Aarey Colony – The green lung of Mumbai

There was a small cafe near the boat club. After the hard work, we needed some serious food and how we hogged on the butter dosas, missal pavs and cheese grilled sandwiches. We again booked a cab for the return journey. The mothers were exhausted, but the kids. Nah! They wanted to enjoy some more picnic. Some enthusiasm these kids have!

It’s a great place to visit, but advisable only if you have a small to large group. Also, I would recommend you visit the place around 4:30-5 in the evening and enjoy for a couple of hours. But leave the place before the sun sets as it might get deserted.

However, this little haven in the heart of Mumbai may not be there for much longer. The BMC has come up with a redevelopment plan for Aarey Milk Colony under which 3000 healthy trees (some as old as 80-100 years) will be cut to give way to a swanky business hub like the BKC. It’s a pity, the air quality level is deteriorating and a concrete jungle feeding off a green zone will hardly help matters. We need to stop it. And fast. If you support deforestation, please join this group and tweet using the hashtag #SaveAarey. Every single tweet will help.