Going gaga over trees

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A motley group of around 20 students of Sishu Griha Montessori and High School had a whale of a time on a bright Saturday morning exploring the world of trees at a Tree Walk which was part of Neralu – The Bengaluru Tree Festival.

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The group all of them belonging to the middle school trooped enthusiastically behind naturalist Poornima Kannan as she explained the nitty-gritty of the trees skirting the lovely playground of the school.

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The helicopter seeds of the mahogany tree grabbed eyeballs. One student after another chucked the seeds in style to see them landing like a helicopter on terra firma. When Poornima asked the students all of whom belong to the school’s nature club why the seed landed like a helicopter, pat came the replies:

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“The seed makes a slow and soft landing.”

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“The seeds should not scatter near the parent tree.”

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Certainly, the boys and girls had done their homework and how!

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The talk then moved to the mahogany pods as Poornima pointed skywards to the hundreds that were on the tree.

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A game of cricket was on at the ground. Whoever was at the crease seemed to be belting sixers and fours and the ball seemed to be always coming near the group. But the cricket enthusiasts in the group did not allow themselves to be distracted by the ball or the cheers and claps.

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Early morning joggers and dog walkers passed by and gave the group curious looks. I asked a couple of girls what they felt about the walk. “It is an experience I can’t forget,” said Sharanya with a sweet smile. For Pradnya it was an experience which she would not get to have on a daily basis. They were clearing enjoying their outing on the sun-soaked ground.

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The diversity of the tree wealth in the neighbourhood took Poornima by surprise. There were a lot of species. When she pointed to a little peepal tree that had sprouted from the steps of the playground and asked, “Can you tell me what tree this is?”, it was greeted with enthusiasm.

“Aunty, it is the peepal tree”, “Aunty it is also called the Bodhi tree, Buddha meditated under it.”

The teakwood trees, jackfruit trees, rain trees, Nile tulip trees, papaya trees were next on the itinerary.

The teakwood trees, jackfruit trees, rain trees, Nile tulip trees, papaya trees were next on the itinerary.

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A lipstick tree just outside the ground came across as one unheard of tree. “This is the one of the food colour that has been approved by the USDA”, said Poornima as she crushed some juvenile seeds with her fingers.

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Even before the euphoria surrounding the lipstick tree died down, Poornima pointed out to a tall tree and said, “Children! that is the Buddha’s coconut tree.” A student standing behind the crowd asked, “Aunty, whose tree?” much to the amusement of others. And another remarked at the seed pods, “They look like helmets.” “The tree is as interesting as its name and is also called the “Pagla Tree” in North India because of variations in its canopy.

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A good time was spent admiring its little flowers and laughing over the funny names.

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The walk ended at the lush green BDA park in the vicinity. The children went gaga over the numerous Bottlebrush trees and the bees buzzing around the drooping fluorescence.

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The pavilion at the park turned out to be a fine venue for a mini-quiz contest on trees. Quizmaster Poornima kept the students busy with a steady flow of questions. And after the quiz, she opened her Santa bag to unveil a beautiful collection of pods and seeds. The children marvelled.

As the clock struck nine, the accompanying teacher signalled it was time to wind up. On the way back, Poornima pointed to a huge tree whose trunk bore a resemblance to a eucalyptus tree, “See that’s an Arjuna tree”. The teacher and the students were spellbound. After a brief discussion on the school grounds it was time to go. Surely, the trees around Sishu Griha would have been touched at the amount of love and attention showered on them that special Saturday morning. It is up to us, their guardians, to look after them and conserve them for generations to come. As for the students, “they enjoyed more than they learnt”.

 

 

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A walk down V V Puram

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An early morning photo-walk through V V Puram evoked memories of vintage Bangalore famous for its sylvan beauty and laid back lifestyle. Led by ace photographer Vivek Muthuramalingam, the walk, which was part of Neralu, The Bengaluru Tree Festival, started at 7.30am on a lovely Sunday morning when the charming locality was slowly waking up. The broad tree-lined roads skirted by palatial vintage bungalows and buildings, temples and apartment blocks were a treat to walk on. The air smelt sweet thanks to the breeze from the myriad trees.

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I got a start when I saw this dog resting at the centre of the road. I tried shooing him off to the pavement but he wouldn’t budge. A man who came to feed him biscuits tells me that resting at the centre of the road is a habit with this dog. He allayed my fears that the dog may get run over.

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Most of us cannot do without two things in the morning – a cup of coffee and and the newspaper. So engrossed were these men with the news that they hardly felt the presence of shutterbugs clicking around them.

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The newspaper vendor’s pet made for a cute click.

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A lot of shops hadn’t opened.

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The neighbourhood flower seller had just started her day.

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In contrast to the near-empty roads, Hotel Janatha, an old-time V V Puram favourite, was packed. The smell of filter coffee was all over.

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The atmosphere on Vasavi Temple Street was absolutely divine and serene. The park across Vasavi Temple added to the charm of the place.

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On the street adjacent to the famous NMH (short for New Modern Hotel), someone’s pet dog sensing strangers was on a barking spree. I couldn’t get a good picture of the bundle of energy though. He was perched high up on the terrace of his home.

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This old car once somebody’s prized possession was sadly lying abandoned on the road.

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The click-athon at V V Puram ended with a chomp-athon at NMH 🙂

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In quest of the Slender Loris

A night-time trek through the forest at IISc (short for the Indian Institute of Science) in quest of the Slender Loris offered its share of the sights, sounds and smells of a jungle. The walk, a collaboration between Neralu (The Bengaluru Tree Festival) and IISc’s Urban Slender Loris Project, drew a crowd of around 50 nature lovers which included Slender Loris experts, scientists, techies, environmentalists, naturalists, students and artists. The trek led by Dr Kaberi Kar Gupta, head of the Urban Slender Loris Project, started at the fall of dusk around 6.30pm which is when the oh-so-cute but very shy Slender Lorises are most active. The nocturnal cuties (called Kadu-papa in Kannada) are as Dr Kaberi put it 20cm long and weigh only 20g.

I first read about Slender Lorises when in school and like many others found them incredibly cute. Till a fortnight back, I never knew that these lovely primates could be found in Bangalore. So I couldn’t resist registering for the event in spite of the late hours and that I stay at the other end of the city. I so badly wanted to see a Slender Loris.

Illustration by Aditi Bhagath

Eyes of the Slender Loris (Illustration by Aditi Bhagath)

The 50-odd enthusiasts were split into three batches each having Slender Loris experts. Armed with torches, binoculars and headlights, the three groups set out in quest of the Slender Loris much after sundown. By then birds had long since returned home and their chirps signaling happy homecoming had slowly died down. In the pitch darkness all you could hear were distant sounds of the crickets and occasionally the shrill cries of bats. In less than 10 minutes, a Slender Loris sighting was reported by an expert leading to much excitement. Spotting a Slender Loris needs practice. The animal moves quickly among the branches and as such sighting can be confirmed only if you notice its eyes glowing in the darkness, its long faint cry or the sound caused by its movement through the branches. And before you figure out how it looks it would have moved away. Well, sadly that is what happened to me. I fidgeted with my binoculars for too long and then when I finally decided to look out for it sans my binoculars it had already moved. All I got to see were a pair of glowing eyes a little deeper inside the branches. Many in the group had a good look going by the excitement at that moment. “Awww… so cute”, said a young walker. “He is not so small after all; he is this big”, said another demonstrating with his hands to an appreciative audience.  As we walked on I thought we would have more sightings and said to myself “Better luck next time”.

A few minutes later there was another sighting. But this fella seemed more bashful and alert than the earlier one. He darted through the branches like lightning and only a couple of walkers could figure out his coordinates.

As we trudged along deep into the jungle the only sounds besides the whispers of the walkers were the sound of twigs getting trampled and pebbles getting kicked about. Someone in the crowd spotted a group of fruit bats and another spotted a crow who I guess was napping on a branch. At a distance, faint cries unmistakably those of a Loris were heard.

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Fat snake sleeping (Illustration by Aditi Bhagath)

Dr Kaberi pointed out to a bamboo grove where a lot of Loris sightings had been reported earlier. As we moved our eyes up the grove our eyes caught sight of a big fat Rat Snake dozing high up on the bamboos. He surprisingly seemed quite unperturbed by the noise created by us humans down below. Cool guy! Wonder how he managed to carry his fat self high up the bamboos and rest on something which hardly looked comfortable enough to be his bed. With my binoculars I had a good look at Mr Cool. He had a slimy cream body ornate with patches of lemon yellow. Maybe it was his presence in the grove that kept the Lorises away. After bidding goodbye to the napping reptile we marched on.

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A pair of birds sleeping (Illustration by Aditi Bhagath)

As the night wore on, a walk volunteer spotted a pair of Oriental Magpie Robins fast asleep on the lower branches of tree. Critters in this forest seem to be used to human presence around their homes. The two birds did not allow us to disturb their well-deserved sleep. It was such an enchanting sight. I found it hard to take my eyes off them.

The walk through the jungle was such an uplifting experience. Soon I forgot the disappointment of missing having a good look at a Loris. I left with memories of the glowing eyes, the fat snake, the little birds, and of course the smell of the jungle. The cries of the Lorises and the bats, and the sounds of twigs getting trampled will always linger.

Hark, hark! The tree festival is around the corner

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Gulmohr tree in full bloom at Lal Bagh – May 2013

The first edition of Neralu, the Bengaluru Tree Festival, is all set to take place on the 8th and 9th of February. A brainchild of a team of avid tree lovers of the garden city, the festival is purely a citizen-donation-driven one and aims to create a green awakening in the city once famous for its green cover. Over the years, numerous trees around the city have been felled mercilessly to make way for development without giving a thought to the environment.

As Mother Nature cries silently, the tree festival with its various tree-related events and campaigns, hopes to some extent wipe her tears. In the pipeline are tree walks led by eminent naturalists, tree journalling and ID-ing workshops, film screenings, talks on trees, a painting exhibition featuring works of renowned tree artist Rumale Channabasavaiah, photo exhibitions, story-telling sessions, games and a Hug-a-Tree campaign. The events will be held at Bal Bhavan and Venkatappa Art Gallery both of which are at Cubbon Park, Bangalore’s famous lung space.

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A young tree lover at Lal Bagh

Why the name “Neralu”?

“Neralu” translates to shade in Kannada. A very apt name I should say because shade is the biggest gift that trees have given us. There is nothing like a walk down a tree-lined avenue. It has a therapeutic effect and is a stress-buster and not to forget the shade prevents us from getting roasted on a hot sunny day.

Check out more on Neralu at http://neralu.in/

Tree-lined roads are always a joy to behold!

Once upon a time, the roads of Bangalore were abundantly skirted with trees most notably the Jacaranda, Pride of India, Golden Shower, Gulmohr, and Raintrees. When these trees were in full bloom, the roads wore a lovely look. Sadly we very rarely get to see such sights these days. Let us hope, fests like Neralu stir the tree-loving passion in all the citizens. As one of the organisers puts it, “the aim of the festival, titled ‘Neralu’ (shade) is to bring Bangaloreans closer to the environment, especially trees, which were the true heritage of the City”.

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Flowers of the Pride of India tree.

Scary findings

These graphical depictions of the depletion of Bangalore’s green cover that went viral on Twitter are a stark reminder  to all Bangaloreans to put their act together and save our trees from the saws and more importantly plant more trees. Else we could be heading for an environmental catastrophe a la Uttarakhand.

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Image courtesy: Twitter

Now these are only findings from the year 1973 to 2006. Wonder how the graph would look like in 2014.

Go Bangalore go! Plant more trees. We need more of them!

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Great example to emulate for tree conservation: This mango tree at Lal Bagh was planted by Tipu Sultan.

Trivia
– Did you know, Halasuru in Bangalore, now more or less a concrete jungle was once a Jackfruit Garden. That’s why the name Halasuru. And Hulimavu was a mango and tamarind garden.

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– The Banyan tree is a variety of fig tree
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– The tamarind tree is known to withstand extreme levels of pollution.
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– The shallow roots of the Gul Mohr result in some of these trees falling during early monsoon.
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– Two fully grown trees supply enough oxygen a year to sustain a family of four
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– The more the trees around your house, the cooler will be your summer
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– The more the trees, the lesser the chances of soil erosion
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Childhood reminiscences

I grew up with a lot of trees around me. I was fortunate to have spent a major part of my life in the lap of nature. And I have a lot of sweet memories which I cherish. Here are some of them:

– When I was a child I loved climbing trees. A favourite tree of mine was a rain tree with wide and low drooping branches. I would often sit on a branch and watch the world go by.

– In front of my home was a large open space which would double up as a playground. One day, a neighbour of mine, an old man, planted a pipal sapling and went on to nurture it. As years went by, the sapling grew into a little tree. Around the same time, plans were afoot to build an apartment on the open space. We felt terribly sad because we were losing our playground. The only consolation was that when the construction finally started, the pipal tree was spared and the building was constructed around her.

– Right in front of my balcony was a huge tree; I don’t know which species she belonged to. On windy days, I would love standing on the balcony and listen to the rustle of the leaves.

– I once planted a chikoo tree in the backyard of one of my childhood homes but she never grew during the seven years that I stayed in that house. Years later when I visited the place, to my delight I realised that the little sapling that refused to grow when I was around had finally grown into a tree.

– There was a small curry-leaf tree in my garden. Someone told my mother that pouring curd around the tree will aid its growth. My mother decided to implement the idea. She would always hand over the duty of pouring the curd to my brother. But the curd would never reach its destination because no sooner would my brother make his way to the garden, Hema Malini, the adorable street dog would jump on my brother and lap up all the curd. Hema Malini loved curds.

– Badminton was a favourite childhood pastime. We would either play on the road or in the vast expanses of grass around our houses. A neighbour of mine, a great soul I should say, would always watch us play and offered us a net which was lying idle at his home. We would tie the net to two night-queen (Raat ki Rani) trees and enjoy our game of badminton.

– A plantain tree in my garden was home to a family of bats. It was a joy to see little baby bats hanging from the branches.

– It was a practice in the place where I stayed to hang an old boot or sandal on a branch of a tree to ward off evil eyes.

– A guava tree in our garden was a favourite with an old lady who worked nearby. In spite of her age, the lady was full of beans. She would gatecrash and perch on the tree like a bird and pluck as many guavas as she could.

– One of the trees that bordered the roads bore large round fruit with a glossy texture. These fruits were not edible. I would sometimes add facial features (read as eyes, nose and lips) to them with a ball-point pen.

Memorable tree quotes

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
– Martin Luther

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
– Warren Buffett

I was in my yard and thought that the tree was a living being. We take trees for granted. We don’t believe they are as much alive as we are.
– Ziggy Marley

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.
– Kahlil Gibran

The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.
– George Orwell

He that planteth a tree is a servant of God, he provideth a kindness for many generations, and faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.
–  Henry van Dyke

Why pay money for the horror movies? Just go to a street without trees!
– Mehmet Murat ildan

In a cool solitude of trees
Where leaves and birds a music spin,
Mind that was weary is at ease,
New rhythms in the soul begin.
– William Kean Seymour

A street without trees is a street only for the sick-minded people whose god is nothing but money!
-Mehmet Murat ildan