Before I get into this I must say that I was quite disappointed with Blue Whistling Thrush, accentuated by my experience with whistling music of Malabar Whistling Thrush for over a year in Western Ghats. Malabar Whistling Thrush was such an exhilarating presence that defined my mornings, of all the birdcalls this one is right there on the top. Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus) in comparison falls short, a rather large bird he lacks the fine tuning sweetness in the call, that made Malabar specie so very endearing.
Sometimes we can sing
like a whistling thrush
And sing all day long
And fly back home
When it is time to go
Till then we can sing
All day long
Five Heritage trees of Mysore
This 260 year old Banyan tree at T.Narsipur road is a spectacular sight. What is interesting about this Banyan tree is that its aerial roots are clustered in the centre, unlike other Banyan trees where the aerial roots tend to spread and so the tree moves horizontally like using stilts. Some of the awe inspiring old banyan trees I have seen are, of course starts with the one at Alipur (in Kolkota), incidentally the botanical name Ficus bengalensis originates from this one. Then there is one at Theosophical society in Chennai, at Rishi Valley school Chitoor AP, Dodda Alada mara in the outskirt of Bangalore, Ramohalli on the way to Mysore…
Which was the wood,
Which the tree from which
They (the Gods) shaped
Heaven and earth?
There are about 750 species of Ficus, India has about 115 of it. Ficus don’t produce flowers but figs which are pollinated by tiny wasps, an 80 million year coevolution.
The second tree is also a Ficus, Ficus Religiosa -the 160 year old Peepal tree at Manasa Gangotri. Peepal is also referred to as Bodhi tree as Budha got enlightenment under this tree hence ‘religiosa’, also sacred to Hindus. This one is truly spectacular, probably one of the grandest Peepal tree I have seen so far.
The third one is also at Manas Gangotri, in the nursery (must add quite difficult to locate this one) is the 300 year old Tamarind tree: Tamarindus indica. The tree is in a sad state, hit by lightening and general decay. Not many may be aware that Tamarind originated in central Africa. Dakar, the capital of Senegal means tamarind in Senegalese. Incidentally world’s largest auctioning centre for tamarind is in Chintamani AP. There is a rather famous Tamarind tree, in Gwalior, at the tomb of singer Tansen. It is believed that if you eat the leaves of this tree you will have voice as melodious as Tansen’s, so you will find many wanna be singers munching away to glory!!
The fourth tree is the majestic Silk Cotton tree: Bombax ceiba, right in the middle of the city, behind the city bus stand, planted by Curzon about 100 years back, therefore Curzon Park. Its trunk gives a faint recollection of Baobab. In the month of March this common avenue tree (particularly in Delhi) blooms and is in riot of five petal red, there is a huge one at the entrance lawn of Teen murthi bhavan. Bombax cieba flowering is also the pattern for Rosy Starling migration.
The fifth one is the ubiquitous Neem tree: Azadirachta indica, this one at Crawford hall reckoned to be more than 100 years old. There is a neem tree at shirdi under which Saibaba sought refuge and gained repute as a healer.
Most part of neem are of value and has been ingredient of traditional medicines and insect repellant, therefore venerated and considered a divine tree, it was carried to Fiji, Mauritius etc by Indian immigrants. Only few decades back the day began for most Indians with a tooth brush by neem twig!!
There are walks conducted in many parts of the world, some to do with heritage, nature so on. Walks specifically designed to know about trees is not very common, indeed quite unique in many ways. I have been quite fortunate to have attended two walks conducted by maestros in the field.
Pradip Krishen at Delhi ridge of Aravalli range, Raisina hills
This happens to be predominantly Acacia forest just behind the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Pradip krishen comes with a huge reputation, having authored what is arguably a seminal book on trees Trees of Delhi (recently I got a mail on his second book, Jungle Trees of Central India is out). I had met him at Narmada Valley in 1998, I used to be with group of young journalists during those long walks. Words began to do the round that Pradip Krishen has lost it ‘the guy talks only about trees’, avoid him. I recall quite distinctly we had sat for lunch at one of the huts, and he pointed to a tree and started talking. We had good laugh in the sidelines. Much water has flown through Narmada (and the dams), I have become wiser and realize the guy was a valuable presence. So here we were a motley group waiting for Mister Pradip Krishen to turn up, our man was late. That should have given the inkling of things to come. He emerged from his vehicle with a scowl and three dogs. So began our ordeal, he did speak about few trees but was mostly laconic and withdrawn, and had to be prodded constantly, some of the ladies did amazing job of it (being over the top delhiite works sometimes, this surely was the occasion!!). Mr. Krishen was curt, and after few mishaps with the ladies said something to the effect “you must have read that in my book” meaning “you philistine don’t ask too many questions”. He was back in the cuddly world of his dogs, tired one lady even suggested that she can hold his dogs from him “for godsake”; our man was not easily to be parted. So we gave up and formed sub groups and carried our little walks and private anguish.
Pradip Krishen is a perceptive writer (also an award winning film maker), and the book is a must have. I would rate it as one of the top ten Indian books of last few decades in all genres put together. But as a Nature walker, he is eminently unsuitable. He gave the impression of a snob who had come for a walk with his dogs and we are intruding into his privacy! To know that we paid for it, made us feel cheated. Please avoid, it is a waste of time and money.
Vijay Thiruvady at Lal Bagh, Bangalore
Like Pradeep Krishen, Vijay Thiruvady is an alumnus of St. Stephens (Delhi). Mr. Thiruvady has been conducting tree walks in and around Lal Bagh for many years now, with passion and enthusiasm intact, if not amplified. He too has written a book on trees Heritage Trees (of Bangalore), credited to Pradeep Krishen in no less way. Talking of books on trees, Forest trees of the Western Ghats by SG.Neginhal is another book of repute.
Mr. Thiruvady is immensely knowledgeable, interactive and having travelled across the globe, he is able to regale his audience with useful anecdotes and information. I have gone for tree walk with him more than few times (they have made it free for me!!), everytime there is something new to learn and observe. His walks are rated as top ten walks around the world by reputed chroniclers, finds mention in Lonely Planet guides so on. His walks are carefully planned and executed with finesse, he impresses me every time. The latest one, the other day, was about fruiting Calabash tree and how it was used as a currency in Haiti. Gourde is still the currency of Haiti, though it refers to coins not the actual calabash gourd!! I was aware about gourd shell being used as musical instruments but as a currency was interesting indeed. The walk ends in a breakfast at MTR, and useful information about how rava idli –the signature dish of MTR, was started during the Second world war, as there was shortage of rice. MTR on Sunday morning is like Kumbh mela in Benaras, but for tree walkers space is reserved, that in itself is not a minor achievement! Overall tree walks by Mr. Thiruvady is an agreeable experience and strongly suggested if you are in Bangalore on weekends (you may also visit their website http://www.bangalorewalks.com for details)
I have learned many things from Thiruvady walks and tried to work it out in my Nature walks (I have taken out few hundred people so far), while Pradeep Krishen’s book is a treasure. When birders go for a walk they talk only about birds and miss the trees and insects, while tree walkers don’t see the birds at all!! So it is important that you keep changing the groups and terrain.
Few lines from the poem The Sounds of the Trees by Robert Frost
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.