If you’ve lived or live in Bangalore, you most certainly love the gardens and trees around you and the cool Bangalore clime. You detest the traffic, the cutting down of trees and the constructions happening around the city and you crib every single day about the rising temperature, increasing pollution, constructions, flyovers that have encroached in, on your personal space.
Joys or Woes!
Yet, Bangalore is Bangalore and fortunately (with great difficulty ) retains all that we, people from Bangalore love it for. Most importantly, it’s massive, sprawling trees which grow on either side of the road, their branches entwined to form one massive canopy over the road. After leaving Bangalore in 1992, I made a fleeting visit to the city in 1999 and then 2002, 2004 and then another one in 2006 , in 2010. Ever since that visit in 2010, my kids have wanted to visit the city every year so we go. I am not sure what it is is about Bangalore that they love – the small, ordinary juice shop in Jayanagar which is older than me, the hand-carts selling guavas dusted with salt and chilli powder, roasted corn-on-the cob, boiled peanuts or the shopping or the restaurants or the pace of Bangalore or just the fact that they wish to re-live their mom’s school-days here.
Follow the Trees as you travel through the city
It’s during the visit of 2010, that I actually looked; looked at Bangalore, from the eyes of a tourist and for the first time saw the trees independent of everything else that makes up the city. Getting out of the airport, the refreshing Bangalore breeze welcomes you (Bangalore enjoys a salubrious climate throughout the year). The distance to the hotel was 48 kms. approximately and it was to take us an hour and a half. Thanks to the traffic which has become a sore thumb in Bangalore in recent years, it took us 3 hours and it was frustrating (If you wish to enjoy Bangalore, it’s best to move around during the non-peak hours before 8.00 a.m. and then sometime before offices break for lunch and then after 8 p.m. when everyone’s back home); if not for the fact that I was simply excited to be back in the city. As I had made it my personal agenda to appreciate the lush green cover and I was on holiday, the chaotic traffic did not bother me. My younger daughter who was around 5 at that time actually remarked, “Is Bangalore a forest?”. That’s how Bangalore looks to someone who’s come from a place that is more brown than green.
As I pointed out the important landmarks to the children excitedly – Palace grounds where I went to college, Cubbon Park, the Parliament, The High Court, my school, the library I used to go to; for the first time, I noticed that the entire stretch had trees growing continuously along the road (except at cross roads or roundabouts). If you happen to visit Bangalore, pay attention to the trees. Without being agitated by the traffic or distracted by the colonial-styled buildings, in and around M.G. Road or anything else, focus on the continuity of the trees because of which Bangalore was once called the “Garden City of India”. I am not sure for how much longer though.
As my eyes followed the trees, I wondered how I had never noticed them before- the interlocking of branches or the continuous umbrella of shade they provided as I walked to and from school, a distance of around 2 k.m. I remembered enjoying the walk, but it never once occurred to me how blessed I was to have this luxurious cover of green over-head; which now seems to be fighting for survival in the midst of all the development that Bangalore is going through. Never having to worry about the sun being too hot or about the rains being too heavy, I, like most people in those times walked. I had somehow taken Bangalore’s flora and fauna for granted.
A little history about Bangalore’s Trees and why they are different
Unlike other cities in India which are also green, Bangalore’s trees don’t grow wild. They follow a structure, having been planted in an orderly manner. Invariably, I am reminded of History lessons at school, when we were taught how the Rulers in the seventeenth century were not only great but kind too and they ordered the planting of trees along the road to provide shade to tired travelers. Hyder Ali, the King of Mysore was one such ruler who initiated the planting of trees in Bangalore in the seventeenth century, when Bangalore was nothing but a forest. 400 years later, these trees are the city’s life-line keeping vehicular pollution under control and keeping the city alive.
The most common tree found in Bangalore is the Canopy tree or the Rain tree which, as it’s name suggests serves as a perfect canopy against the rain. Stretches of road are lined with these trees and you really can’t tell when one ends and the next begins if you are looking upwards. Leaving absolutely no gap between them, the branches of these gigantic trees spread across the road, interlocking with the branches of the tree on the other side, in an inseparable bond, providing shade from sun, rain and storm. Among the many other trees found in the city, also popular are the Gulmohar trees, whose flame-red flowers beautifully add color to the city and the Banyan trees, some of which are as old as the city itself.
Since 2010, I have made it my duty to focus on the trees during each visit, to see if there is a clearing, a patch of land that is devoid of them. Thankfully, while I do find the traffic becoming an increasing nuisance and the roads becoming narrower, the parks remain (every residential colony has a park), and the trees continue to stand strong and tall in the residential areas and alongside the roads. Seeing this I leave Bangalore content. However this year, as I traveled to the airport to leave, I noticed with great sadness, certain areas such as the Technology Park and Industrial area which showed signs of a new Bangalore, a Bangalore that was losing it’s green. An entire stretch of land had just buildings as far as the eye could see.
A Wake-Up Call
When I started writing this blog, it was only to talk of my love for the trees that I had got accustomed to living with but which I had not really paid much attention to and while I could see the growth in traffic, new roads, new constructions , I was happy that these trees that I walked under as a girl, remained. I believed in what met the eye. Ignorance is bliss and I had been blissful all these years. It was only as I googled for pictures to put on this blog to help readers’ appreciate Bangalore’s beauty in case my writing fell short, I was in for a shock and stumbled upon some bitter truths. At the end of it though I was thankful to all those people and groups who are fighting to keep the city green. The efforts of these individuals is worthy of praise. I have put below excerpts of news articles that show how grave the issue is.
Only three can be saved
“Of the poisoned trees, just three can be saved,” said Vijay Nishanth, a tree conservationist who had filed a complaint with the BBMP. “This is insane… and just for a hoarding. On Friday, we will start the process of trying to save the three trees.”
Jayamahal Tree Felling Illegal, in Contempt of Court
The Bitter Truth
The reality is far from what the eyes can see. Bad administration, poor planning of the city in late nineties, the increase in population as Bangalore became a I.T. hub and personal greed of construction giants have taken a toll on Bangalore. During a month’s holidays, I traveled through Kerala, Goa, Mangalore, Bangalore and Mumbai (all on the western coast of India). While every other place was blessed with rainfall, Bangalore received minimum showers. Given that Bangalore does not get much rain, the city will die if it loses it’s trees. To think, these trees grow on their own with little or no man-made intervention and they are so essential to our existence, it’s strange that today, people need to fight for their existence. With all the awareness of Global Warming, “Go Green campaigns”, let alone, planting new trees, few institutions are destroying the existing.
As I surfed the net, I found things were not as hunky-dory as they appeared. Bangalore Mirror (a local paper) carried news that some trees had been poisoned so that they die naturally, trees had been cut overnight without approvals, policies had changed so that people could cut certain varieties of trees such as the canopy tree, coconut tree growing in their property without approvals etc. Research scientists at Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science have pointed out that Bangalore has lost 78% of it’s vegetation since 1970!
A study conducted by Prof TV Ramachandra and Dr Bharath H Aithal of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) predicts that Bengaluru will become a dead city in five years. Unplanned growth will make the city unlivable, the study said. The study bases its prediction on the following findings: There has been a 525 percent growth in built-up area in the last four decades, 78 percent decline in vegetation, and 79 percent decline in water bodies.
Environmental Groups who are doing all they can to save the trees
Thanks to public awareness and a deep-rooted love for the city that Bangaloreans have, individuals, groups and some companies are making it their personal goals, to plant new trees, to trans-locate and re-plant uprooted trees either in the form of groups or individually . Businesses have also come under pressure to ensure they make environment, a part of their social responsibility. Through this write-up I’d like to laud the efforts of all such groups due to whom Bangalore still looks green to somebody who visits it once a year.
SayTrees is a professionally run group of ordinary people extraordinarily determined to protect the environment not just by themselves, but also by sensitising others towards the importance of environment conservation and goading them on to participate in tree-plantation campaigns. The group consists of passionate nature lovers, who juggle corporate jobs during the week with their love for trees over the weekends. Though it started off as a weekend pursuit in 2007 now it does more than 50 tree plantation drives in 4 months of monsoon. SayTrees spearheads a variety of initiatives including research, education, sensitisation and advocacy around the importance of environmental preservation and tree plantation.
A call to all those who love the city but stay elsewhere now-Don’t crib. Take Responsibility!
Excerpt from the Archives
This is what people power can do. Voices of thousands of Bangaloreans like you who took to the streets, to social media, to television and to the courts forced the Government to listen. However many of Bengaluru’s trees are still at risk. Bangaloreans have come together and saved more than 800 trees from this steel flyover, but we need to ensure that this momentum shifts focus to hundreds of trees at risk around the city for eg: along Jayamahal Road and Palace Grounds area. We want the Government to consider all alternatives before proposing felling of trees. Your continued support is going to be vital.