Bangalore Bytes – Lalbagh: A Walk in the Park!

Last Sunday morning found us in Lalbagh – Bangalore’s famous Botanical Garden, for a walk around the park organized by GE – Hubby’s current employer. In a mad scramble we managed to make it on time at 7 am, no mean feat in Bangalore, even on a Sunday. I don’t know what it is – but this is most certainly one of the busiest & most chaotic cities I have ever visited in terms of traffic – but I digress…

Our Guide – Mr. Vijay Kumar

It was a drizzly morning and chilly, but there were umbrellas to go around and backpacks full of munchies,  and leading us (a group of 18), was veteran Lalbagh guide and ‘guru’, Mr. Vijay Kumar. I had researched the walks online and knew that if there was anything to know about Lalbagh, then Mr. Kumar would know it and so was pretty excited at having him as our guide although my experience with guides in general, in India, has been to put it politely – awful 😛 Mr. Kumar is of course not your average guide! Aa soft-spoken gentleman, with a bamboo hat, a walking stick and impeccable English, he impressed us all with his wonderful commentary on the origins and history of Lalbagh and his in-depth knowledge of the 1800 odd species of plants that make their home here. His gentle humor and the many anecdotes he shared of his experiences over the years, made our own experience special and very informative. We were a mix of first-timers and repeat visitors and we were all agreed that his presence was what elevated our experience from just another ‘Walk in the Park’, to a true ’Nature Walk’ 🙂 The 3-hour walk didn’t seem long at all! I for one will definitely be doing it again! Also, the sumptuously decadent breakfast he arranged for us after the 3-hour long walk, at the original MTR restaurant a short distance away, is a strong motivator 😉

And now to the star of the show – Lalbagh! The Garden, today a sprawling 240 acres, was first commissioned in the mid-18th century by Hyder Ali & later expanded and improved first by his son Tipu Sultan and later by the British, for whom Mr. Kumar informed us, it was the most important garden in the Empire, second only to the Kew Gardens back home. 

The Bird of Paradise Flower! Ain't they pretty?
The Bird of Paradise Flower! Ain’t they pretty?

Mr. Kumar explained how Lalbagh is laid out mostly in straight lines, in the Mughal-style of the day, the straight lines representative of the shortest distance between God and his creation – Man! Cool! The garden has trees from all parts of the world – Australia, the Americas, Africa and even New Caledonia (a tiny island in the Pacific). There’s a tall pine named after Captain Cook that’s an astonishing 165 feet in height (Mr. Kumar shared with us how a group of school-bys he was chaperoning helped him measure it by using their shadows!), there are two massive silk-cotton trees whose trunks are as thick as a couple of elephants standing back-to-back and whose silky thread is  used in the manufacture of life-jackets and sleeping bags, there are several trees that are centuries old, a gorgeous rose garden (although we didn’t see it this time), and my favourite – an Elephant Apple tree – with fruit the size of small footballs! There’s also a Chinese Lantern Willow or some such (can’t recall the exact name, sorry :P), which was first introduced to the British when Catherine of Portugal married Charles II of England and brought it along in her dowry along with a smattering of 7 tiny islands in the Arabian Sea, that would go on to become the Bombay we know today! She was also the one that introduced ‘tea’ to the Brits apparently! Quite a woman that 😉

Silk Cotton Tree

Oh! And let’s not forget the giant prehistoric, 3-billion-year old rocky hillock that sits right at the main entrance to the park, crowned by one of the Kempe Gowda towers, now converted into the inevitable temple. The rock is one, if not ‘the’ oldest thing on the planet and is thought to be part of the original Gondwanaland – the rock mass that has given us Antartica, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, South America, The Arabian peninsula and the Indian subcontinent! Think about it – when you sit on that rocky surface, you’re sitting on something so ancient, it’s almost holy, if you get what I’m saying. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a beautiful sight to look at, but it’s reverential all the same 🙂

The Elephant Apple!
The Elephant Apple!

Also at the entrance is a ‘Virgal’ or ‘hero-stone’, a memorial (usually in the form of a carved stone tablet), to a hero martyred in battle and next to it an ancient stone Nandi (bull), with a hole in its back that probably held a carved stoned umbrella. So Lalbagh was at some point a battlefield! There is plenty to discover in these gardens and our walk was a mere scratch on a vast surface, but it has made me hungry for more information and I look forward to many more misty mornings spent wandering around lost in Nature’s beauty. There’s the rose garden, a Japanese garden, the aquarium, and the Lake to discover. There’s cricket to be played and birds to be sighted (saw scores of parrots and eagles and kites but wasn’t carrying the zoom 😦 ), and more trees to discover! One warning – slather yourself with mosquito repellent before you visit and dress to cover your limbs, coz Lalbagh can rightly also be called ‘The Planet of the Mosquitoes’!

Virgal-Nandi Collage

And so it was back home after one of the best mornings I’ve had in a long time and certainly by far the best morning I’ve had so far in Bangalore. We missed the famous flower-show Lalbagh hosts every year, but I think I prefer to visit sans the crowds and chaos – just a wonderful, peaceful walk in the park 🙂

Thank you to GE and Mr. Kumar for a wonderful experience 🙂


A Tree Story

We just lost another prized ‘Breadfruit‘ to garden thieves!! This is the second time in as many months & I’m so pissed off right now…I advise you to maintain a safe distance from your screens, lest the rage finds a way to travel across space & time and strangle you 😛

But seriously, thievery of any kind just gets my blood boiling. It violates personal space and leaves a stoic bitterness. It’s scary too – to know someone has been where they shouldn’t have, where they had no right to be. Intrusion is never a good thing. It’s worse when I know there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not like I have a hope catching whoever did it, and the only thing I can do, is ask the boy who waters our garden, whether he has any ideas. I suspect him, but I can’t accuse without proof can I? The feelings of helplessness do nothing to soothe the rage. Also of course, I happen to love breadfruit and so it’s personal on so many levels! Perhaps you think this is a lot of fuss over a few fruit…maybe you’re right. But I think not. It’s just one of so many things that seem determined to turn Life into an obstacle course right now. Also for reasons, I can’t really explain, I love our Tree 🙂 It’s like Family. You love them out of habit 😉

The Tree has a long, beloved history. In its first avatar, it came to us 31 years ago (It’s as old as this house is!), from my Dad’s native village, as a young sapling in a plastic bag. It was duly planted and revered and in 4-5 years, started giving us sweetly, spongy breadfruit, which we fried and cooked into vegetable curries. With time, our Tree became the beloved of many! Certainly, our entire family swore by the sweetness and flavor of the fruit, that we carried to them on our regular visits to Bombay, particularly during the ‘Elephant God’ Festival, which is peak season. Our now flourishing tree, was famous, for the quality and size of its fruit 🙂 Now, to be honest, as a kid, I had as much love for vegetables as the next kid…that is to say None! Things have changed now of course, and my love for the veggies has grown in proportion to my nausea of fish 😛 In those days, I never understood all the fuss about ‘some stupid vegetable’, which was large, round, heavy and a nightmare to carry in checked in baggage cause it looked like a giant green grenade on the security monitor! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to unpack for the security guys so they could make sure I wasn’t some terrorist on my way to plant a bomb somewhere. Honestly! Did the fact, that on seeing the fruit, they generally then burst into appreciative Oohs & Aahs help – uh, NO! But that was then.

The Fruit that was stolen!

About 10 years ago, the Tree grew so large, that it bent under it’s own weight. One side was leaning right into the first floor balconies of the Hospital next door! Something had to be done in order to avoid a neighbourhood feud, and so the branches were trimmed extensively, while we figured out what to do next. I remember it being a huge deal. There was talk about how the Tree would have to be killed or would die if it was uprooted and planted anew, I don’t remember exactly which. I do remember Mom being upset and in depth discussions on what was to be done next. The thought of losing the Tree was unbearable to Mom and indeed to the rest of the family. It had served us so long, so well and was practically one of the family! As is so often the case, Nature provides her own solutions 🙂 Great ones too…better than any we can think up ourselves, most of the time! Unbeknownst to us, Mother Tree had birthed a young sapling, which we discovered next to one of our Coconut Palms! She was obviously looking after her own future & just in time too! We planted the new sapling, where it still stands today, its large geometric leafy canopy making pretty shadows beneath. I love it. I cannot explain why exactly – I just do! It’s like a member of our family really and in its turn, continues to pamper us with high quality, sweet, spongy fruit that still travels to family in Bombay, much to their delight. Only these days, it does so in the boot of our car! Yeah – I’ve had enough of being mistaken for a terrorist! Not a particularly healthy way to live 😉

Our Tree

So you see, when some, a%^&*&#, loser, creeps in to the our garden and picks off a succulent breadfruit that was hanging alluringly at hand-plucking distance, I take it very personally indeed! Thankfully there are more fruit, way up among the higher branches safe from thieving hands but also from our loving ones! I hope whoever it was, meets his just ‘fruits’ (I know! Bad corny! Couldn’t resist!), and at the least suffers a terrible stomach upset!

Meanwhile, I’ve just spent 10 minutes gazing at the Tree and softly reassuring her that ‘All will be Well’. She didn’t whisper back (Oh that She would!), but her leaves rustled serenely, trustingly and I think she knows, we’ll both be OK. Who’d have thunk it? But that’s Tree wisdom for you…don’t fight the inevitable, accept what you cannot change, make the best with what you have and trust in Nature. She knows best and takes care of her own. Good things endure 🙂 Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Plant a Tree, People 🙂