More often, we experience a city and its heritage intently as its tourists, rather than its residents.Bangalore is dubbed as ‘Garden city of India’ but many Bangaloreans (like me) have no clue how and why it earned this title. Our new year resolutions lists are more about checking out New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park than exploring parks and greenery of Bangalore. Having moved to Bangalore about a year ago, we always aspired to visit and know more about Bangalore’s parks but most of 2015 was spent exploring places around Bangalore rather than the city itself. New year resolutions are about breaking old habits and forming new. And on the first Sunday of 2016, we joined Mr.Vijay Thiruvady on the Green Heritage walk he leads at Lalbagh Gardens.
We discovered this gem after reading an article on National Geographic India about Bangalore Walks. My wife’s immediate question – ‘How is it that we don’t know much about these walks?’ We quickly googled about heritage walks in Bangalore and stumbled upon Vijay’s website BangaloreWalks.There are other ventures such as Unhurried but we zeroed in on Vijay’s Green Heritage Walk due to special MTR breakfast promised at the end of walk.
The Green Heritage Walk begins at 7 am at the Big rock right at the Double Gate entrance of Lalbagh. The walk is around three hours long where we strolled in the Lalbagh Gardens in the company of 20 strangers. It is quintessential morning walk which not only rejuvenates your body but also opens your mind about Bangalore’s rich green heritage. Vijay is extremely knowledgeable about biodiversity of the gardens and also knows Bangalore heritage better than most of us. He has a unique style of striking conversation with diverse group (age, gender, background) and that’s what pulls you to join again – there were quite a few repeat members in our group.
Standing right behind the big rock, Vijay explained the history of this rock which is designated a National Geological Monument. It is one of the oldest rock formations in the world. Composed of granite gneiss, it is about 3 billion years old formed by volcanic eruptions! Atop the hill is a 16th century four-pillared Mandapam structure created by Kempegowda to whom we Bangaloreans owe a lot for its development.
As we made our way to the interiors of the garden, we were immersed in the stories of trees and their patrons – Western botanists and local kings whose efforts led to Bangalore getting its green cover. Interestingly, Bangalore does not have green cover indigenously (almost 80% of tree cover in the city is not indigenous) and this is evident once we visit the rocky outskirts of the city – which is mostly barren. Hyder Ali of Mysore created Lalbagh gardens in the 18th century by Hyder Ali which began Bangalore’s love affair with gardens. The rose and cypress gardens started by Hyder Ali were enriched by his son Tipu Sultan’s efforts who patronized botanists to plant trees brought from lands afar – Africas to East Asia, even South Americas! Amongst subsequent patrons (British East India Company and Maharaja of Mysore), Lalbagh gardens bloomed with the efforts of James Cameron, who built the Glass House (modelled after the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park), and Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel, a German botanist who redesigned the architecture of the gardens.
Every tree has a story to be told and if the storyteller is as interesting as Vijay, then all you have to just keep your senses open and get mesmerized in this green world. I think Lalbaug’s treasure cannot be understood in three hours but we managed to know about few of its gems. The red palash trees which adorn many boulevards of the city are originally from South-East Asia but now in plenty in India. In fact they lend their name to the historic town of Palashi (Battle of Plassey). A particular pine variety from Australia is claimed to the originator of Christmas trees all over India. The garden has multitude of varieties of juniper, exotic palms from Caribbean, fig trees from Java and ficus (Banyan, Peepal) which are also now seen across the old city of Bangalore and have medicinal, cultural and religious importance. Trees are intertwined with Indian culture and religion (be it Banyan tree for Hindus or Bodhi tree for Buddhists). It is unfortunate that most of us in the group were not able to identify these trees which we know from the lores and this walk at least helped us to connect our lores with the actual species of trees.
The walk ended with breakfast at Mavalli Tiffin Restaurant (MTR) with its signature Rawa Idli, Masala Dosa and specially requested filter coffee in silver mug! We were also served with its special dessert Chandrahar. A perfect ending to an enriching morning. Once you understand city’s heritage, you start develop connections with it. As Bangaloreans, our actions will shape the future of this city and it is upon us to conserve its rich heritage. Let’s take the first step – let’s first understand its green heritage!