Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Walk to Remember

Saturday morning:

6AM: Alarm *R-I-N-G-S* Screen blinks 'Snooze (5mins)/ Dismiss'.

I am so very tempted to click 'Dismiss' and roll under my duvet to resume my interrupted dream. But something nags from within; tells me that it is not work you are going to, but a botanical garden you had been planning to visit since long; tells me that the early-morn fresh air would do the-lazy-you some good; moreover, you wake at this hour every work-day, so don't give half-baked excuses.... 'Oh shut up, crazy-head; and fine, I am waking up!' and with this, I dismissed my alarm and crawled out of bed.

7AM: As directed, I am at the Double-Road Gate of Lalbagh Botanical Garden. This is the second time I am entering the garden (in seven years, mind you!); this place is considered to be an important part of Bangalore's heritage, tourist-frequented and just 4kms from my house. Still, second time it is.

In fact, the first time I went to Lalbagh was a forced visit in company of my uncle who booked my ticket at a Bangalore Tour Agency for a day-tour and I glanced around the Garden without much thought (the 2PM sun can kill anyone's thoughts anyway!). I wanted to visit the Garden again, yes, to do justice to it but I never could find the time or company.

The 'Rock'
Then, like we all stumble on the Internet, I came across a group that engages in walks in different parts of the city. And one such walk happened to be in Lalbagh Gardens every weekend. Perfecto! So, I e-mailed them and they answered me promptly with the details and here I was, walking through the tunnel of pink bougainvillas towards the Rock (the hillock) where I was suppose to meet the rest of the group.

It wasn't difficult spotting them; theirs was the only group with flyers and was a motley group of sorts. I mean, why would a respectable looking elderly Punjabi couple, a Asian backpacker, three girls with sweat pants on and an elderly man donning a cowboy hat be standing together at 7AM unless you provide me a better explanation?!

Mr. Vijay (cow-boy hat included)
Anyway, the man wearing the cowboy hat, was rightly assumed as Mr. Vijay, our guide for the day, and I introduced myself. While we waited for the other walkers to join us, he explained a brief history of the monolithic rock at whose foothills we stood, touching on Volcanic eruptions, Continental Drift and Tipu-Sultan in the same paragraph (you can read more on this here) Mr. Vijay was passionate, he got the group listening attentively to him and soon afterwards, there joined us a Dutch guy with his travelling uncle and aunt and three other guys, one of them turning out to be related by 3rd degree in a friends' circle (sigh! small world).

I had the notion that this walk would be a fast-paced walk since Lalbagh is quite huge; but it turned out to be a slow walk concentrating on one part of Lalbagh; which is favourable, especially when Mr. Vijay is talking about these interesting facts about plants and their history, of warrior tombs and Mughal gardens. I couldn't have walked, panted, listened, understood and thought in the same breath.

It was fun to hear our Mr. Vijay speak. I found his way of speaking inimitably interesting. It went something like:

"You think this tree is Indian?", he points to a tamarind tree and asks the group. We nod vigorously. Dude! South Indians use tamarind everyday, and we are sure it's been in their cuisine for ages. Mr. Vijay smiles and tells us "Tamarind actually was brought in from the Middle-east." We are big-eyed, and he explains on the route and how it came to India and finally says "The tree, however, is so associated with India that it is called tamarind, meaning Tamr-hind; Tamr meant date in Arabic, so it essentially translates into 'dates of India'". And we smile at his simplistic style of explaining... that's Mr. Vijay for you!

The Strangling Fig
He began the same way on the blooming Bougaenvillas, the cyprus trees, eucalyptus, and many plants which I thought was Indian in a way that the species was found in India and were transported to other parts of the world. Well, it turns out, it's the other way round.

And the only tree which when pointed at and asked "You think this tree is Indian?" and the answer (finally!) was a correct yes was the Banyan tree, which is a variety of the Fig tree (another fact I picked up from Mr. Vijay!). In a quick span of time, he showed us different varieties of Banyan trees. He also explained the strangling nature of a Banyan and showed us a live example and how and why it may happen. He showed us Banyan trees with weird, beautiful leaves, ones with pouches in their leaves. My favourite Banyan tree of all was the one that according to Mr. Vijay looks like a Salvador Dali painting!

Salvador Dali' in nature
Flowering Trunk
Besides these, he showed us trees that flower directly from the trunks and has something called candle-sticks (green beans, I say) and trees whose leaves can be boiled to give a tea-like flavour. He showed us the tallest tree in Lalbagh and how he, along with a troop of school boys, measured it. And he showed us photographs of the leaves on which ancient scriptures were inscribed, showing us the live tree and explaining us the process. Mr. Vijay was a walking encyclopedia on trees, so it came as a surprise that he was no botanist but a person passionate about trees. Simple.

Halfway through the walk, we rested under the Salvador Dali tree and he gave us pouch-packs of either Mango Juice or Spiced Buttermilk to fuel ourselves.

Blooming Amherstia 
By the way, the tree that fascinated me the most was the flowering-tree, Amherstia nobilis  also known as the Pride of Burma. The (clever!) discoverer who found this tree in the Burmese forests named it after a royal member, Lady Amherst, and hence, appropriately received promotion in rank. It seems, so uncommon is this tree's sighting in the wild that during the last century, it was seen only twice in the Burmese forests. Anyhow, this tree had found its way to Bangalore's Lalbagh and to our luck! It was in bloom! Red, like a chandelier, orchids bloomed out of the tips of the branches. It was such a beautiful sight! I picked up one of the fallen flowers and later on, pasted it on a diary I presented to my mom who is an avid gardener; I thought it was a nice touch since she loves flowers.

Anyway, the tour ended with a breakfast at MTR. At around 10:30AM, we were out of Lalbagh and walking towards MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room), another of Bangalore's heritage. However, I was on a mission to watch The Hobbit at IMAX and not willing to miss my first IMAX experience, I quickly said my goodbyes but not before I heard the entire breakfast menu which had from Kesari Bath, the famous Grape Juice to Dosas, Idlis, Dessert, and the ever-craving filter coffee... What I gave up for IMAX!!! Gotta come here once more!

By the way, this tour (inclusive of that fabulous-sounding breakfast) costs Rs. 500. And.... if you join the walk for a second time, it's Rs. 350. And... and.... wait for it.....!.... for the third time, it's FREE!... just pay your breakfast bill!

That, in my opinion, is an awesome deal and one I am willing to avail. Thank goodness, I did not turn my back on my alarm, I had a wonderful morning, a first insight in the world of trees, met a passionate man and gained so much more than I ever thought!

I totally recommend this tour to anyone who visits Bangalore. It is too rich and fulfilling an experience.

Our group of walkers

And you thought only Kangaroos have pouches
For details on this walk and various other walks, visit Bangalore Walk's official website

By and by, I visited the bi-annual Lalbagh Flower Show this weekend and shall update photos soon :)

Lalbagh on a crispy December morning

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