What I had expected from DK's Nature Walk held on May 22, World Biodiversity Day, at Shanti Van was a pleasant but informative walk among the trees of Delhi. What it turned out to be was an experience much more valuable than that. I gained a new perspective on the trees that are a very integral part of our city, but in our psyche, they often don't amount to more than mere decorative elements in the urban landscape.
Of course, that's a world away from how Pradip Krishen looks at trees. Author of the highly-acclaimed Trees of Delhi, for him, trees are his world. He gave up a career as a filmmaker to teach himself about different kinds of trees and to me seems to have, over the years, come to know individual trees that inhabit the capital city. He is also well practiced at conducting walks through Delhi, usually in the â€˜ridge' areas in and around Delhi.
It was quite something to be introduced to trees like they were old friends. It felt like we were engaging in a conversation with them. Suddenly, they were no more the friendly strangers that we see everyday but know nothing about. They have a name and a story and now we know them, too.
What I gained was a deeper understanding of how much our city landscapes are crafted to look a certain way, often by people who have as little understanding of the origin and biology of different species of trees as we do. The Central Public Works Department that planned the Shanti Van planted species that are largely non-native to Delhi and hence, poorly adapted to its climate.
As Pradip Krishen explained, the trees that are native or most adaptable to Delhi are deciduous trees that follow the seasonal patterns of its climate. Their standard cycle is to flower, grow fruits, drop their seeds usually in time for monsoon, and then shed their leaves when the weather gets too dry. But the trees that the city developers prefer to plant are evergreen trees. The objective is an aesthetic one – the city should never lose its luscious, leafy verdure.
The ashoka, silver oak, and shisham are all familiar to us, but they are evergreen trees non-native to Delhi. These evergreens have very often been transported from a completely different part of the world. The silver oak, for instance, is originally an Aussie! Krishen is a strong believer in preserving the natural ecology of a place and prefers native, indigenous species. This belief explains why he calls himself an â€˜ecological gardener'. The amaltas, pilkan, and mahua are deciduous trees that are able to flourish and bloom in Delhi's climate without any assistance.
The walk took a slightly rocky twist when Krishen stopped near what looked like a rock carved with a pretty pattern. Turns out, the rock was probably a few million years old and created from fossils of small animals on a seabed somewhere. The area around Indira Gandhi's memorial has many such prehistoric specimens transported from different parts of the country. It is a pity though there is nothing to tell us of their significance. To most of the morning-walking public, they're just curiously fashioned places to rest!
By the time we were done with DK's Nature Walk the sun was glaring down upon us and a long day at work still awaited us. But I think I can speak for everyone there–the walk was fun and informative. Most of all, it reminded us of the childlike wonder, curiosity, and excitement that is so often missing from our mundane, adult lives. It brought me to the realization that we are always surrounded by wonder. It's for us to open our eyes and see it.