Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Banyans of Manasagangothri – Personal Photo Album Part 8

Trees are the Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.
 Rabindranath Tagore, Fireflies, 1928

The University of Mysore is one of the oldest and best known universities in the country.  Its present headquarters and post-graduate centre, named Manasagangothri by the famous Kannada poet and former vice-chancellor of the university, popularly known as Kuvempu, is located in a sprawling 740 acre campus created in 1960 in Mysore.  The large scenic Kukkarahalli Lake separates the university administrative building known as Crawford Hall from the much larger post-graduate centre housing most of the university departments to its East.  The campus is the centerpiece of several educational complexes in the city, including the Regional Institute of Education which I served for 36 years before retiring in the year 2000.  The campus, dotted with departmental buildings and served by public thoroughfares, is liberally sprinkled with open spaces and rich patches of vegetation, not all of which are well maintained.  For me, the most impressive aspect of the campus is the presence of spectacular banyan trees at numerous locations.  In this photo album, I present a selection of my photographs of the great trees, marking out the location of each on appropriate Google maps of the campus.  I hope any visitor to the campus will identify them and look at them in their pristine glory with the kind of awe, wonder and reverence that they deserve.

Before I unfold my album, a few words about trees in general and banyans in particular may be in order.

Though trees account for the majority of the Earth's biomass, their crucial importance for the very existence and diversity of life on Earth is not fully appreciated.  The biosphere is dependent on the metabolism, death, and recycling of plants, especially trees. The vast trunks and root systems of the trees absorb carbon dioxide, recycle water, and generate oxygen which is released into the atmosphere. The organic matter of the soil is formed primarily from decayed leaves, twigs, branches, roots, and fallen trees, all of which recycle nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and other important nutrients.  There are few organisms as important as trees for sustaining the Earth's ecosystem.  They are among the most valuable and indispensable assets of our planet.  The mindless felling of trees resorted to in the name of ‘development’ should be regarded as a crime against humanity.

The banyan tree (Ficus indica or Ficus benghalensis), very widely found in the country, is of the Fig genus in the mulberry family (Moraceae) native to tropical Asia.  It is remarkable for numerous aerial roots that grow down from the branches and take root in the soil, forming prop roots or secondary trunks.  They form a bewildering variety of shapes, structures and sizes, stretching out in different directions without any noticeable pattern.  In this manner the trees spread out laterally over a wide and indefinite area; they also grow to considerable heights.  Some trees grow large enough to provide shade and shelter to hundreds of people under their canopy.  In course of time a tree may assume the appearance of a very dense thicket as a result of the tangle of roots and trunks spread irregularly all around. As the tree ages, the original trunk decays, and the tree breaks up into several sections, the props becoming separate trunks for the different sections.  Most of the banyans in Manasagangothri campus have not reached this stage and appear to be relatively young and no less impressive for this reason.

I would like to take the reader on a long walking tour of the university campus pointing out the pictures of the banyan trees in this album, starting northward from the Radhakrishnan avenue just beyond the university guest house.  Our first stop is at the Mathematics department, punctuated by the first of the majestic trees in my album.

[As with all my previous photo albums, any picture can be enlarged to its full size by clicking on it and opening it in a separate web page.  Almost all the photographs are presented in high resolution, typically 12 MP.  For easy identification of the location of the trees, the photos are numbered in sequence and the corresponding number shown in an appropriate Google map]

Next, move westward along the road till you reach the Physics department at the end of the road.  The tree captured very early in the morning is just opposite the entrance to the building.

Just across the tree on the other side of the road lies a splendidly isolated small region of dense vegetation where one can lose oneself in quiet contemplation of nature without having to go too far away from the madding crowd of the city.

The next photograph captures a spectacular group of banyans lying between the Physics and Chemistry buildings.  The place leaves the viewer with an eerie feeling, unsure of his surroundings.

A gigantic tree lying behind the nearby Chemistry building in splendid isolation is shown in the next picture.  You can form an idea of its size when you look at the building behind it.

A short distance northward is our next tree, lying in a corner behind the Botany/Zoology building.  If anyone thinks that banyans don’t have a sense of geometry, the branch on the left, jutting out at a near perfect right angle to the trunk, provides a rare exception.

Walk westward and look at the two trees in front of the university canteen building.  The larger of the two trees is captured in all its fullness and glory in the next picture.  I couldn’t avoid the (stationary) car; perhaps it serves to put the scene in the right perspective.

I was so fascinated by the tree in the last picture that I shot it from about a dozen different angles, including one quite close up.  Here is the zoomed in view, highlighting the intricate division, patterns and structure of the large trunk and the roots.

The next picture presents a panoramic view of part of the previous tree and one of its long horizontal branches against the background of a thicket of banyans on the other side of the road.

A close up of the thicket of banyans referred to previously is shown in the next picture.  The largest and most impressive tree in this thicket is the one at the corner of the road close to the large building which continues to be called the ‘Senate Hall’ though the university doesn’t have a senate anymore.

For easy identification, the locations of the trees appearing in the nine pictures shown so far, as well as another (number 20) described at the end, are indicated by the corresponding picture numbers in the Google map given below:

The Karnataka State Open University (KSOU) located to the north of the PG centre was originally part of the University of Mysore campus and has a number of spectacular banyan trees in front of its main building.  The following picture gives a view of the main road leading from the Mysore University campus to the north of the oval housing the ‘Senate Hall’.  All the photographs of this album relate to the trees on either side of this road.

The superbly elegant tree with a well maintained garden in the foreground of the following picture is to be seen just opposite to the main entrance of KSOU.

The next picture presents a rather sad story.  I had taken the picture of the marvelous tree shown here some years ago, but it no longer exists!  In its place lie the possible remnants of a tree almost totally destroyed, presenting a sorry picture (not shown here).  I have no idea when, how and why this happened.  Quite possibly it died of natural causes as evidenced by the poor condition of the existing vegetation in its immediate neighborhood.

Look at the placard placed on the trunk of the gigantic tree shown in the next photograph.  You can easily read it by blowing it up to its full size. It says; “HERITAGE TREE–2; FICUS RELIGIOSA; PEEPAL; MORACEAE”.  The older version of the Google map for the university region prominently identifies it as “The Great Banyan Tree”.  In fact it is not a banyan tree at all, but a variant of it called peepal which is also as widely found in the country as the banyan itself.  It appears that this particular peepal tree in the university campus takes the second rank among a list of heritage trees identified in the city and its neighborhood.

Again for easy identification, the locations of the trees appearing in the pictures numbered 10 to 13 are indicated by the corresponding picture numbers in the Google map given below.  You have to travel a fair distance if you want to reach this one near the Biochemistry department from the KSOU campus.

The next tree in my list can be reached in either of two ways.  One can walk into the Academic Staff College campus close to the university guest house and look for it on the edge of the Kukkarahalli lake.   Alternatively, one can walk along the eastern side of the lake bund and reach the back of the college building. This tree is the biggest in the neighborhood and dwarfs the college building by a long shot.

The rest of the trees in this album are all to be found at the south-western edge of the Kukkarahalli lake.  The spectacular banyans in the next four photographs lie very close to each other and can be easily reached from a pedestrian entrance located close to the railway gate behind the Crawford Hall.  It leads the visitor to the lake through a dense thicket of trees that include the ones shown here.  The place is frequented by tourists and locals, including those who take a long morning walk all around the lake, a distance of about 4 km.

The great cluster of trees in the next picture lies inside the compound of the state government school textbooks distribution centre which is not part of the Mysore University campus.  It lies very close to the trees seen in the last four photographs and I have included it because of a special fascination I have for it.  I hope the readers will overlook this transgression.

As before, the locations of the last six photographs are indicated on the following Google map for easy identification.  Regrettably, I have not explored the large area of wilderness seen in the map adjoining the lake.


When I had nearly finalized this blog post, my constant and indefatigable companion Chiranjeevi excitedly discovered that I had missed out on one other great banyan tree in the Manasagangothri campus and pleaded that my account would be seriously deficient if I left it out.  Camera in hand, I went with him to the Sericulture department opposite the Botany/Zoology department where, sure enough, he showed me the tree captured by me belatedly in the following photograph. In full agreement with him, I am presenting it as an appendix and showing it as picture number 20 in my first map.   I had missed it out earlier apparently because it was hidden rather inconspicuously behind some rich vegetation lining the road side.  Its spectacular appearance has been somewhat marred by a rubber tyre sticking out of a branch at the top right.  I wonder how and why it got there.  It is certainly some mindless human handiwork.  Nevertheless the tree is a great sight and richly deserves to be part of the album.


A V G Rao said...

Very interesting, because of Photos.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good work. Interesting and valuable.