My post on the great banyan trees in the Mysore University campus in Manasagangothri a year ago [see: Post 25 (May 2011)], drew enthusiastic attention from many netizens of Mysore, including some who actually performed the walking tour of the campus suggested therein. I had stated that the great tree shown in picture 13 ‘takes the second rank among a list of heritage trees identified in the city and its neighborhood’. Many people wanted to know which was the one ranked first, though obviously it was not part of the university campus. The answer is provided in this sequel to my earlier post. But, before doing so, I want to delve into some very unpleasant and disturbing developments for nature lovers taking place in the campuses of Manasagangothri and the neighboring Karnataka State Open University (KSOU).
One reason for the salubrious environment of the Mysore University Manasagangothri campus has been the rich vegetation and greenery, interspersed with large open spaces, including the banyan trees I have alluded to. Several locations are distinctive for their dense formations of trees that had grown unfettered by human activity ever since the campus was created. Perhaps the best such formation had come up in the northeast part of the campus, adjoining the Mysore-Hunsur highway, opposite the KSOU. It was quite a dense formation with no pathways inside where one felt like being surrounded by a cozy little forest. Now most of it has been reduced to rubble in the name of campus development, with a number of ugly buildings under construction, thoroughly destroying the beauty of the place. The following pair of pictures of a portion of the same place, the first one taken eight years ago and the second just a fortnight ago, tell their own story. Why this kolaveri ji…? Surely there were other less environmentally damaging places within the sprawling university campus for such constructions without having to destroy so much of pristine nature.
[As in my previous albums, all pictures are in high resolution and can be blown up to their full size by clicking on a picture and opening it in a separate window]
Also uprooted mercilessly is a row of banyans lining one side of the road opposite the KSOU main building to clear space for the new constructions. It is pyrrhic consolation for me that I had photographed these trees (for example, see picture 12 in my post on the banyans of Manasagangothri) before they were felled. Some of the remains of this massacre are still lying scattered and uncleared at the construction site. They don’t even seem to deserve a decent disposal. I couldn’t believe that so much of legalized vandalism had occurred so speedily in the name of development. In my earlier post I had said, “The mindless felling of trees resorted to in the name of ‘development’ should be regarded as a crime against humanity”. I continue to hold such a view, but who is to identify the criminals and how to bring them to justice?
It is irrelevant for what purpose and who is constructing these concrete and steel monstrosities at the expense of unsullied nature? What matters is that the destruction has been carried out in utter disregard of any sane voices that may have been raised against it (I am not even aware if any voices were indeed raised) and people who matter have carried out this outrageous rape of the micro ecosystem. The way they seem to have got away with it, one wonders how long it will be before the other locations come under the bulldozers.
Let me now get back on track to the main purpose of this writing and take the readers on a photographic tour of two marvelous gifts of nature to a largely undeserving humankind.
The Big Banyan near Mysore
Here is a full view of the gigantic top-ranked banyan tree in the neighborhood of Mysore, located about 8 km from the city on the road to T’Narsipur, a short distance beyond the famous Lalith Mahal palace hotel on the outskirts of the city.
I took this picture one brilliantly sunny evening a few months ago when I visited it with my constant companion Chiranjeevi who also shares my interest in nature. To encompass the whole of the tree I had to move back a considerable distance unobstructed, which was luckily possible. The next picture shows the tree at close range, with Chiranjeevi on the left and an old gentleman who introduced himself to us as Mr Chikkamadaiah, the owner of the land on which the tree lies and the protector of the tree itself. The wooden signboard carrying the bilingual description “Heritage Tree-1, Devara Aalada Mara” on the right also gives out this information.
The signboard standing on the left in effect says that visitors are in the presence of God Muneswara and should not approach the little improvised temple (not seen in any of my pictures) to its right with their footwear on! This may not be entirely out of blind belief. It also appears to be his psychological ploy to protect the place against vandalism from people who are fortunately often swayed by such considerations, as also to raise some funds for the upkeep of the place, incidentally ensuring a small return as well on his investment. The excellent condition of the tree and the quality of upkeep of the place testify to the success of this strategy.
The next picture shows a very long horizontal branch jutting out of the tree threateningly towards the camera, with the protector under it. Banyan trees are well known for such spectacular and bizarre features.
The next picture is a close-up of the lower part of the tree showing a large number of horizontal outgrowths all around, with bright sunlight accentuating these features.
The following picture captures the tree from another angle and a distance somewhat half way between the previous one and the first shot showing the whole of the tree. The two visitors and the omnipresent protector in the picture give an idea of how big the trunk itself is. It also captures the distinctively large and fresh glossy leaves of the tree from close range at the upper right and elsewhere.
I like the next picture taken by Chiranjeevi at his insistence as much for the rich detail seen in soft direct sunlight in a late evening sky as for showing me in unusually favourable light on, what is for me, the wrong side of the camera.
My last picture of this marvelous gift of nature, which the ‘protector’ chose to call God’s banyan tree, shows a small part of the tree highlighting some of its dense foliage seen at upper right, something that often goes unnoticed amidst the more spectacular bare trunks and branches that are also seen in the picture at lower left.
The Big Banyan near Bangalore
Called the Dodda Alada Mara in Kannada, meaning the Big Banyan Tree, this is a major tourist attraction of international standing, located about 30 km from Bangalore, about 8 km off the Bangalore-Mysore highway, and is one of the largest of its kind in the country. Its location can be easily ascertained from a Google map. It is reachable by an excellent road which runs all the way to the ISRO Deep Space Network facility at Byalalu, a few kilometres beyond the tree complex and even visible from that location.
Spread over an area of 3-4 acres, the Big Banyan Tree certainly doesn’t appear to be a single tree or even derived from one. Instead, it appears to be a large cluster of closely spaced individual trees, all appearing to be independent of each other, but in reality all derived from just one over a period of what may be several centuries. In contrast, the tree near Mysore is one gigantic single tree.
When I visited the place last month for this photo album, the area immediately surrounding the cordoned off enclosure was incredibly filthy and spoilt, with garbage strewn all around, apparently because of some senseless partying the previous evening. I am suppressing a strong temptation to present a picture of this utter chaos here. Things were considerably better inside, though there was plenty of telltale evidence of the happenings of the previous evening even here. My first picture shows a view to the right of the arched entrance showing four signboards giving some information about the place and a list of prohibited activities inside. Unlike the Mysore tree, it was impossible for me to capture this big banyan tree complex in its entirety. There was no building or structure nearby tall enough to give such a view.
The caretaker inside showed me the location of the mother tree that had apparently given rise to all the secondary and tertiary trees. He told me that it had decayed and fallen off some years ago. Here is a picture of what is left of it now:
Here is a spectacular view of a part of the interior, with emphasis on the long horizontal branch which is so long and heavy as to require a man-made prop to hold it in place as can be seen at lower left.
The following is another view of the same region, from a different angle, showing the prop closer and more prominently. The immense bulk of the horizontal branch stands out vividly.
The next two pictures highlight how the laterally spreading prop roots dropping down from any fully grown tree are assisted by some thoughtful human intervention to dig down into the ground through cylindrical columns of soil held in place within metal meshes or otherwise and watered frequently. This is how what may have been just one tree a long time ago has multiplied itself into quite a large number now, and will continue the process in future as well. Three instances of these are clearly seen in each picture.
Vandalism is a favourite human pastime, especially where historic sites and remnants of the past are concerned. I could see plenty of evidence of this here. The following picture shows evidence of a particularly vicious act of vandalism on the huge tree trunk at the left. These hieroglyphics must have been carved long ago, when people were supposedly more civilized, as a legacy for posterity when the trunk was young and at an accessible height, for I cannot think of anyone today taking the trouble to climb so high and inflict such wounds. One can’t help noticing how beautiful overall the sight still is despite these ugly scars.
A place like this is a natural attraction for solitude or quiet company as is evident in the following picture exuding great serenity:
Banyans are noted for their grotesquely twisted branches and trunks and the following two pictures highlight samples of these:
For the most part the enclosure containing the great cluster of banyans pictured here is well maintained, with paved pathways for leisurely strolls. The next picture is illustrative of this.
No such prominent place in the tourist map of the country goes without the ubiquitous temple to whose resident deity all good things in the place are ascribed. Here is the temple housing God Muneswara in a proper building, unlike the one near Mysore which was an ingenious improvisation, cut into the tree trunk itself. However, the designers and builders of this temple never seem to have thought about the aesthetic and architectural aspects of it in a natural setting like the fabulous banyan tree complex.
Just minutes before this picture was taken I had observed an old, rustic and distraught woman in rags and tears loudly and vehemently pouring out her grief on some personal problems, and beseeching Lord Muneswara’s intervention. It was too touching for me to capture with my camera.
Referring to the great banyan tree (picture number 20) in the Sericulture department of the University of Mysore in my earlier blog, I had pointed out how a rubber tyre stuck up in the tree spoiled the beauty of it and constituted a mindless human handiwork. One of my knowledgeable and learned readers wrote to me to say that, “The tyre in the last photo may be the remnant of the exhibition material used during the golden jubilee … I remember to have seen a giant model of the silk worm somewhere there…” Of course he was trying to give an explanation for what I had observed, not a justification. If the model of the silk worm had been subsequently removed and not the rubber tyre, I am afraid it amounts to an even greater act of mindlessness, neglect, and disregard.