Written by Aggam Walia
At a time when scores of trees, that have seen the city grow from scratch, are facing the axe, Chandigarh Newsline looks at some trees that the city has sworn to protect.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”, said Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist. Chandigarh Tree Lovers (CTL) and Yuvsatta did just that when they joined hands with state’s Department of Forest and Wildlife, to document Chandigarh’s 31 heritage trees.
These trees are a living heritage that provide us with a sense of permanence and history. Among the 31 trees, most are banyan and peepal, though the administration is open for more nominations to this eclectic bunch. Dr Satish Narula, a horticulturalist, feels one of the important parameters for a tree to be called a ‘heritage tree’ is its existence “before the city was made”. Other qualities like its history, aesthetics and ecological value, also play a decisive role. ‘’The main criterion adopted for identifying a tree as a heritage tree is its age – it should preferably be older than 100 years, which we can gauge from its profile and girth of the trunk,’’ he adds.
When asked about his favourite heritage tree, Professor Rajnish Wattas, president of Chandigarh Tree Lovers and former principal of Chandigarh College of Architecture, says, “I like all trees”. He spoke at length about the peepal tree at Sukhna Lake. “That tree is associated very deeply with the memory of making of the city. It existed before the city came up and before the creation of the lake. It is now a very significant landmark as it is a meeting point for walkers, ground for meditation and yoga.”, recalls Professor Wattas. The tree is around 150-year-old.
Anuj Saini, son of Rock Garden’s creator, Nek Chand, recounts how his father’s intervention saved the tree when the pathway along the Sukhna Lake was being built. ‘’They were laying the pathway and my father was sure that the tree would be cut the next day. That night, he cycled back to the Sukhna and tied some red threads around it. The next day, he told the officials who had come to get the tree cut, that the governor’s wife worships at the site. That was it, no one ever touched the tree again.’’
Gurudwara Shapur, Sector 38, is home to one of the oldest and widest banyan trees of the city, which is around 300 years old and is believed by the locals to have been there during the times of the Sikh gurus. It has a large canopy and under it, the soft breeze provides a much-needed respite from the day’s heat. Devotees visiting the Gurudwara make it a point to sit under the tree and unwind.
The Banyan tree at Indira Holiday Home is located in a park which is considered an ‘eco-spot’. The tree has five main trunks and a very wide canopy. There are other trees of interest too in its proximity. The park is a haven for birds and squirrel, and old trees, like this Banyan, sustain that ecosystem.
Basanti Devi Sheetala Mata Temple in Sector 24 has in its enclosure a peepal tree whose canopy’s circumference is about 345 feet. The dangers faced by heritage trees due to rapid urbanisation and natural threats are many. “For example, there is an urgent need to the installation of lightning conductors on some of these trees to protect them against lightning. Also, it’s important to prevent soil erosion or excavation around the root zone of these trees by building earthen platforms of optimum sizes around them.
According to Dr Narula, this region had a mango tree with the greatest spread in the world, which was destroyed by lightning. Professor Wattas voiced his concern about concrete platforms choking the root-system of the trees. There are some recommendations made by experts for the “upkeep and protection” of heritage trees. These include preserving the aerial roots of trees and giving more ground space to these roots.
It also discourages artificial lighting near these trees as it “interferes with the (tree’s) photosynthesis process”.
According to Debendra Dalai, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, UT, the trees face no threats. “They are in healthy condition. Some trees are infested by termites but they are being treated”, says Dalai.
When asked about concrete pavements suffocating the trees, Dalai says, “We have told the MC that they have to leave space around the trees. Sometimes, contractors fail to understand that. But we have told them”.