Trees will be everywhere, in every garden however small it be, and along the sides of every roadway, and Imperial Delhi will be in the main a sea of foliage. It may be called a city, but it is going to be quite different from any city that the world has known...
Captain George Swinton, Chairman of the Town-Planning Committee for the new capital of New Delhi
You love New Delhi. You love the city for the spaces, the grid of broad avenues, the colonial bungalows, the roundabouts, and yes, the trees. It is the trees that announce the arrival of New Delhi as your shredded senses are balmed over by the shade and greenery. Even the honking seems to fade away and you seem to be drifting in this zone of bliss. No wonder Delhi has more trees per square km than any other big city. It is because of this dense canopy that Delhi is a paradise for bird lovers and the foliage keeps the city cooler by a couple of degrees during the unforgiving summers. Yes New Delhi is different from any other city.
While the builders were giving shape to Edwin Lutyens’ blueprints of the newest city of Delhi, saplings were being grown in Sunder Nursery to be soon planted across the newly laid out roads. By design, massive and shade-giving trees were chosen – neem, arjun, imli, jamun, sausage tree, baheda, peepal, and pilkhan. Trees that grow slow and live long. It is possible that the trees chosen were non-floweringkind and did not shed in the same season and therefore it would have been easier to keep the roads clean and the entire city would not look barren at the same time. Also, there was an attempt to ensure that the trees did not obscure sights that were meant to be unhidden.
But during later years as Diplomatic Enclave, and government and private colonies came up, the choice of trees was broadened to include trees that flowered and grew faster. So now, the city witnesses an annual floral cycle that begins with silk cottons and is followed by corals, flame of the forest, amaltas and gulmohar.
Willingdon Crescent, the road where you grew up, had an interesting mix of peepal, jamun, imli and khirni trees that would keep us busy across the year while the NDMC gardeners chased us over the Rashtrapati Bhawan walls. Playing cricket among gently tended flower beds and throwing stones at khinni trees would get any gardener worth his clippers mad.
You remember while cycling your way to school by Nehru Park, entire Niti Marg would explode in red as the semals or silk cotton trees (Bombax ceiba) start to flower in early spring. In a few days, white puffy cotton would cloud the entire road even as you tried to catch the drifting fibres.
Until all these years you had noticed only these red flowers besides the gulmohars and amaltashes. You always assumed October to be a quiet month as trees busy themselves growing leaves and hunkering down for the winters.
|The Magnificent Floss Silk Flowers|
Well until now. Driving around the government colonies you come to the Laxmibai Nagar Lake Park. You love this area and have childhood memories by loadfuls. And there by the side of the road you see this majestic sight. You can’t believe it. Yes you are pretty blind to birds and flowers but good influence of friends and you seem to be slowly developing an eye for nature.
|The Lakshmi Bai Nagar Lake Park, New Delhi|
Inside the Lake Garden, you see the marvel. Two trees laden with such exquisite flowers coloured with shades of pink and magenta greet you. It seems like a miracle. You have never seen such flowers in Delhi. Why is nature so kind to you – first Valley of Flowers and now these beautiful trees?
The splendid sight belongs to Floss Silk trees, which in the process of shedding their green leaves have put up a spectacular display just for you. The five-petalled flowers are large and seem to have shades of pink, magenta, purple and even ivory.
The ground below is draped with fallen flowers. The flowers look so real and alive as if even the ground is nurturing them and is not willing to let them fade away.
|Magenta Magic in Sector 39 Noida|
|Floss Silk on Copernicus Marg|
Floss Silk tree (now isn’t that a lovely name?) or Ceiba speciosa is a deciduous tree native to tropical forests of South America. The tree endearingly called Resham Rui is regarded as one of the most beautiful trees in the world. Now these trees are grown as ornamental trees in other parts of the world. A unique feature of the tree is that its entire trunk and stems is covered with thorns or conical spines. The flower yield vegetable silk that is used in stuffing soft pillows. But we are more interested in those divine looking flowers.
|Pink Paradise on Shanti Path|
The next day you find more trees – this time in another Delhi’s piece of heaven – Shanti Path. It is the familiar road you took when you went to school by bus and when you visited Rail Museum and when you went to visit relatives in Moti Bagh and Vasant Vihar. Every time you come back to Chanakya Puri to relieve memories it seems you turn back the clock and are back in your childhood. You feel happy here. And this place gets prettier and prettier.
On one of these pretty roundabouts that you visited on Holi, it seems Holi has come early here. The place is brimming with Floss Silk trees. What a sight! You feel loved by Nature here. This is your own little paradise right here.
|The Nehru Park mounds where you rolled down feeling the cool grass on your face|
|Sangharsh Sthal, near Raj Ghat - 2016|
|The Last Floss Silk - Lodhi Gardens 2016|
Now what to say about these roundabouts? They are like islands where you can maroon yourself in the middle of this megacity - a place, in words of a friend, where you can spend a lazy afternoon. You can just sit under the beautiful flower-laden trees, reminisce, write, dream, or just talk to yourself.
Delhi is full of surprises – whether in its monuments, or people or bazaars and now here in nature. In these wonderful October days as you discover more of Delhi, you are falling in love with your city all over again.
Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide by Pradip Krishen
City Improbable – Writings on Delhi edited by Khushwant Singh