Thursday, 27 June 2019

A View to the Starry Kareel

Trees of Shekhawati – Part III – April 2019

Before entering Fatehpur to look at the huge Bhartiya clan mansions, we drive past the town towards Laxmangarh. Few kilometres away, we pull into the grounds of the magnificent Fatehpur Bawri. The square bawdi is ringed with imposing pavilions on the corners and walls pierced with gateways. The bawdi with a never seen before pavilion mounted on a minar in the centre of the kund will have to wait.

View to the Kareel at Fatehpur Bawdi

Capparis decidua in Shekhawati Rajasthan
The Twinkling Red Rubies of Kareel Tree

Surrounding the bawdi are twinkling trees. The woolly trees that look like overgrown bears seem to have cast a net at night when the twinkling red stars come down to play in the dunes of Shekhawati. The red stars that got entwined in the net twinkle in the bihad land all around. On a brilliant early evening as clouds float in a blue sky, this is a delightful scene and you will spend next half hour trying to frame the Kareel trees and their blooms against the bawri.

The flowers of Kareel trees are as captivating as the Roheda flowers. Pradip Krishen describes them as showy clusters and usually brick-red or pink in colour. The four petals are long and narrow with a prominent bonnet-like flower-cup. The long stamens are deep red and tipped with gold. A small, green ovary is borne at the end of a long stalk. In a mass blooming bush the flowers look like a delicious red whirlpool.

Shekhawati’s open air art galleries in the towns are getting a run for their money by these Roheda and Kareel flowers blooming in the surrounding scrubland. The beautiful red canvas of the Kareel flowers with the backdrop of structures look stunning. It seems a toddler given a brush drenched in red paint has gone berserk. Sometimes, taking from the title, the canvas seems to depict the gory blood splattered crime scene. But mostly it is the ruby like stars that seem to twinkle.


Kareel (Capparis decidua) also called Kair and Dhalu is a deciduous small tree or a large bush. The tree in its bush form and the older grown tree looks quite like Khabbar except the crown is a mesh of interwoven twigs with spines and absence of leaves. Before Shekhawati, you had seen this lovely solitary tree in Qutb Complex that was just beginning to flower. In Delhi, Kareel is common on ridge.

Kareel loves dry, sandy and rocky habitats and can even survive fire! It has leaves for just about a month while the function of leaves is carried out by its green twigs.

The young buds and fruits are used to make pickle. In Western UP, where the tree enjoys association with Lord Krishna since it is found in Mathura, Agra and Aligarh, the fruits are called Taint or Tainti.

There is a saying in Sanskrit – “If the Kareel does not have leaves, how can the Spring be blamed for it?” Trees in arid regions adopt the strategy of shedding leaves so as to reduce water-loss. And as if to compensate the absence of leaves, nature gifts the spiny twiggy tree with such eye-catching flowers in the Spring!

Let’s walk through the red twinkling universe.

What else do you want - Shekhawati, Blue Skies, Fluffy Clouds, and Kareel Flowers!

Kareel with the backdrop of the johda gateways

Just when you think you have the place to yourself, this family invades the quiet

The Mammoth like woolly Kareel trees in Shekhawati Rajasthan

The furrowed and corky bark of an old tree helps it to survive fires

There are hardly any leaves here - wonder what the goat is looking for

Another Johda outside Loharu in Haryana

Desert Caper - Capparis decidua

Gimme Red - Red Magic of Kareel in Shekhawati

Capparis decidua

Views to Kill For - Kareel (Capparis decidua)

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Friday, 21 June 2019

In the Khabbar Wonderland

Trees of Shekhawati – Part II – April 2019

Ducking under the bushy overhanging branches you emerge in a world you have never been in before. There is a wonderfully gnarled trunk that looks like a termite hill. Above, the branches twist and turn creating a spaghetti like whorl of a tree wonderland.  Here you can hide from the world making a world of your own. The ground is covered with these narrow still greenish leaves. You peak through the hanging branches and there are similar little worlds all around in this Khabbar wonderland.

The Khabbar Wonderland in Shekhawati

The wonderful canopy of Khabbar, Salvadora oleoides

Fallen leaves of Salvadora interplay with the branches shadows

This time around Shekhawati is delighting with its trees. Away from the blooming Rohedas, in these arid tracts, these are isolated Khabbar wonderlands set amongst rolling sand dunes. You have not seen any Harry Potter movies but you are sure the trees in those movies have been inspired by the these atmospheric Khabbar trees.

Locally called Jaad or Jad, the khabbar trees seem to be as old as the sand dunes. The trees here just like the peepal or neem trees in our village chaupals seem to have a loving relationship with the inhabitants. By the road with several topi wali tankis (underground tanks charged with rain water) around, the trees seem to co-exist with the humans in this part of Shekhawati. Under the low canopy of a tree, a group of men sit playing cards. “No, we are not from the government and not here to bust you”! On the other side of the road, a pickup truck has been driven under the tree and on the other side of the trunk, the driver dozes under the thick canopy.

Khabbar (Salvadora oleoides) is a smallish tree or bush that is semi evergreen. It belongs to the equally special looking Peelu (Salvadora persica) tree family. Other names are Bada Peelu, Jal, Khara Jal. This spring you had especially gone to Qutb complex to see the Khabbar and Peelu trees. And you were not disappointed. The trees have fascinating characters and can be only distinguished by their leaves. Khabbar leaves are narrow like olive trees and have greenish flowers arranged in clusters. Khabbars seem to love Mehrauli area of Delhi and are mostly limited to the Lal Kot area. The trees seem to thrive in arid desert condition with soil having high salinity content.

So why do some look like proper trees with thick trunks while others look like a clump of arthritic bamboos? It’s your guess that the Khabbar begins like a clump of bush and then with passing years, the individual bushes fuse together to form this thick, earthen like sculpted trunk. The trunk is pock-marked by holes of varying shapes and sizes that probably provide accommodation to different birds and reptiles.

Though Pradip Krishen calls them smallish trees, but here in Shekhawati, the trees are at home in dry watercourses and dunes and some are quite tall and upright. While others are just a clump of dishevelled bushes with gnarled tentacle like branches spread on the ground.

There is no stopping Anuradha!

The richly coloured Rohedas in golden yellow, tangerine orange and scarlet red do feel like a dream. A lucid, vivid dream where you walk amid the gnarled, "Groot"esque gnomes in a faraway magic land. And then you hear the sound of dried leaves crunching under the feet. You kind of wake up, all thirsty. This is a dream like reality. The mirage quenches the thirst with a bottle of mineral water. Does she? Still thirsty! 

In another wonderland, the branches seem to be walking on the ground. The tree looks like a strange alien tarantula. You are not sure how the trees will look when darkness descends over the land. Will the scene turn ghoulish or turn even more atmospheric? Khabbar trees perhaps have the most interesting character to them.

Let’s spend some moments in the Khabbarland.

Khabbar trees are at home among sand dunes in Shekhawati Rajasthan

Nothing can be more beautiful

The Alien Tarantula

The Aliens have landed

The Wonderfully Knotted Salvadora tree trunks

Lie down and keep gazing at these views: Salvadora oleoides tree in Shekhawati

The Khabbars probably start looking clumpy bushes

The olive like leaves and small clustered greenish flowers - Salvadora odeoides in Shekhawati Rajasthan

Young khabbar looks like a fluffy giant pets

Source Wiki

Source Wiki

Twisted Knotty Wonderland of Salvadora

This is what you have been not able to figure out yet - why trees behave so differently in the same neighbourhood; while some are green, others have shedded all their leaves

And Anuradha breaks it down for you!

Two factors influence the shedding of leaves in deciduous trees. Environmental and genetic.

Environmental factors such as temperature, frost, rainfall, wind, soil, and water differences influence leaf drop. Simply put, trees that are more sensitive to external environmental factors initiate the shedding process early. This is the reason why your Persian Lilac aka Bakain was in full green glory while all the Neems in the same locality have turned yellow and bare.

Man-made factors such as air and water pollution play a vital role in the early shedding of foliage. Trees planted close to a busy road lose their leaves earlier than a tree of the same species growing in a home or park in the same area.

Drought and diseases make the trees shed their foliage early to conserve water and nutrients. Trees standing under the glaring city lights will have their shedding cycles disturbed.

And finally, the genetic factor. The yellowing gene.

Keanu Reeves and Vin Diesel belong to the same species.

It's all in the genes!

You worry most about the trees by the roads. Any plan to widen the roads and these magnificent trees are the first victims

Now that is a magnificent Khabbar

The seemingly soaring termite or ant hills

Now that is a sight!

Ride resting under the shade on one side and the rider on the other


Please also read: Roheda Dreams


The Topi Wala Kund ringed with Khabbar trees

A perfect hiding place

Sculpted by Nature

The Khabbar Wonderland

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