Bangalore Talkies: Blooming tabebuias and drooping jacarandas

Shoba Narayan on the lesser-known side of Bengaluru—a city of nature lovers, tree huggers and flower peckers (the bird, not the human)

Have you seen ‘Wild Karnataka’, the film? It just won the national award, even though as one naturalist, rather snarkily, said, “It should have been called Wild Kabini—not Karnataka.”

That’s the thing you see. Not many people know this but Bengaluru is a city of nature lovers, tree huggers and flower peckers (the bird, not the human). They hike to Rangaswamy Betta, Savandurga, Nandi Hills and many of the rocky outcrops that are part of the Precambrian Deccan Plateau upon which Bengaluru sits. At 3,000 feet, Bengaluru is as high as Caracas and shares its temperate climate. Its citizens take the natural bounty available to them almost for granted.

Calling Bengaluru an IT city is both true and a disservice to the state that it is the capital of. Subsumed by the startups and tech businesses that have made Bengaluru famous, Karnataka abounds in wildlife. Beyond the Bandipur, Kabini and Nagarhole national parks, which are justly famous for their tigers, leopards and elephants, there are the Kali Tiger Reserve and Kudremukh peak. The magnificent Western Ghats traverse this state. Botanical artist Nirupa Rao illustrates the trees of the Western Ghats in her book by the same name. Wildlife filmmakers like Amoghavarsha and Sandesh Kadur chase frogs, tigers, wild dogs and the wild Kali river all in one film. Shaaz Jung has immortalised the black panther in his photographs and Rohini Nilekani sings its paeans in her writing. So please, don’t call Bengaluru just an IT City. Walk through its avenue trees and change your mind.

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This month, the tabebuias are blooming everywhere, pink-faced and blushing in their beauty. Jacarandas—plump and violet—droop over the streets and fall to the ground. As the short summer wanes, gulmohars will flower. Fragrant millingtonias that look like long jasmine buds will attract barbets and orioles, mynas and busy sunbirds that will dip their beaks into bud. The flowering trees of Bengaluru are the subject of TP Issar’s books and naturalist Karthik’s excellent journal that you can read at wildwanderer.com.

Several folks contributed to the flowering trees of Bengaluru ranging from a dynamic forest officer SG Neginhal, who worked with former chief minister Gundu Rao to increase the number of trees in the city. But if I had to pick, I would pick a German and a Sultan for changing the landscape of the city. In 1760, Hyder Ali, who was generally “rough and tough” to use a Bengaluru phrase, was so enamoured by the Mughal gardens that he set aside 40 acres to create a park called Lalbagh. His son, Tipu Sultan, added 30 more acres. The British tripled it.

Today, Lalbagh sprawls over 240 acres in Jayanagar. The routine is that you walk or jog in the morning and repair to a darshini or MTR for a filter coffee and thindi (tiffin) after. Every second Sunday, a birdwatchers’ group gets together in the morning to spot flycatchers and shrikes. Ecoedu.com regularly organises educational walks that focus on the countless creepers and other quirky plants that make their home in Lalbagh. But the thrill of Lalbagh for geologists is that just beyond its main entrance lies a three-billion-year-old Peninsular Gneiss, one of the oldest in the world.

It was a German horticulturist who took Hyder Ali’s vision to near-poetic heights. Handpicked by Maharajah Krishnaraja Wodeyar to landscape the palace gardens, Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel left his stamp all over Bengaluru. It was Krumbiegel’s idea to flank the boulevards with sequentially flowering trees: red silk cotton in January, pongams in February, pink tabebuias and purple jacarandas in March, Cassia javanica in April, scarlet gulmohar in May, pink bauhinias in June, rain tree in July, Colvillea racemosa in August, golden cassia in September, Amherstia in October and November, and fragrant white millingtonia in December. Then there are the Nagalinga flowers, which enshrine what looks like a Shivalinga, that flower through the year.

For me, the pleasure of Bengaluru is its trees. Upright and noble, they offer shade without discrimination. They allow you to pause and ponder under their life-giving arms. And, they are the lifeline of what will now become the catchphrase, Wild Karnataka.

This state advertises itself as “One State Many Worlds.” It isn’t nearly as catchy at Kerala’s “God’s Own Country,” but probably more accurate. Where else can you go white-water rafting on the Kali river, or climb Kudremukh peak, or visit the place where coffee originated (Baba Budangiri). Bengaluru is a hub, not just for IT but for many worlds, as it were.