Shells of fruits used as begging bowls by Buddhist Monks to elephant ear like fruits from the national tree of Costa Rica! You don’t have to travel to far off continents to see these majestic trees. They are right at your doorsteps. Also, you are likely to have walked past them several times without being aware of them as they are located in one of the most visited destinations of the city — the Victoria Memorial compound.
It has now been almost a year since the Victoria Memorial has come up with a curated nature walk of its gardens. Jayanta Sengupta, Secretary & Curator, Victoria Memorial Hall, mentions, “The aim of the walk is to make people understand that the garden surrounding the memorial is no less interesting. It supports a unique ecosystem and is a heaven for tree and nature lovers.”
The group in front of the two Buddha Coconut trees
Before the walk started, the garden was extensively surveyed by nature enthusiast Sushmita Basu. The walk officially started in March 2022. It was an hour-long walk in the afternoon. Sadly, it had few takers probably because of the heat and humidity and the walk had to be discontinued.
It restarted in January 2023 and has been scheduled every Sunday at 11 am. The first walk of this session kicked off on January 8 with about 15 participants under the guidance of Anusree Mondal. Mondal, who has completed her master degree in Environmental Science for Calcutta University was part of Basu’s survey team. According to the survey estimate, the garden has over 1600 trees covering 134 species. As one hour was too less to explore the 57 acre of garden, so Mondal decided to focus on only the western region of the garden.
There were certain interesting trees including the Buddha Coconut Tree named because of its coconut shaped fruit and the shell of which was used as a begging bowl by Buddhist monks. Sadly, there were no fruits around. So, we were restricted in admiring the tree only. Interestingly, the base of the trunk had some triangular projection making the tree unique and easy to spot.
Guide Anusree Mondal explains the features of Elephant Ear Tree
According to Mondal, the trees are relatively new compared to the memorial. Sengupta supports her claim, saying, “Victoria Memorial was a symbol of imperialism and it was kept free of any sort of surrounding vegetation as it could be seen from far off places. Most of the trees were planted after independence during the 1960s and ’70s.”
Another interesting tree was the Elephant Ear Tree, which happens to be the national tree of Costa Rica. This is one of the older trees of the garden and rests on a huge trunk supporting a giant canopy. Sadly, it was not the time for the tree to bear fruits, which is said to look like the ears of an elephant.
The group admires a Tejpata tree in full bloom
Like the trees, the participants were also an interesting mix of school kids to retired government officials, from college professors to professional dancers. Nature lover Uttara Ganguly came with her 11-year-old niece Ahana as she wanted to introduce her niece to the diversified flora of her own backyard. Madhumita Choudhury, a retired government administrator, came in from her south Kolkata residence near the Rabindra Sarobar Lake. Being familiar with the green patch of south Kolkata, she wanted to explore the green patch surrounding Kolkata’s most iconic landmark.
The walk continued along the lawn meandering past numerous trees with our guide picking up flowers, seeds and even leaves to explain the different features of the trees. The trees ranged from teak and mahogany, known for its exotic wood to Tejpata and Jamrul trees, providing items of frequent consumption. Bokul, Chhatim, Ashok, Sishu were also part of the trees explored during the nature walk. Young participants were delighted to know the fact that Chhatim is the state tree of West Bengal. It is also known as the Black Board or Slate Tree, as its barks were used as writing material.
The walk is scheduled every Sunday of January at 11 am and Mondal says, “Next Sunday, the walk will focus on the eastern garden as it will attract repeat walkers.” Sengupta adds, “He will try to increase the duration of the walk and also want to continue beyond the winter season as this will enable the participants to see the trees at different seasons with flowers and fruits.”
Nature Walk Details:
The nature walk continues with Victoria Memorial in backdrop
The walk is free but entry tickets are to be purchased.
Details of future walk are available in Victoria Memorial.