One of the things I enjoy about being in Delhi in January – apart from comparing the daily temperature with Toronto or St John’s, haha – is walking in the parks and seeing my favorite trees. Some trees have been around five or six hundred years. Like old friends they stay the same, though everything around us changes.
Delhi is dotted with parks, some of them quite interesting. Deer Park, for instance, sprawls across lakes and medieval ruins, and includes a large enclosure for deer. The best bit for me, however, is a section where some venerable old trees have actually been identified, by both their common and scientific names. An opportunity to brush up on my botany! So here are some of my old favorites…
Ficus religiosa or the Peepal tree
A large fig tree with beautiful heart-shaped leaves, the Peepal is considered sacred by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. You will be hard put to find one in Delhi without a collection of flowers, idols and offerings adorning its base and trunk. The famous Bodhi tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment was a Peepal tree, and its descendent in Bodh Gaya is today an important Buddhist pilgrimage site. The Peepal tree is also used in traditional medicine.
Ficus benghalensis or the Banyan tree
Oh, the gorgeous and mysterious Banyan. Large and spreading, dropping aerial roots downward from its branches. An entire forest could be just one tree! If I had to write a fantasy story about a tree, it would definitely be about a Banyan. It is considered sacred tree in India, and you will often find a little temple sheltered underneath it.
Azadiracta indica or the Neem tree
The Indian lilac is a hardy, drought-resistant evergreen tree that has acted like a local pharmacy for millennia. It has been widely used in traditional medicine and natural insecticides.
Mangifera indica or the Mango tree
The mom of the succulent Indian mango is the biggest fruit tree in the world. And also, if I might add, one of the most beautiful. Large, lush, dark-green canopy – just perfect!
Cassia fistula or the Amaltas tree
The Indian laburnum is a beautiful deciduous tree also called the Golden Shower tree because of its appearance during the flowering season. Its also the national tree of Thailand.
And if I’m talking about trees, I have to end with the Kalpavriksha, a divine mythological wish-fulfilling tree that is said to satisfy all desires. Apparently it resides in God Indra’s Paradise. On earth the species varies – an ancient mulberry in the Himalayas, coconut trees in coastal areas, the Parijaaat – a sacred baobab – in a town in North India, or even the mighty Banyan. Whatever the species, the intent and the desires remain the same – trees provide both physical and spiritual nourishment. May 2014 bring you what you desire! And may you meet a beautiful tree.