Old loves and new friends.

I made a lot of new friends this week-end. Some were familiar faces that I’ve seen all my life – these were the faces I so badly wanted to put a name to. Others were new, hailing from distant exotic lands, but no less loved or welcome.

All this happened one fine morning, thanks to Vijay Thiruvady – who leads the Green Heritage Walk – and took us on a magical stroll as he traced the life and times of the many marvellous trees that dot the lush green expanse of Lalbagh.

As Vijay spoke to us in his low clear voice about how the humble little hillock in Lalbagh is older than Mt. Everest or how the French tricked their farmers into growing potatoes or how he and a group of young school boys hit upon a way to measure the height of the tallest tree in Lalbagh, we were transported back and forth: now we are in the Precambrian…now in 18th century France…now we are very much in the moment as we bend forward and sniff at the pretty yellow flower in front of us as we try and guess the name of the perfume that it has lent its fragrance to.

It’s one hell of a ride and we savour every moment of it.

Best of all, at last, I now know the name of the tall tree I see every where, with leaves that droop downwards rather sorrowfully – an old story goes that the tree went into mourning when Sita was abducted by Ravana – even as it’s slender frame tries to reach out and touch the sky. It’s the Mast tree, so-called because of the use of its tall fine bark in making the masts of ships.

The Mast Tree

It’s a common mistake to call the Mast Tree an Asoka, and in fact, during the walk, we did see an Ashoka tree – the tree Sita spent her captivity under – lit up by luminiscent orange blooms that look nothing like the ‘Ashoka’ that we thought we knew. So there you go. Rediscovered one old friend and made a new one.

The ‘real’ Ashoka.

The Ashoka flower.

Three hours – and many happy discoveries later – our mobile botany cum history lesson culminated in a labyrinth (aka MTR) where we breakfasted on crunchy dosas and hot cups of coffee with a few like-minded souls (or maybe, new friends?) and eagerly planned our next adventure.

(Picture credits: http://saraca-asoca.blogspot.in/2009/10/asoka-and-nettilingam.html)

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