Lal Bagh is looking for a Fairy Godmother!
What do many normal Banglorians look forward to on a Sunday morning? I guess many would think of having piping hot filter coffee after a long walk around the lotus lake in Lal Bagh?
I for one, rush there to meet the pelicans I seek out when I need this rather cheeky looking bird with its very long nose to cheer me up by reminding me that not all nosy creatures around us are irksome!
But on May 1, when I reached the Lotus pond I was disappointed to find not a single pelican in sight. Instead there were more than 200 or even more mounds of trash littering the park like an army of bad news. Plastic bags and bottles, drying food packets, garden rubble, slippers, even a fallen green bench upturned with large sore mounds of garden rubble lay everywhere. Much of it was inside the lotus lake, visible in too many places signifying severe neglect.
Despite notices put up everywhere urging visitors to put their trash inside the many bins provided, it is mostly dumped outside. Several large, empty stone bowls and pots that should be blooming with ferns, flowers or shrubs, were filled with empty water bottles and used packets of chips etc.
Children near the lake were gleefully treating ducks to chips and other fried foods which are not good for them. Ironically from 1856 onwards Lal Bagh (which became the State Botanical Garden) was modeled on the lines of the famous Kew Gardens in the UK with help from experts of Kew.
By 1960 its boundary was fixed by bringing nearly 240 acres under it. To conserve water for the lower parts, open channels were laid out with brickline in 1851. Today we can find these old structures everywhere: large and small ponds all over the garden aching to be filled up with water, and water plants. While Lodhi Garden has filled up one of its large ponds with the delightful Water Lettuce, Lal Bagh has kept its ponds dismally dry though I was able to buy this water plant in its nursery!
The Dy. Director says that while the lotus lake is already a haven for collecting rainwater they have planned to add three more ponds around this dismally filthy lake, for harvesting the rain. But what about the many ponds around this vast park, which can easily be enriched with water plants like the lotus, water lilies, water lettuce and hundreds of other enchanting water plants?
Then there are those small and large ancient cottages and buildings moldering all around Lal Bagh, like the Guard Tower, The Lal Bagh cottage, the Pigeon House again boringly locked up, the Lal Bagh Rock, the Lecture Hall again doing nothing for adding charm to the park. The Pigeon House was a circular cylindrical turret made in 1893 when Mr. Cameron was the Superintendent of Lal Bagh, with interesting holes all over it to contain a couple of pigeons in each of them! It was his idea to give enough freedom to the pigeons earlier kept in the cages, when Lal Bagh had an aviary! Today it stands lost and forlorn like a ghost! Opening it up as a pigeon house again can easily be done and will add something really new and different to the Park.
The Band Stand is still one of the healthy ancient structures near the Glass House but it is again empty of plants, begging for a creeper to wind around it, and stands empty and dull like a boring lecture in school or college. Then there is the Lecture Hall, a tiled roof tiny building near the statue of Chamaraj Wodeyar. It has a tiny verandah and can accommodate 50 persons. It was once supposed to become a canteen for Lal Bagh staff after it stopped functioning as a lecture hall. But it too stands there forlorn and empty of interest to anyone. It can be easily fitted up with interesting plants, a herbarium, or an organic garden school or any number of interesting gardening functions. It just needs someone exciting and invigorating to give it new life!
The Glass House was actually started as a Plant Conservatory during the tenure of John Cameron, for displaying exotic flora. It was modeled after the famous Crystal Palace of London. In its early days it was filled with lovely unusual plants. But today, it stands dismally empty like a grumpy old grand parent! In Kew Gardens every single ancient building or cottage, (even a once dilapidated ice house) is used to attract and interest visitors – by filling it up with greenery, historical tales, information and enchantment! Since Lal Bagh was modeled after Kew, why is it ignoring all its old huts, cottages and interesting treasures? They are either stuffed with broken and crumbling rubbish, old wires, furniture, pots or filled up with trash – plastics and rubble!
The ancient Aquarium Building today is a sorry sight – it is a dark, derelict and moldy dumping ground inviting only mice, squirrels and more trash. The Dy. Director says it would cost around Rs. 5 crores to restore it to its former glory. This circular building has four entrances, a running gallery around it and an exterior gallery which once housed aviary! It was long ago maintained by the Department of Fisheries. Today it reeks of neglect, and the ruins of what could become a truly entrancing Lal Bagh treasure.
But right now they are spending money on renovating the old library, says Dy. Director Chandrashekher. This is still one of the most beautiful buildings in Lal Bagh. Near the Aquarium Building is another alluring dark green structure like a small turret or a miniscule prison waiting for Rapunzel perhaps. This could easily be refurbished with fresh paintwork, a little bit of renovation and dressed up with a generous splurge of greenery with a creeper or two. In fact there are many tall and wide meshed structures everywhere just begging to be covered up with creepers like the scented jasmine, the very beautiful Passion Flower, or any of the 100’s of flowering creepers available in the nurseries. But they all stay empty and boring adding to the dry heat of summer.
Lal Bagh does have some cheering features: the Topiary which has been improved in recent years with its fresh cheering elephant, birds and other beasts and some gateways and pergolas. It has Hopcoms serving fresh juice, inexpensive drinking water and snacks to visitors, many benches to rest on, several glorious trees which of course are thanks to the heart, soul and passionate energies of those ancient foreign Lal Bagh visionaries like Mr. Krumbiegal Director of Horticulture in 1920 who constructed the lovely Directorate Building still in use by Lal Bagh staff today. It had a delightful roof wholly of glass when it was built! Later alas it was removed in 1927 and re-roofed with zinc sheets and tiles.
There is still a tall Araucaria tree gracing Lal Bagh which was planted by the Queen of England, Elizabeth II!
Unfortunately, the always locked Cactus House is another sore point. Several years ago, because I was a journalist I was ingratiatingly taken to see it by some official then and was astounded to find one of the nicest treasure troves of glorious cacti, many flowering, and several silver green succulents that crammed the green house. But it is never opened for the public to enter. They have to gawk at it through a mesh.
Why do the public parks in London and other places treat visitors so generously by allowing them to visit every Green House, Water Lily House or Rose Garden without fuss?
It seems churlish for any public garden to lock up their treasures. Kew Gardens makes sure it teaches its visitors everything it can about the plant world and each and every section of its huge grounds is crammed with plants, information for education and every kind of gardening magic. Today perhaps it is good that Lal Bagh’s cacti house is still locked up as most of the succulents have died or vanished and only a few cacti remain. It needs solid refurbishing. Sadly, succulents are the easiest plants to nourish but these have been left to their own devices and are not doing well.
Finally there is a sign on one wall which says No Urinating here! The irony of this is that now environmentalists have shown us that urine is the best thing to use up in the garden!
As for the continuing littering of Lal Bagh one cannot blame just the staff. The visitors too are to blame. They never use the bins and they don’t teach their children not to frighten squirrels or small insects. I watched a small child rushing to crush a beautiful insect as quickly as he could while another kicked at a rather beautiful wooden statue of a saint recently added to Lal Bagh near the Glass House. There is a lovely wooden owl, a crocodile and a dinosaur. One hopes all this was made from fallen trees!
Four quick and easy, inexpensive ideas to let Lal Bagh imitate Kew Gardens its smarter sibling immediately!
- Perhaps only a strict fine levied for littering and for feeding the ducks unhealthy snacks would stop Lal Bagh from staggering under its daily dose of trash and endangering its wild life.
- It has three Wash Rooms for visitors and more for its staff in their offices. These can be easily turned into composting toilets. Urinating in Lal bagh today is the best thing that can happen to it, if done the sensible, green way!
We flush away human waste as quickly as we can. And it is left to run into rivers, lakes, the sea, causing havoc. Untreated effluent infects rivers and seas with algae to bloom and reduces oxygen.
But human manure is actually a boon which we can use to save the planet.
Michael Rouse, former chief drinking-water inspector in the UK said “If Britain were planning sewage disposal from scratch today, we wouldn’t flush it all away, we would collect the solids and compost them.”
Composting toilets are the answer for today. Composting Toilet World, which describes itself as ‘the official website of composting toilets’: www.compostingtoilet.org has many marvellous ideas for us.
Composting toilets use little or no water; they are not connected to an expensive sewage system, they cause no environmental damage; and they product compost as a by-product, which you can use in your garden – or sell! This can easily be done in Lal Bagh and other gardens and public places as well.
- Renovate, refresh and make the old small and new structures into pleasant garden angels instead of the deprecit depressives they are now. This only needs some imagination and energetic helpers.
- And as for making it as exhilarating as Kew, which is how it began its life, and mentions this proudly in an old booklet Glass House The Jewel of Lalbagh, more has to be done.
To call the Glass House The Jewel of Lalbagh you need to fill it up with such green jewellery, which only turns up during flower shows. Otherwise it looks forlorn. Kew Gardens fills up its small Water Lily structure with all kinds of lotuses, its Princess of Wales conservatory, has a stunning section for cacti which Lal Bagh’s cacti house can easily emulate.
Lal Bagh like all large parks has its own intrinsic magic that not even the most unruly visitors or lazy staff can totally ruin! But it can really begin to shimmer and shine as it deserves to, with a little bit of planning and imagination.