Un­der the banyan trees of La­hore

AN­CIENT TREES, SOME HUN­DREDS OF YEARS OLD, BE­ING CUT DOWN TO MAKE WAY FOR A JUN­GLE OF CON­CRETE

Gulf News - - FRONT PAGE - BY EMANUEL SAR­FRAZ

An­cient trees, some hun­dreds of years old, are be­ing cut down to make way for a con­crete jun­gle as city’s pop­u­la­tion swells |

The city of La­hore is also called the city of gar­dens be­cause of the large num­ber of parks and trees along most of its roads. Over the years hun­dreds of trees have been cut to pave way for ur­ban devel­op­ment projects. Those who have seen the city in all its green glory re­mem­ber the good old days. The jun­gle of con­crete has taken over in re­cent years with high rise build­ings and new roads and ex­press­ways chang­ing the cityscape.

“We hope against all odds but we pray that peo­ple of the city re­alise the value of their great her­itage in the shape of old banyan and pi­pal (fig) trees. We used to live in Qilla Gu­j­jar Singh area. The whole lo­cal­ity devel­oped around two an­cient Banyan trees. Peo­ple revered them, but then com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion took over and they were cut down for con­struc­tion of shops,” lamented Dr Ajaz An­war, re­tired pro­fes­sor of the Na­tional Col­lege of Arts and gen­eral sec­re­tary of the La­hore Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

Quot­ing fur­ther ex­am­ples the cel­e­brated painter said the Bore­wala Chowk (Cross­ing) on Em­press Road had six huge banyan trees. “All of them have been cut down to make way for the Or­ange Line project. It pains me to see the place. My house was nearby. Me­mories of them are still vivid and live in my mind. I can­not for­get them. They were part of our life but are no longer around. No one seems to re­alise that they were liv­ing and not some non-liv­ing ob­ject.

“Shal­i­mar Gar­dens was built in 1641. There were two large banyan trees in front of the Gar­dens, which have been cut down be­cause of the Or­ange Line project. These trees were older than the Shal­i­mar Gar­dens that is more than 367 years old. They were part of our her­itage that has been de­stroyed. Many trees have been cut in the city as peo­ple thought they blocked the view of their shops and com­mer­cial places,” Dr Ajaz said.

Nasir Nasim, 70, who has served at var­i­ous top posts in the city keeps look­ing out of the win­dow. “I know there is no­body out there but I re­mem­ber the good old days when Ghaz­ala [his wife who passed away five years ago] and I used to sit un­der that old banyan tree in win­ters eat­ing peanuts. We were a happy cou­ple. Ours was a love mar­riage and we held on to each other through thick and thin. That tree re­minds me of the beau­ti­ful mo­ments that I spent with her,” Nasim said. The for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tor of Shaikh Zayed Hos­pi­tal now lives a re­tired life. He has just re­turned from Eng­land to live in the same house in Model Town where he was born and spent the most part of his life. Re­cently he fell while tak­ing a bath and can­not walk and is taken care of by a ser­vant.

The city of La­hore is still home to hun­dreds of banyan and other trees like pi­pal, kikar, tali, elm, mango and ja­mun, etc. The city now has a pop­u­la­tion of over 10 mil­lion. Many trees of the city are hun­dreds of years old. For ex­am­ple the two big trees at Simla Hill in La­hore Press Club were planted in 1869.

On most of the trees along The Mall (La­hore’s main street) and many other roads one can spot bird houses tucked into the fo­liage.

There is also a four cen­tury old banyan tree in La­hore Zoo. Botan­i­cal tests re­veal it was planted 400 years ago (some­where in 17th cen­tury). It had not only been pro­vid­ing shade to peo­ple, but has been a con­tin­u­ous source of shel­ter and liveli­hood to scores of bird species for hun­dreds of years. This broad-leaf species of Fi­cus fam­ily has its ori­gins in La­hore.

Strange noises

Gar­dener Mo­ham­mad Zubair, 55, who was busy wa­ter­ing plants near the 400-year-old tree said peo­ple come and take pictures with it. “I am an il­lit­er­ate per­son. I have spent 30 years work­ing un­der this tree. I know this tree has some mag­nif­i­cent pow­ers. Some peo­ple say fairies visit it at night. The an­i­mals in zoo make strange noises when they come,” Zubair said.

Pun­jab Wildlife De­part­ment direc­tor gen­eral Khalid Ayaz Khan said the de­part­ment is al­ready tak­ing steps to guard and pro­vide safety for the 400-year-old tree.

“These old trees are part of our his­tory and we will pre­serve them at all costs. Soon we are go­ing to launch a cam­paign in which we will in­vite celebri­ties to adopt the old trees so their his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance would come in lime­light among pub­lic,” Khalid said.

The botan­i­cal de­scrip­tion will be in­stalled in front of old trees in all parks that come un­der Wildlife De­part­ment in com­ing weeks, Khalid said.

Musar­rat Inayat, 61, re­tired vice prin­ci­pal of Govt Vic­to­ria Higher Sec­ondary School is an ac­tivist. “It is sad that there is less em­pha­sis on plant­ing banyan trees for shade and for keep­ing the en­vi­ron­ment cool. Al­most all the big trees on road­sides and in parks were planted by Bri­tish. The gov­ern­ment is im­port­ing for­eign dec­o­ra­tive trees and plant­ing them along the new roads be­ing built. This would alien­ate peo­ple from the walk­ing cul­ture as there would be no shade of trees,” Musar­rat said.

Spokesman of La­hore Parks and Hor­ti­cul­ture Au­thor­ity, Shahzad Tariq, said a project was un­der­way to iden­tify the old trees of La­hore. “We are iden­ti­fy­ing all the old trees within our ju­ris­dic­tion to pro­tect them. We will take all nec­es­sary steps to pre­serve them as long as we can be­cause they are part of our her­itage,” he said.

These old trees are part of our his­tory and we will pre­serve them. We will in­vite celebri­ties to adopt old trees so their im­por­tance would come in the lime­light.” Khalid Ayaz Khan | Pun­jab Wildlife De­part­ment

Pho­tos: Emanuel Sar­fraz/Gulf News

Top and above right: This banyan tree at La­hore Fort has stood like a silent sen­tinel for more than 300 years to the chang­ing cityscape. Above left: The 400-year-old banyan tree in La­hore Zoo. La­hore is still home to hun­dreds of banyan and other trees.

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