Under the banyan trees of Lahore
ANCIENT TREES, SOME HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD, BEING CUT DOWN TO MAKE WAY FOR A JUNGLE OF CONCRETE
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.
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
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.