The Big Banyan Tree

As children, climbing trees was part of outdoor play for my cousins and me; and thanks to growing up in a large compound, the trees in my parents’ backyard or the ones at my grandparents’ provided ample opportunity for monkeying around. We were pros at climbing the guava, the mango, the cashew and the custard apple trees. I strongly believe that I have genetically passed the monkey within to my kids who at every available opportunity would try to climb a tree. They loved our visits to my cousin’s who had a big banyan just outside his house. They would have a swinging good time while we grown ups would be busy catching up on family news and local gossip.

The indian banyan tree (ficus benghalensis) of genus ficus is one of almost 1000 species that belongs the mulberry family! As is typical of trees of this family, the seeds are dispersed by birds and bats that deposit them high up on other trees and manmade structures where they grow into plants with aerial roots that have to literally find ground and when they do, they sometimes join together and form a trunk and the tree spreads out across a large area making it difficult to differentiate between the original main trunk and the subsidiary ones!

A banyan tree spotted on a building while on a trip to Kolkata some years ago 🙂
Chinese banyan tree (ficus microcarpa) whose roots have spread over a large wall, seen in Hong Kong
Spreading its wings, err branches – a banyan tree in Aurovile, Pondicherry

India boasts of some of the world’s large banyan trees in terms of area covered by its canopy. On its outskirts, namma Bengaluru (our Bangalore, as a Bangalorean would say in Kannada when he talks about his/her city) has a ‘Dodda aalada mara’ (big banyan tree). This 400 year old tree is spread over 3 acres! It is much smaller in age and canopy coverage as compared to the tree in the Botanical Garden of Kolkata or the one in Kadiri in the state of Andhra Pradesh, but it is still a sight to behold.

We went there once almost 15 years ago when the kids were young and the location was quite isolated as compared to today when a little town has mushroomed with restaurants and bakeries and shops. So set your GoogleMaps to Big Banyan Tree and go see it when you can. Until then here are some pictures from a recent visit for you to take a look at.

Young aerial roots are protected by bamboo sleeves so that they can be guided to grow down into the earth
New beginnings for a clump of roots, who knows they might together grow into a strong trunk
These paths make it easy to walk all around the area covered by the tree
All aerial roots are number tagged, we counted till 615, there could be more!

As compared to all other trips before this one during these COVID times, we observed that there were more people here at the Big Banyan Tree – some masked, some without. The pandemic fatigue is driving more and more people to get out of the house for a change of scene. One of those public service advisory messages (put out by a cellphone company) that you hear before the ringtone asks people to mask up until a vaccine is found. Please do! Stay safe everyone!

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