The Cubbon Park, with its magnificent trees, could give one an intense feeling of deja vu. The green landscapes in the park used to be one of the favourite subjects of artist Rumale Channabasavaiah, who is known as the Van Gogh of Bengaluru.
As we walk along the park, a beautiful rain tree, that provides shade for three quarters of an acre of land around it, catches our attention. ‘’It was procured from the Caribbean,’’ says Vijay Thiruvady, our walking guide, who is a naturalist and a born storyteller. A Stephanian, he regales us with anecdotes all through the walk, some of which are pepped up with botany and history for laymen.
There are about 6,000 trees in the park, some of which are exotic ones procured from countries like Indonesia, Brazil and Australia. Thiruvady shows us a silver oak tree brought from Australia. “Bengaluru never had silver oaks before. This is the first silver oak introduced in the city,’’ says Thiruvady. Silver oaks are a boon to the city grappling with air pollution, he says. “Silver oak leaves trap particulate matter. They form a sound barrier as well,” he adds.
As the flowering trees burst into bloom, the park is a riot of colour. “One can also see many varieties of bamboos here. The banyan and fig trees in the park are a haven for birds and squirrels,’’ says Thiruvady.
He shows us a carpet of akash mallige flowers on the ground. We pick up the white, fragrant flowers. The smell is intoxicating. “I presume you can make wonderful perfumes out of that,’’ says Thiruvady. “I am too old. Otherwise I would have done that,’’ sighs the 75-year-old.
Thiruvady, bonds with the trees in Cubbon Park. He caresses a Chinese Weeping Cypress (Cupressus Funebris, an evergreen tree) while telling us how it was brought to India.
A stroll through the historic park has always been refreshing and invigorating for me. This time around, it is all the more enjoyable, thanks to being part of a group of travellers from across the world.
The Green Heritage Walk that starts from the Band Stand in the park takes you back to the bygone era. It also gives you glimpses into some of the colossal buildings in the vicinity, including the Karnataka High Court, the Vishweshwaraiah Museum and the State Central Library. The structures in Pompeian red fascinate tourists to no end.
Cubbon Park was set up in 1870. It was first named after John Meade, the then acting commissioner of Mysore who made it, but was later renamed as Cubbon Park. Designed by Richard Sankey, it is the first major park in Bengaluru to be made in the British style. “The British found the climate here so good that they did a lot of things here they wouldn’t have done in other cities in India. I think they planned to stay on in Bengaluru permanently. So they built their churches and brought the greenery into Bengaluru,” says Thiruvady.
The historic park still bears imprints of the colonial rule. The imposing statues of the erstwhile imperial rulers like Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and Sir Mark Cubbon stand tall here.
The statue of Sir K. Sheshdri Iyer, the former Diwan of Mysore, could be of great interest to history enthusiasts. In 1905, Bengaluru became the first city in the country to have electricity, thanks to the hydro-electric project started by Sheshadri Iyer at Shivanasamudra. From Shivanasamudra, Iyer had a transmission line of 110 miles taken to Colar Gold Fields way back in 1902. Three years later, the project began to supply electricity to Bengaluru, too.
On our way back, we go past the portrait sculpture of Queen Victoria, who was proclaimed the Empress of India. It was created by none other than Sir Thomas Brock, who is best known for the Victoria Memorial in front of the Buckingham Palace. The towering statue, installed close to the Mahatma Gandhi Square, was unveiled in 1906.
Despite the diesel deposit all over the statue, I would often find myself stop by it and slip back in time. But I had never noticed the queen’s hands—the fingers of her right hand are maimed! The Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath has been asked to restore them.
As I leave Cubbon Park and navigate through the labyrinths of city life, Girish Karnad’s reminiscences of his Green Heritage Walk in Lal Bagh echo in my mind:
“I can’t remember when I’ve had such a delightful time re-exploring a venue I thought I knew intimately.”