Colombo’s Green lungs | Sunday Observer

Colombo’s Green lungs

NATURE’S BEAUTY: A massive banyan tree gives beauty to the landmark building of Technical College in Maradana
NATURE’S BEAUTY: A massive banyan tree gives beauty to the landmark building of Technical College in Maradana

A photo journey through pockets of old trees in heat-ravaged Colombo city. During the British colonial period, trees have been a source of embellishment in the city but today, they pose a danger to the people

Nature’s rhythms are amazing, sometimes disastrous. Sri Lanka is blessed with a diversity of habitats and vegetation areas. The Wet, Dry and Intermediate zones all have unique plant life. Sri Lanka’s trees are usually confined to one of these zones, although some species are spread more widely across the island.

In the wet zone where the central highlands are located, a wide variety of trees and vegetation is based on the vertical contours of the landscape. Colombo and its environs were once dominated by lowland rainforest vegetation, while the hilly area that surrounded Hatton and Nuwara Eliya is known for its montane and cloud forests.

I love trees. Wherever I travel my lens focuses on greenery, forests, trees and ferns which are fascinating subjects to record. Represented in my photo essay here, is a small sample of the great variety and beauty of Colombo’s trees which I took last week while walking on the streets of Colombo. My first visit was to the majestic Vihara Maha Devi Park in a leafy part of the Colombo city.

There is lush and luxuriant vegetation everywhere, but in the Park the natural beauty of the land is seen at its best. The Park’s present name commemorates a famous queen in the island history Vihara Maha Devi.

Her marble statue stands gracefully in the Park, which was originally named Victoria Park after Queen Victoria of England. Many old timers still call the Park by that name. Trees such as the ebony, mahogany, fig, sal, eucalyptus, and others make their home here. Most of the city’s recreational facilities are legacies of British rule.

My next visit was a stroll across Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Reid Avenue in Colombo 7 where I experienced shade and coolness in the salubrious suburb of the Colombo city. Traffic flows busily under the arches of giant rain trees (Albizia saman). Unlike many Asian cities, Colombo retains many of the large shade trees planted during British colonial times to reduce heat and improve the quality of air. Apart from these shady rain trees lining the road, there are a large number of trees mostly Banyan, Nuga (Ficus benghalensis) and Bo trees (Ficus religiosa) dotted here and there in the Colombo city.

These trees provide a habitat for birds in a fast-growing urban settlement and every Bo tree I glimpsed in the temples in the Colombo suburb caught my attention, as wrapping robes around them has great religious significance among all of Sri Lanka’s trees. The Banyan is considered sacred in both Sri Lanka and India where it is associated with various deities and enlightened beings.

When I visited the majestic President’s House in Colombo Fort, the official residence of the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, located at Janadhipathi Mawatha, during the public viewing for a week in June 2016, I saw a magnificent giant Banyan tree that I found fascinating and photographed it with its trunk like extension roots.

It was planted by the then Governor Sir Joseph West Ridgeway to honour the 25th anniversary of the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne in Great Britain. The latter half of the day was spent in the stunning commercial hub of the Pettah where vendors put up makeshift markets under the age-old trees looming over several landmark buildings. Being a daily visitor to Colombo, I observed massive overgrown Banyan trees which pose a danger to motorists and pedestrians alike, at several locations in Fort and the Pettah . As a nature lover, I always liked the greenery in the city. While in residential areas like Colombo 7, these massive trees look amazingly smart, in crowded commercial areas such as the Pettah they have begun posing a risk to people, with their branches spreading in a manner that poses danger. The roots of these old trees choke the old walls making even walking past them a danger.

An even greater threat is posed by old trees whose roots lie exposed. However, it is in the interest of the public to stay vigilant to the danger of these massive trees toppling as a result of strong winds, torrential downpours and stormy weather conditions in the city.

Colombo is indeed a tree lover’s paradise: the flowering trees number at least a dozen species along the roads in the city, ranging from purple through the colours of the spectrum. July is the most prolific season for urban greenery in the City.