Green oasis in the heart of the city

Green oasis in the heart of the city

In the middle of the hustle-bustle of Bangalore city, flanked by Mister Boisterous, Shivajinagar, on one side, and Miss Busy Bee, M G Road, on the other, sits pretty a quiet green oasis, St Andrew’s Church, a wallflower compared to the garish, artificial adornments the city has accumulated over the years.

St Andrew’s is not only a heritage landmark, but also part of the precious green cover that gives Bangalore the tag of ‘Garden city’, well, if it still goes by that name.
The church is one of the architectural jewels left behind by the British. Its tall belfry and clock at the apex of its tower are charming and timeless.

It is also famous for its stained glass art and an old organ pipe from the British era. However, what’s even more enchanting about the church is its green canopy. Native tree species, some even as old as the church, which was built in 1866, provide a tranquillity which instantly engulfs you.

The campus is host to a variety of trees, birds and other wildlife which is something of a marvel in this pollution-ridden city of ours that has managed to make enemies of animals and drive away birds, limiting their perches to the outskirts. But not here. Squirrels, kites, mynas, barbets and many other winged angels and furry creatures have made the churchyard their homes.

They move about freely, unintimidated by the church-goers or the children who sometimes chase them. Come summer, big cameras with foot-long lenses are brought out and bird watching picks up. Last summer, the birds living on the premises were studied for two to three months.

A drive down Cubbon Road is a sight for sore eyes. The view of the church is nearly obscured from the outside, thanks to the thick foliage. The playful branches of frangipani — with their sweet-smelling, pretty flowers — venture out into the road, while the elegant Christmas tree stands upright in attention, with the shrubs, saplings and tender branches swaying to the wind’s tune.

Silk cotton, sandalwood, jacaranda, avocado, tamarind, chikoo, jackfruit, mango, neem, ashoka and many other species flourish in the lap of St Andrew’s.

In the 1980s, the church even won an award from the Horticultural Department. Former pastor of the church Reverend Prem Mitra says that it was the active participation of the members that nourished the green cover here. An environmentalist, Prem Mitra, with the help of Rocha, documented each tree in the church compound. St Andrew’s has become a lab for children too. Schoolchildren visit the church garden and environmental workshops are held. During Environment Day and Earth Day celebrations, programmes are held to cultivate a sense of responsibility towards the environment in children.

Dr Helen Samuel, a senior church member who is also the Medical Superintendent at the CSI Hospital, fondly recalls her warm and long association with the flora of the church premises. She grew up here and nurtured many a tree herself.

Reminiscing, she narrates stories of the kachcha road, hedges and snakes that once were part of the premises, the child that referred to the church as the ‘forest church’ because of the overgrowth at one time, and the bougainvillea shrubs that had to be razed as water was seeping into the foundation of the church. She also mentions one Mrs Watson who took the leadership in reviving the church’s landscape. Members would bring saplings from their homes to plant in the campus. They would do it out of so much love, she fondly recalls.

Despite damaging droughts and heavy rains, St Andrew’s has managed to nourish a rich biodiversity in the heart of the city. An inspiration to others, it is a testament to what a community that comes together for a common cause is capable of.

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