Discovering the fine treasures of Nagpuri

A botanical sojourn into the biodiversity-rich scrub forests of Nagpuri leaves Vivek Muthuramalingam asking for more...

Nagpuri Forest

Guys, this is amazing!” shrieked Sheshadri Ramaswamy in excitement, his expression turning into a shade of ecstasy. The red ‘leaves’ on a distant tree he was asked to take a look at turned out to be quite something else. He handed the binoculars back and darted into the valley that stretched in front of us. Navigating a maze of large boulders and some seriously thorny shrubs, we eventually caught up with him. He stood in the blotchy shade, gleefully pointing up at the bright scarlet, velvety blossoms of the bonfire tree (Firmiana colorata), a rare species of a flowering tree. 

Those pretty little trinkets against the pale sky had us all captivated for minutes, even as the harsh Sunday morning sun was forcing us to squint. A motley bunch of us had come together for a nature trek in Nagpuri Forest in Hassan district. 

Sheshadri, who was leading the trek, is a passionate field botanist who has spent decades studying the ecology of indigenous trees. He is a protégé of the celebrated IFS officer S G Neginhal who, along with his dedicated team, was quietly responsible for laying the foundation of Bengaluru’s green heritage, by raising over 1.5 million trees way back in the 1980s.

Pretty flowers
Pretty flowers

Mid-February might seem like a brutal time for the trek considering the scorching dry heat, but it is a time when many of the trees are in bloom. The trek was aimed at enlightening the group about the rich biodiversity of a scrub forest ecosystem of peninsular India, the kuruchulu kaadu as they are referred to in Kannada.

It challenged our conventional notion of how a forest looks, feels and smells — that of picturesque verdant valleys, gurgling streams and mountain tops being caressed by the passing clouds.

Nagpuri Forest turned out to be a unique departure from the idea, but no less exquisite than those found elsewhere. The sunburnt landscape of brown and grey dominated by shrubs, leafless trees, boulders and grasses — a ‘wasteland’ to the naive — is, in fact, as we discovered, a sanctuary of myriad flora that flourish in this minimalistic habitat where scarcity is just a way of life.

Scrub forests elsewhere are meeting a tragic fate being usurped by governments and institutes that fail to recognise them as legitimate and distinct habitats of flora and fauna.

Thankfully, this 51-sq-km forest in Arsikere taluk has survived. However, it is time that such reserved forests are elevated to protected sanctuaries and provided with adequate staff and resources to tackle potentially destructive elements — from overgrazing, poaching, unsustainable harvesting of forest produce to fires during the summer months. 

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