After hearing wholesome praise from my editor, about an arboretum that was taking shape at a place near Chennai, I was keen to visit it. OMG! how this changed my perception of a village! Thanks to Chunampet and Yerrangadu.
A silent green revolution
Located 107 km from Chennai, Chunampet might seem like yet another sleepy village dotted along the East Coast Road. But a visit to the village changes one’s perception. A large government school welcomed as one entered the village. With a large playground, it looked as equipped as any facility in the city. On enquiry, I came to know that the land was donated by “Ramakrishna Ayya”. Going further, a Public Health Centre smiles boldly and when queried, the answer was “the land was donated by Ramakrishna Ayya.” Travelling further into the village, Dr V Mohan’s Diabetes Care Center, National Agro Foundation started by Bharat Ratna C Subramaniam and several other landmarks stood majestically. And by now we were used to the chant that the lands were provided by Ramakrishna Ayya.
C Ramakrishna (CR) is a Cambridge-educated, Chennai based senior advocate. A philanthropist, CR has spent lakhs on an arboretum, apart from the acres of land he has provided for various institutions. He ropes in experts from across India like former finance secretary K P Geethakrishnan and other bureaucrats, Lalitha and V S Vijayan of the Salim Ali Foundation… ensures good recourse to technology and management. And all this for posterity!
Our trip started with the visit to the Yerangadu arboretum. As the steel gates creaked open, the car zipped through a mud road that seemed like it led to nowhere. But soon the pathway opened to a beautiful arboretum spread across 14 acres adorning hundreds of trees procured from across the country. Venugopal, who guided us through the arboretum pointed to greenery all around. This place boasts of various species of trees; one that grabbed our attention was the ‘star trees.’ No, they are not trees cut to the shape of stars but a set of 27 trees and each one represents a birth star in the Hindu calendar! Apart from this, across 16 acres, mango, bamboo, coconut and other trees have been planted. Our next stop was at the Illedu arboretum. Tall coconut trees and broad mango trees were spread like roof above our heads and the minimal sunlight that peeped through its branches was bliss. The small arboretum at Illedu houses decades old mahogany species. After a piping hot coffee and a walk amidst the majestic trees one felt humbled by Mother Nature. The evening breeze swept our faces and as the birds returned to their shelter we entered our guest house. A fully furnished, cozy room with star facilities surrounded by acres of trees, fresh air free of pollution, perhaps “heaven on earth” is the term to describe the place.
Where Kalam planted trees…
Not knowing what awaited us at Vennangupattu, we packed our bags to the last spot on our itinerary. Around 35 acres of mango trees welcomed us. Dense lush green trees at Vennangapattu at the East Coast Road pumped fresh air into the lungs as I gasped at the beauty of the place. Durai Murugan who takes care of the trees explained the nuances of the orchard. After each season, the trees are pruned to a height of 10 feet to avoid fruits falling from height and pecking by birds that cause massive loss. A simple technique that saves much of the produce! Mango saplings are sourced from all over the country and during the mango season in May-June, one can see grey, red, violet, pink, purple coloured mangoes. He took us around the arboretum. A granite board distracted us, which read: ‘dedicated to Bharat Ratna C Subramaniam and unveiled by Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam.’ Murugan proudly said that Kalam had again visited during 2009 to plant trees on the occasion of his birthday. For one just familiar with concrete jungles, this vast space of greenery was a visual treat.