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Rediff.com  » Getahead » The Tree That Lived For 704 Years

The Tree That Lived For 704 Years

By ARCHANA MASIH
March 01, 2023 12:32 IST
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The Deodar's lifespan stretched from 1215 (construction of the Qutub Minar) to 1919 (the Jallianwala Bagh massacre).
Magnificent and imposing, a cross section of its bark is the piece de resistance at a unique museum dedicated to India's forests.

All Photographs: Seema Pant for Rediff.com

Enter the majestic gates and the elegant driveway is flanked with red bungalows that have gardens edged by green hedges.

Tall trees rise up to meet the sky.

The lawns stretch out far and wide -- providing a lap of green for those sitting or lying down in the winter sun.

And at the centre of it all is one of the most stately buildings in India -= the over 100 -year-old Forest Research Institute in Dehradun.

It is a repository of India's forest history and an architectural wonder. The institute has preserved its vast open lawns and the grandeur of the building is overwhelming.

"One of Siddharth Malhotra's films was shot here and there have been several others," says the young taxi driver as we drive in after paying a nominal entrance fee.

A painting competition of students from various Kendriya Vidyalayas has been organised in the institute that day. A KV is located on the campus and children in uniform are walking around the ground, taking pictures as they await the result of the competition.

Established in 1906 to lead forestry research in India and the sub-continent, the institute commonly known as FRI, also administers training to forest officers and is a deemed university. It also houses hostels for students and residences for faculty.

One of the best things about the FRI is that it is open to visitors. People walk about freely in its brick arched corridors, eat at the cafeteria and can buy tickets to the five interesting museums inside the building.

One of its most precious treasures lies inside the Timber museum -- the bark of a 704-year-old Deodar tree felled in 1919 from a forest in Tehri Garhwal.

If there is one thing in Dehradun that one must see -- it is this.

The cross section of the tree measures 1.4 metres in diameter. Solid and imposing, its surface is smooth and annual rings [through which the age of a tree is read] can still be seen clearly.

What gives value to the marvel on display is the simple and engaging way it grabs your attention.

The historical events of India's history that have taken place during the tree's 704 year lifespan are marked on a line from the centre to the outer ring of the bark.

Beginning from 1215 when the Deodar tree was planted as a sapling, it tells you that the construction of the Qutub Minar to the birth of Guru Nanak (1469) to the landing of Vasco da Gama (1498) to the founding of the East India Company (1600) to the construction of the Taj Mahal to Shivaji assuming the title of Chhatrapati (1674) to the Battle of Plassey (1757) etc, -- all these events took place while this tree stood in the forest of Tehri Garhwal.

The tree was cut down in 1919 -- the year of the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.

The historical landmarks are neatly written with white paint. In the age of overwhelming digital presence, the simplicity of the hand-painted information is appealing.

A father reads out the events marked on the tree to his little girl and another group of children gather around it. The fact that the tree draws the old and young and makes them pause and read -- is testament to how successful the messaging is.

Photography is prohibited inside the five museums, so people read, look, stand and absorb.

There are many other articles of everyday use from another era -- artificial legs for women, sewing machine covers, vanity boxes, thermos flasks, attache cases, wheels of a gun carriage, fans, aircraft propellers etc -- all, exquisitely crafted in wood.

It is amazing that once upon a time all these things were elegantly crafted in wood.

In another row sits a jar containing 16 litres of water. The water is kept beside a block of wood depicting the amount of water contained in one cubic foot of wood.

The other four museums (1 room per museum) are dedicated to Entomology with 3,000 exhibits representing the various stages of insect pests and the nature of damage caused by them. There is a fascinating array of beautiful butterflies, moths and bugs that one can peer over for hours.

The Pathology museum shows samples of tree diseases and timber decay; the Silviculture museum is about the evolution of forests.

The Timber museum is by far the most interesting followed by the Entomology museum.

The displays also include a stuffed tiger, heads of deer, bears, antlers and a pair of large elephant tusks.

The connecting corridors of the FRI are interspersed with open courtyards. There are many people who pose at the entrance to the sweeping portals for Instagram worthy pictures.

A family of elders and not so young who had just finished going through one of the museums, reading every detail carefully, take a breather as they walk through the corridor.

"I have seen many museums about forts, palaces, art and artefacts," says a man in the group, "but this is the first time I have seeing a museum about the jungle."

 
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ARCHANA MASIH / Rediff.com