"Bangalore’s Ebbing Nature" captures the struggle of Bangalore as it destroys its forests and lakes to make way for growth and expansion. In this article I try to describe how Bangalore has transformed over the years I have known it, for the worse. The city has expanded beyond its limits, devouring the very Nature to which it owed its existence. In this round of city versus Nature, Bangalore has everything to lose.
On April 12, 2016, Bangalore recorded its highest temperature since 1931 at forty degrees Celsius[i].
“Thirty years ago, when I first moved to Bangalore, we had no ceiling fans or coolers. The weather was pleasant always,” grumbled Sarojini, my sixty-one year old neighbor. Sweating profusely, she moved slowly, watering her potted plants. Her ubiquitous smiles were missing.
“Not a single drop of rain in days! I never thought Bangalore would come to this,” she continued bitterly.
In 2000, I visited Bangalore with my parents for the first time. I fell in love with the city as we drove toward our hotel from the railway station. Tree-lined avenues, gardens, and parks in unexpected corners, and beautiful lakes; these are my early memories of Bangalore. I hung my head out during the cab ride, taking in everything excitedly. I had seen more stunning natural landscapes, but a modern city complemented with natural beauty awed me. Entering my teen years, I vowed to myself that I would eventually move to Bangalore and make it my home.
In 2012, I moved to Bangalore for my job. The city had changed. There were fewer tree-lined roads. Forested lands that I had seen in my first visit to Bangalore were replaced by technology parks. My favorite lush green canopied stretch of road near the old airport had fewer trees and more vehicles. Bustling residential areas were all around the old airport, and the airport had shifted to outskirts of the city due to lack of space for expansion. I was living in an apartment, crammed in one of the concrete districts of the city. As far as my eyes went, I could see only houses and office spaces. No trees in sight.
I consoled myself by saying ‘a growing city has to transform.’ It was beautiful nevertheless. There were still green neighborhoods in the city. The Lal Bagh garden and Cubbon Park provided me refuge from the city’s maddening traffic and pollution. The wooded Cubbon Park was my haven. I spent most of my Sunday mornings in the park, listening to the birds and watching the mischievous squirrels running around the trees. And I loved Bangalore’s salubrious weather. The summers were short, lasting about a month and half. They saw temperatures of thirty degrees celsius max, accompanied by frequent evening showers.
In my five years of living in Bangalore, its weather transformed for the worse. Scorching summers were a regular occurrence now and the air drier than before. There were fewer of the quintessential Bangalore summer showers and more of abrupt downpours and deluges.
“March is the new May!” exclaimed my friend Maddy, as this year the weather changed from winter to summer without so much as a hint of spring. The “air-conditioned” city transformed into a hell-hole.
According to history[ii], Bangalore’s air-conditioned climate was created by the efforts of the earlier rulers, including the Cholas and Hoysalas. Bangalore was originally a dry, hot place like its neighboring districts. It did not have a river and had few tanks for water sources. Kempe Gowda I, the founder of the city, invested heavily in forestation and the creation of an elaborate network of lakes and canals. As the forests and water bodies became bigger, they started influencing the climate. The temperature dropped gradually and Bangalore became cooler.
However, the city has expanded beyond its limits, devouring the very Nature to which it owed its existence.
Recently, the wide expanse of forests have disappeared. The numerous gardens which gave Bangalore its name of “garden city” are now invisible. The lakes have either been encroached for construction of new buildings or have been converted into dumping grounds for sewage. Bellandur Lake, a few kilometers away from my neighborhood, spews poisonous froth and caught fire recently. I now live in one of the greener neighborhoods, although it means living further from my workplace. These localities are few and face a steady decline. I see new buildings coming up in my locality everyday. Without a well connected metro network, Bangalore’s roads are infested with cars and buses, adding to the burgeoning pollution levels.
A 2016 study[iii] conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, found that there was a 525 percent growth of construction areas in the last four decades, a seventy-eight percent decline in vegetation, and a seventy-nine percent decline in water bodies. The results are alarming. “Bangalore won't die in five years; it's already dead,” the study said.
Bangalore must heed the warning signals and learn to coexist with Nature. Construction houses must ensure no encroachment of forests and lakes. The few surviving lakes need to be cleaned and protected. Bicycle and pedestrian paths should be incorporated in the upcoming localities. Gardens and parks must be nurtured. Allocation of budgets for environment has to be complemented with implementation. We humans need to understand that growth at the cost of Nature is unpardonable. In this round of City versus Nature, Bangalore has everything to lose.
Photos by Author
[i] Venkat, A.(2016, April 14). Bengaluru Sizzles at 40. Retrieved from http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/others/articleshow/51832623.cms
[ii] Rajesh, S. (2016, May 27). Bengaluru's climate change history and lessons to learn. Retrieved from http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/bengaluru-s-climate-change-history-and-lessons-to-learn
[iii] Ramachandra, TV. & Aithal, B. (2016, May 05). Spatial Patterns of Urban Growth with Globalisation in India's Silicon Valley. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283008555_Spatial_Patterns_of_Urban_Growth_with_Globalisation_in_India's_Silicon_Valley ng/bengaluru-concretisation-urbanisation-population-boom-lakes-urban-jungle-dead-city-2765760.htm
Swagatika's tryst with travel began in 2011 during her student exchange programme in France. Twenty countries and countless stories down the line, her bucket list continues to expand. Follow her on Instagram @swagatika_globetrotter.