It is not an easy proposition to get the family to rally around you for a trip to a garden, least of all a botanical garden, especially if you have barely-in-teens children who would rather be doing something more interesting like jumping around in the clear blue sea. However, I managed to cajole them into it and off we were exploring the SSR Botanical Garden. At the end of the one hour tour of the garden even the normally skeptical kids were convinced that they had made a wise decision to agree to my proposal.
This garden is over 200 years old and has been lovingly nurtured by eminent botanists over the years. (There is a small memorial obelisk prominently displayed in the garden listing all these gentlemen who have steered the course of the garden development over the years. Nice touch, that!)
Ever seen sausages growing on a tree? There they are huge sausages hanging high up on the sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata, if you are a stickler for botanical names). And how many kinds of bamboos do you think there are? There are palms which look like bamboos and bamboos which look like palms, you get them all here. In India (especially in the North) we associate bamboos with snakes. If there is something I am really terrified of is, that is a snake, even a meek garden snake is enough make me run and climb the nearest available raised surface! I gingerly asked our guide whether there were snakes around the area. I was reassured that Mauritius maybe known for many things but not for snakes, snakes apparently do not exist in Mauritius. A smile returned on my face and the rest of the garden tour was taken in peace.
Ten minutes into the tour Yogesh added a Danish couple in addition to the four of us. I am sure he wanted to maximize his earnings from the one hour of stroll through the gardens in addition to the hundred rupees he was charging us. Which actually turned out to be a pretty good thing afterall. For one, we (Danes and us) would take turns in photographing each other amidst the trees and shrubs. And I became a kind of a sub-guide to Yogesh for the Danes. Yogesh would introduce a tree, say the peepul tree, saying that it was an import from India and then look to me to fill in the Indian/Hindu story around it. There was peepul tree, the banyan tree, the lotus etc etc. So yours truly took the Danes on a tour of Hindu mythology and the stories around each of India flora on display. (Cloves as dental treatment freaked the Danes out completely!) Maybe I should have asked Yogesh for a cut of the money he would have made from the Danes! And a share of the future revenues he would make retelling my little stories.
The piece d’ resistance (please pardon my use of French, after all I have just returned from Ile Maurice!!) of the tour was the Giant Water Lilies. This is the chief attraction in the Garden. We had seen the pictures earlier but were not prepared for the gigantic leaves of the water lilies. Large green circular leaves floating majestically in water. Fully grown ones can be up to two meters in diameter. This has been imported from Brazil (we were told this is a native of the Amazon, hence the name Victoria amazonica). They looked sturdy enough for me to contemplate a quick stroll across the lily pond stepping over those giant leaves! The flower themselves are surprisingly short-lived, just twenty four hours or so! They blossom with white petals, turn purple after a few hours and turn red towards the life’s end before they wilt away.