The best part of Delhi summers.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is always good when the temperature crosses the 40-degree mark. It is then that amaltas flowers start blooming and mind you, they remain in full bloom only during the months of May and June.
So if you happen to be in Delhi during this time of the year, just leave your air-conditioned room and hit the road — Hailey Road, that is. This quiet stretch of a road near Connaught Place is, at the time of writing this piece, glowing on both sides in a spectacular sprinkling of gold. Thanks to the amaltas tree (Cassia fistula L.).
But why should you care?
“In peak summer, the sky is hazy grey, the air dusty and everything is tiresome,” says Mr Kunal Chatterjee, a student of Indian classical music. “But the cheery sight of amaltas invigorates the senses.”
Yes, trees can be cool. Native to India, amaltas is noted for its yellow flowers that blossom only when the weather gets hot. As if nature is compensating for its intolerable heat.
During the hot months, you inevitably come across these dazzling bursts on any Delhi street, but there is a reason why I’m asking you to take a walk down Hailey Road. There, the sight is incredible — rows of amaltas trees; yellow flowers entwined with the green leaves of the peepal; flowers crawling up electric poles, snaking around notice boards, falling like snow flakes onto the ground, covering it with a golden-hued carpet.
No wonder these trees are also referred to as golden shower and golden rain. And yes, while on the walk, don’t skip the giant amaltas growing out of the guards’ barrack at the Iranian embassy.
“The most remarkable feature about amaltas is that it is still a wild tree with wild genes and wild characters,” says Mr Pradip Krishen, the author of the bestselling book Trees of Delhi. “Gardeners and horticuturists are an interfering bunch of people and tend to select and breed for large, showy flowers or prettier foliage or better fragrance or some such character and so it’s rare to see a cultivated tree in a city like Delhi that remains true to its wild form.”
Mr Krishen’s guess is that amaltas is still hundred per cent wild, and that all its lovely characters are exactly as you will find them in dry, deciduous jungles across the breadth of the Indian subcontinent.
Amaltas has other uses, too, though not that aesthetic. Its roots, bark, seeds and leaves are used as a purgative to make one vomit and, well, also as a laxative. But on Hailey Road, you just focus on its look.
“But don’t let its flowers blind you to its fragrance,” advises Mr Krishen. “You’ll probably have to find a way of taking a deep sniff when the diesel fumes are at their minimum but the amaltas emits a truly lovely scent, especially in the morning.” We’ll try waking early.
Where Hailey Road, opposite Modern School, Barakhamba Best time Morning Other places to see Amaltas Rajghat, Nehru Park, Amrita Shergill Marg, BRT corridor
Click here to read another story on the Amaltas.