Friday, 20 December 2013

Greenscape: Little green haven on the ECR still retains its earthy charm, even attracts migratory birds

For those of us who have been in love with the East Coast Road for a long time, the absence of long stretches of dense Casuarina groves adjoining the blue-green sea is a sad but striking reality.

In this hyped up stretch of real estate between Thiruvanmiyur and Mahabalipuram, high rise apartments and villa communities are replacing the little green cover left behind by resort developers at such a pace that the authorities might have to lay another road closer to the sea to retain their claim that driving here is a scenic experience.
 Cholamandal village still has retained its mud roads

Amid all the clamour for concrete development, the only residential colony that has bucked the trend is a tiny expanse of greenery at Injambakkam inside the Cholamandal Artists’ Village.  Although a prime piece real estate, the 10 acres of land that houses around 40-odd families including some of the best-known artists of our country, continues to remain a nature lover’s haven.

“When we first came, there was just a banyan tree and a few tamarind trees in our plot. Behind our village, which was a single piece of land at that time, there was a Casuarina grove leading to the beach. The rest of the land was barren,” says a veteran artist who has spent more than four decades at the village.

Today, the stretch of land houses hundreds of tall, shady trees which include banyan, tamarind, portia  and various other species. Almost every home owner in this locality has left alone a significant amount valuable real estate to grow trees, flowering plants, crotons and colourful creepers of different kinds.

“Our neighbourhood is one of those rare spots in the city where you can still spot a hornbill or a chameleon,” says R. Jacob Jebaraj, an artist who lives here. He spotted the distinctive green lizard right outside his garden just two days ago.

Woodpeckers, cuckoos, different species of parrots are all residents of this village. “Rat snakes, cobras and green snakes are also quite common here as we are among the few communities that have so much greenery,” Jacob says. “But, no one has ever been bitten by a snake.”

To retain the countryside feel for the colony, residents here even decided not to pave tar roads within the community. When it rains here, one can still inhale the musky, enchanting smell of wet earth. 

Old timers here wonder if their little green haven that has inspired countless artists from across the world will retain its charm in the coming years.  “Due to the steep rise in real estate prices, artists can no longer afford to buy properties here and many outsiders have also bought homes here. They do not share the same respect for trees and plants that the original settlers had,” says I.H. Sekhar, a green activist from Injambakkam.

About three months ago, a large tree that was planted outside one of the bungalows at Cholamandal was chopped off by the new owners of the building as it blocked the view to their home. “A huge argument broke out between the owner of the building and the other residents. But the tree was eventually felled,” says Sekhar.

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