Delhi is well-known for its historical heritage. For its seven cities born and reborn over millennia.
But what of its natural heritage? ‘Natural heritage?’, you ask, ‘What natural heritage? This is a big, busy megacity with a population of 18 million and growing’.
Although urbanisation is steadily creeping into Delhi’s once expansive forest cover, India’s capital city continues to offer numerous wonderful opportunities to immerse oneself in green surrounds. Here are three unique ways of experiencing nature in Delhi.
Bathing? In a forest in Delhi?!
Not quite! ‘Forest bathing’ or the concept of Shinrin-Yoku began in Japan in the 1980s as a means of enhancing physical and mental well-being by spending time in a forest.
My first forest bathing experience was led by the lovely Anna Zimmer, a friendly Hindi-speaking long-time German resident of Delhi. Her gentle voice led us into our meditative walk through Sanjay Van.
Walking in silence, cheeks turning red in the crisp cold breeze of the first true winter Delhi has seen in years, we immersed ourselves in the calm of the wild. Breathing in the freshness of the many shades of green, we focused on the rhythmic crunch of gravel and dry leaves under our feet. From one direction, and then from another, birds sang out through the rustling leaves.
We followed the gentle gurgling of a stream in the distance, pausing from time to time to fully soak in the forest through all of our senses. Looking for the reflections of trees and birds dancing on the shimmering ripples of a lake. Feeling the unique textures of tree bark, hugging and sharing energies with trees.
As we walked out of the forest having washed off our city stresses, we promised to return soon to keep ourselves calm and centred through our busy lives.
Feel at peace with yourself through a forest bathing experience with Swechha India: https://www.facebook.com/SwechhaIndia/
A spot of history: If you’re in the mood to combine your nature walk with a bit of history, Sanjay Van is also home to the remnants of the first cities of Delhi, said to have been built as far back as the 8thcentury.
In this age of packaged fruit and veg from supermarkets, dig down to your hunter-gatherer roots on a food foraging walk in Lodi Gardens with the young environmental entrepreneur Kush Sethi.
A favourite winter picnic spot for Delhi-wallahs, not many know that a lot of the wild flowers and leaves growing around Lodi Gardens are edible.
The walk begins in the formal herb garden. This is an education in the knowledge systems of our ancestors, with much to learn about the benefits of the herbs. Whatever you do, remember not to eat the gud maar plant before dessert, I was told it stops you from tasting anything sweet!
But it’s not just about the formal herb garden. You will learn about and forage for many edible plants growing wild through Lodi Gardens.
Nasturtiums, with their beautiful bell-shaped orange flowers and flat round leaves. A perfect alternative to lettuce as your sandwich filling. Prepare to be surprised with your first crunch. A spicy aftertaste awaits!
The pretty hearts of wood sorrel leaves. Growing aplenty naturally, these are usually thought of as a weed, rather than a flavoursome salad ingredient.
Lemon flowers tasting just like lemon peel. Yummy for a lemon-lover like me, but may be too strong for many!
The sinduriya with its orange seeds used for colouring food, which was used to colour some freshly made pasta when we sat down for a long lazy lunch.
Yes, lunch. Having foraged for many, many wild plants, it was now time to enjoy the fruits (and flowers and leaves!) of our labour. We took our wild collection to the capable hands of the inventive chef Rajeev Sharma who has honed his craft in restaurants around the world before making his home at ‘Perch’, a favourite weekend brunch spot amongst Delhi folk. Chef Rajeev surprised us with course after course of perfectly plated, delicious delights. Everything tasted just a little extra scrumptious knowing we had found and foraged for it ourselves!
Go foraging for food with Kush Sethi’s HaraMe Company:https://www.facebook.com/harame.co/
A spot of history: Lodi Gardens, the location of this food foraging walk, are home to beautiful tombs from the Lodi and Sayyid dynasties spanning the 15thand 16thcenturies.
Birdwatching in Delhi
Big, busy Delhi is home to over 230 species of birds. An unexpected locale to search for your favourite feathery flock are the thorny scrub forests and rocky outcrops of Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. Expert conservators from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) lead excellent nature walks through the sanctuary every weekend. The walk themes range from birds to bees to butterflies and beyond.
I attended their spring bird walk led by the hugely knowledgeable naturalist Sohail Madan. He reminded us that while birdwatching has now turned into a hobby for those with much time and patience, it used to be an important skill for our tribal ancestors, with the avian presence telling them of the bounties available in forests.
He kept his group of birders, novices and experts alike, educated and entertained through the walk with a series of fun fascinating facts that we didn’t even know we wanted answers to!
Why don’t birds fall off their perches when they go to sleep? Why do some owl species have asymmetrically placed ears? Which ubiquitous city bird actually has the seaside cliffs of the British Isles as its natural habitat? Which Mexican tree has so rampantly been taking over native Indian habitats that it has had to be dynamited out of the soil?
All this and more will be answered if you take your curiosity and sense of adventure with you to the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.
Stay updated on the walk schedule at the BNHS Conservation Education Centre’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cecabwls/
A spot of history: Ancient history is never far when you are in Delhi. The ruins of the Tughlaqabad Fort are a short drive from the sanctuary.
Which of these nature experiences will you have next?
Or will you find yourself stepping into one of the many, many other green environs of Delhi – the bird sanctuaries of Okhla and Sultanpur, the Jahanpanah City Forest, the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, the Northern Ridge and the many other named and un-named green areas…