Dying to live. The story of Rao Jodha Park.

The ISOLA Mumbai Chapter in concurrence with its aim of creating awareness about the profession of Landscape Architecture within the profession and the public at large decided to institute the 5 D Vaidya Memorial Lecture. Mr. Vaidya who passed away in October 2011 left behind him a legacy of a huge body of work which however remains relatively undocumented and unknown. The purpose of instituting this lecture was to reacquaint the public and professionals in particular with this legacy and create a forum to interact with some of the best minds and practices today.

The inaugural lecture of the S D Vaidya series was organized on the 23rd February 2013 at the Noshir Talati auditorium, Rachana Sansad, Mumbai. Well known naturalist Pradip Krishen was invited to deliver the lecture.

The event began with a welcome address by ISOLA Mumbai Chairperson Urmila

Rajadhyaksha followed by a brief presentation by Devayani Upasani assisted by Arjun Sharma, members of ISOLA Mumbai on the work of Mr. Vaidya covering his journey through his beginnings in the field of agriculture, his education at Versailles and exposure to contemporary European Landscapes of his time, to his work at the Atomic Energy Establishment (now named the Bhabha Atomic Research Center-BARC) overviewing his work of over a span of twenty years, including several consultancies for various government bodies both at the National and the State Level.

Senior landscape architect Kishore Pradhan who looked upon Mr. Vaidya as a mentor shared some of his personal memories of him with the audience touching upon his sheer determination and multidimensional personality.

Pradip Krishen delivered his lecture titled «Dying to live-the story of Rao Jodha Park.»

Known to many of us as the author of the renowned book Trees of Delhi, Pradip Krishen held the audience comprising of a good mix of professionals from various fields, students, nature enthusiasts, and officials from BARC, spellbound as he spoke about his latest venture — the Rao Jodha Park in Jodhpur. In his own words, it was a rocky wasteland of 70 hectares adjoining Jodhpur’s medieval Mehrangarh Fort, on top of the hill with the invasive Prosopis juliflora (bavalia) with hardly any soil and the underlying crystalline rock, volcanic in origin, which was many times harder and more difficult to work than tractable sandstone. He spoke about putting together a program to try and restore the landscape to a ‘natural state’ with plants native to Marwar’s rocky desert with the ultimate objective to create a Park that would be like an outdoor museum of rock-loving plants from this particular part of the world.

He spoke in detail about the program that was developed for the Park. The first step was to put together a list of the native plantation which was well documented and with the guidance of Prof. M M Bhandari they were able to identify many of the native plants in and around the region. The removal of the baavlia, which discourages everything else from growing or prospering nearby by secreting toxic alkaloids in its root-zone, was another important step. Trying out various methods unsuccessfully they finally were successful in the removal of the baavlia with the help of highly skilled local rock-miners the khandwalias.

Pradip elaborated on how pits of various sizes were dug to remove the baavlia which has a subterranean budding zone in its upper roots, from where it re-sprouts below the level of the soil. Thus the pits also became the deciding factor for replanting-an indicator that the new plants would survive at that position. Hence the replanting strategy was evolved — the size of the pit determining the type of species replanted. Different mixes of growth media were tried. The park was walled out for cattle and camel.

Various perennials based on the information collected earlier were planted in the pits and for the next 2-3 years their survival rate, health, type of strata in which they survived, depth of pit required and other attributes were documented in details. The idea was to balance these perennials with the lithophytes-plants which germinate in the rains, rush through its life-cycle so that it flowers and fruits inside the window of opportunity, dropping its seeds in the ground (typically hard-coated, which lie dormant in the soil, waiting many months for next season’s rains) before dying out.

After painstakingly collecting and evaluating data, it was observed that the survival rate of the plants in the Rao Jodha Park has increased substantially. The Rao Jodha Park—as Pradip summed up—is in its 6th year now, and still evolving itself-a process which will keep on continuing in the coming years-with a hopeful addition of many insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians too.

The lively interaction session that followed the presentation touched upon various aspects ranging from the approach and methodology adopted by Pradip Krishen for the project in comparison with current practices, his thoughts on the way Landscape Architects work and the intricacies of how he went about selection and identification of suitable species and then hunting for them.

Mr. Kotwal, ex Registrar, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research-TIFR and a contemporary of Mr. Vaidya shared his memories of the work of Mr. Vaidya and the great importance of the role played by Mr. Homi Bhabha as patron and guiding light for the same.

Simultaneous to the talk, ISOLA Mumbai also organized an exhibition of the activities undertaken by the Chapter and selected entries from the past Students’ Landscape Design Competitions organized by Landscape Foundation India.

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