News Karnataka
Tuesday, April 23 2024

‘King of his own urban evergreen jungle’

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It is easy to talk a big game but when it comes to making things practical, most people back off. Over the years, climate change has become a heated topic of debate and more often than not it remains just another new subject of discussions. Even though nature has been showing signs left and right, we are still waiting for the next calamity to strike so that we can start making changes.

With a will to create a difference on his own, Nataraja Upadhya, a retired software engineer from Udupi, settled in Bengaluru, has turned his terrace of around 1,500 sq-ft into an evergreen jungle consisting of 300 varieties of plants, including 100 trees of 72 species, creepers, fruit trees, and vegetables. Speaking to News Karnataka, Nataraja said that he derived inspiration from a film by Sir David Attenborough called ‘A Life on our Planet’ which talks about the destruction mankind has caused and the ways to fix it. “Wherever you can bring back vegetation you should do it, this is the message that I held onto from the film,” he said.

Nataraja and his family moved into the building located in Vivekanandanagar in Banashankari area in the year 1998. Constructed in the year 1987, the cement structure was radiating extreme heat into the building which was making it difficult for the family to live even with an air cooler. In 2010 he came up with the idea to seek the help of nature and to create an evergreen jungle in an urban setting. “This step has become a drastic change and we don’t need a cooler nor a fan in the summer.” He said that this was indeed a lifestyle choice where he was following a sustainable living and giving space for other creatures on his rooftop.

By 2015, a credible jungle had grown on his rooftop and over the years, he kept on improving it by including additions to the jungle. Earlier the plants were grown in discarded rice bags which would become brittle in the summer and die down and hence in 2018, Nataraja switched to recycled 55-litre drums. “There are no pillars of the roof and it can hold a weight of up to 40 tons. I also took care of leakages and other waterproofing of the terrace,” he said. Already the weight is up to 30 tons now and I have transferred all the drums to the sides of the walls so that the weight can be distributed well, he said. This change has also cleared a central pathway which has provided a good trail for Nataraja to walk.

Each drum has a micro jungle of its own, explained Nataraja. No soil is used inside the bins as a step towards weight management and instead a mixture of tender coconut shells at the bottom, topped with compost and dry leaves gives it the necessary nutrients which provides good drainage and reduces the stress on watering and composting regularly. The superior nutrition which closely resembles that of the forest floor provides an effective base for the plants, he said. Nataraja said that he tries to closely follow the structure of a jungle and once the ecosystem had been formed, he tries not to meddle too much with it. “Nobody goes to the forest and take out pest and hence I follow the same principle.” He explained that there used to be 42 water garden that were selfsustained but due to problems with space, the number was reduced to 10.

Nataraja said that there are some plants, especially vegetable, that need soil to grow. “These types of plants I usually avoid as they will die after a while and hence, I give more weightage to ornamental plants, even some herbs, food producing plants and some tress that are grown to conserve their species.”

As the jungle started to grow over the years, the terrace has become a refuge for many kinds of animals, birds, bees and butterflies. Nataraja who has a passion for photography, has documented the arrival of the many visitors and inhabitants of his jungle. His channel on YouTube has over 450 videos that address different aspects involved in creating such a jungle. “The interplay between bees and plants are mimicked in my forest and all these are documented.” He added that the jungle is thriving due to this dynamic and even though some plants and trees may die in between seasons, it is all part of the natural flow of the place. “I constantly add more plants which are collected from gardening community meetings and from nurseries but last year due to the lockdown, I was not able to collect as much and the vibrancy of the jungle has been affected.”

Waste management crisis which is common in the urban areas also found a resolve in Nataraja’s home. A compost pit has been built in the corner of his house for organic waste dumping. To this pit he adds kitchen waste, fermenting agents, dry leaves, flowers and cow dung collected from the roads which create enough nutrition for the plants. “This did not happen overnight. The composting takes place over a period of 60 days and the end product is very useful for the plants.” Nataraja even urges people around his house to dump their organic waste into his compost pit. “Three years back there was a huge crisis with regard to waste dumping in our area and so I opened my compost pit to the community,” he said.

Nataraja expressed his concern and said that due to the buildings that have been constructed around the area, the plants receive reduced amount of sunlight. He said that the thick jungle created can be divided into five layers. The first layer consists of the plants on his terrace, second becomes the ones inside his compound on the ground, third consists of the trees planted outside by the pavement, fourth are the ones along the roadside and fifth and finally the ones placed along the windows and railing which include plants like cactus. “The idea is to do everything to give the jungle effect, may it be creepers that run across the trees or orchids that are tied to the tree trunks.”

“I completely understand the dynamics of living closer to nature and I try to support as much flora and fauna as possible,” he said. He helps to feed stary dogs and cows in his area and plants trees across the roadsides to increase vegetation. “This has brought a sense of wellbeing and happiness to me and right now I am living in the coolness of nature.”

Through Facebook, Nataraja interacts with nature lovers and creates awareness about the need to conserve our ecosystem. Through his blog and social startup, ‘Billion Trees and Beyond’, he appealed to readers to pledge and plant trees in their lifetime. “Many people have responded with enthusiasm to the cause,” expressed Nataraja. 

“The idea is to work with what you have rather than fighting it”, he said. “I have proved that this is not a big deal and even a concrete structure in the middle of the Bengaluru can be turned into a jungle.” He said that the vicious cycle of destruction created by mankind must be reversed and stated that if all the terrace in Bengaluru is turned into a jungle, it can surely create a difference towards climate change.

Image courtesy Nataraja Upadhya.

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SC H Varghese

Harshita Mary Varghese graduated with a Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication from St. Aloysius College Mangaluru and is quickly learning the ropes of the emerging Media Industry. She has excellent language and reportage skills. She excels at human interest and travel stories.

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