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11 Jan 2017

Gurung axes tree chop plan - Road alignment changed to save century-old magnolia in Singtom

The century-old magnolia tree in Singtom tea garden. Picture by Mohan Lama
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, Jan. 10: Bimal Gurung has slightly changed the alignment of a road that is being built at an estimated cost of Rs 5 crore to save a magnolia tree, believed to be more than a century old, from the saw in Singtom tea garden.
The development has brought back memories of a similar exercise at League City in Texas, USA, in 2012 when the city authorities had decided to relocate a 100-year-old Compton oak 1,500ft away to save it.
The authorities reportedly used cranes, bulldozers and excavators numbering two each to transplant the tree which was carried in a huge box along with the mud on which it had stood.
In the hilly terrain of Ram Lal Dhura in Singtom tea garden, shifting the magnolia tree is an impossible task.
On January 2, the GTA chief executive reached Ram Lal Dhura to perform a puja to mark the beginning of the road project. Local people gathered at the spot and there were murmurs that the tree would have to be chopped down for the project.
The road being built by the GTA starts from the very point where the tree, locally known as chaap, stands and is to connect the area with Godamtar, 6km downhill.
The exact spot is known as Chaapbotey (magnolia tree).
The residents told Gurung how they were emotionally attached to the tree. But he told them that the tree had to be uprooted.
Soon, the puja started and village elders joined him. After a brief interaction with the village elders, Gurung seemed to be convinced of the need to preserve the tree. He was soon seen discussing with GTA engineers on a way out.
The road is being constructed on what was earlier a pathway.
A few days back, Gurung said: "We will not fell the tree. Instead, we will build a protection wall along the slope of the pathway to make space for the road. The road is very important for the development of the area as farmers can bring their produce to Darjeeling town. But then, the tree is also important for them."
P.P. Rai, 86, a resident of the area who had led the elders for a talk with Gurung, said: "We are very happy that the tree will remain there. The tree is a landmark of the area. We are all attached to the tree emotionally. People not only identify the area with the tree but also use the spot for rest while taking the pathway."
The garden, 8km from here, doesn't have any other magnolia tree.
"I think the tree is 126 years old. There were other trees like pine in the vicinity. All those trees were cut down but the local people preserved the magnolia tree. Old timers who have left the area still come to see the tree," said Rai.
Dhiren Rai, another garden dweller, said: "Someday, the tree will definitely die but we would then want the village elders to plant a sapling at that very spot so that the past is not forgotten."
Gurung said he was also exploring the possibility of constructing a bridge over the Baluwabas river so that Bijanbari and Rimbick Lodhama were connected.
Snow at Sandakphu
Sandakphu, situated at an altitude of 12000ft, received heavy snowfall on Tuesday.
Chandan Pradhan, the secretary of the Singalila Land Rover Owners' Welfare Association, said: "It started snowing from 3pm today. The snowfall is still continuing. There are around 30 tourists in the area. Many tourists had come up to Sandakphu yesterday but most have returned. At the moment, two Land Rovers are in the upper reaches of Sandakphu."
Sandakphu is 52km from Darjeeling.

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