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Flying foxes and flame of forest


CREATURE COMFORTS The campus is a mix of common and exotic species of trees and creatures

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Theosophical Society wants to keep more people out than in from its grounds rich with history, trees and animals. For one, the 135-year-old society is open to the public only from 8 am to 10 am and again, from 2. 30 pm to 4. 30 pm. The rules are tacked on the watchman's shack: no mobile phones, no talking loudly and no "walking abreast with friends on the paths".

"Anyone can visit but we have a lot of rules, " says Harihara Raghavan, general manager of the society. "This is a serious place for lovers of nature, law-abiding citizens and theosophists. We get many requests for film shootings but that would ruin the beauty of the place."

Chennai is known as a city of beaches. But if you want to take a long, peaceful walk through trees and shrubs, stopping by to smell the flowers and spot the birds, the Theosophical Society in Adyar is the place for you.

Top-rated among the attractions is the great banyan tree, 450 years old and spread over 4, 000 sq m. Over the years, local species have reclaimed the space and today, the campus is a rambling mix of exotic and indigenous trees and creatures. Magnificent mahogany and flame of the forest grow beside trees from Australia, flying foxes nestle in the upper branches of trees, mango and jackfruit groves spread out beside pathways, jackals run by, flamingoes stand in the estuary during the migratory season and cobras and kraits slither through the undergrowth. "There about 100 species of birds, 200 varieties of trees and any number of reptiles, insects, butterflies and fish, " says V Arun, a conservationist who lived on the campus for 11 years.

Naturalists approve of the restricted access. "The species have space to flourish because of the strict rules," says T Murugavel, an English professor and ardent bird watcher. But, 50 years ago, the campus was a more vibrant place that was at the centre of social, cultural and political activities - from the Indian independence movement to the revival of Bharatanatyam by Rukmini Devi Arundale. The Adyar headquarters has hosted luminaries from Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi to education pioneer Maria Montessori and artist Nicholas Roerich. Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti was discovered playing on the society's beach.

"The campus is one of the few places in the heart of the city where you can walk without hearing the sound of traffic," says Kumaran Sathasivam of the Madras Naturalists' Society. And if you're really, really lucky, you can hide behind a tree and spot six jackal puppies playing with complete abandon outside their den.

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