Coppersmith barbet at the Botanical Garden. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir
At the National Botanical Garden in Mirpur, you buy a ten-taka ticket from the booth and, handing it to the guard at the entrance, make your way through a rusty but solid turnstile.
Inside, you enter a different world.
At 208 acres, the Garden is larger than the Botanical Gardens at Singapore and Melbourne, two others which I have visited. Its 908 plant species are divided into 57 sections including a bamboo garden and areas dedicated to palms, orchids and cactuses as well as two rose gardens. The Garden, on the banks of the Turag river, was established in 1961.
My first trip here last year surprised and delighted me from the start. Among many trees was a medium-sized banyan which stood within a hundred yards of the entrance. As I passed under it, I heard birds chattering above. The ripe red banyan fruits had attracted a flock of coppersmith barbets (choto boshonto-bouri), astonishingly beautiful small birds with a green body, a large red blob on the forehead and a black and yellow mask around the eyes. I started photographing one and he stopped eating and looked downwards. Fixing his stare at me, he tilted his head this way and that several times before deciding I was harmless and resuming his meal.
Heading to my right, inside a grove of (mostly acacia) trees I saw several Asian cuckoo (bou-katha-kou.) I grew up with this bird's song, but had never seen it up-close. One caught my attention. He was scanning the horizon with his sharp eyes, and a minute later he swooped from his perch to catch his favourite food from the ground: a green caterpillar.
Near a wall separating the Garden from the zoo next door were some rongon trees. Several small birds - little spiderhunters (mochatuni) - were busily drinking the nectar of the rongon flowers, sometimes turning upside down to get to the flowers.
The birds thinned, however, as I entered an area called â€œInternational Grove.â€ Rows of towering casuarinas, interspersed with nageshwar trees, lined both sides of the road. The grove, created in 1973, also contains oaks, magnolias, camphor, rambutan and various exotic palms.
On a recent trip, I found the bamboo grove to be an island of serenity. There were few birds here, but a nearby grove of teak trees was alive with birdcalls. With some patience, I saw woodpeckers, doves, warblers, orioles and starlings.
As I walked along the road, a sweet fragrance wafted through the air just as the second of the park's two rose gardens came into view. There are 200 varieties of roses here sporting many colours. Some are multi-coloured; some are hybrids developed here. Tipped off by Md. Ruhul Amin, helpful Director of the Garden, I found an unusual rosebush full of green roses in full bloom.
If you are interested in nature or birds, the Botanical Garden is worth a visit. The treasures of this large park, however, are impossible to cover in a single day and you may find yourself returning soon.