Osho Teerth and Azam Campus were eyesores on the Pune landscape before becoming the city's aesthetic cynosures. M.A. Siraj tells you how the metamorphosis took place.

Wastelands could be aesthetically transformed into parks and could prove a boon for our town and cities. Legendary artist Nek Chand’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh was the pioneering effort in this genre of activity. However, his venture did not see immediate replication, as most cities were in throes of massive changes in the aftermath of Independence and Partition that sent an influx of refugees.

But of late, some attempts have succeeded in taking the movement forward. Prominent among them is Osho Teerth in Pune’s Koregaon Park. The tastefully laid out Japanese-style garden behind the Rajneesh Ashram today stands as a significant milestone on this trajectory. It was a piece of barren land with a black-sludge-carrying nala running through it. A lot of used oil was also being dumped into it by the nearby railway yard. The human waste from a nearby slum also contributed to the putrid concoction. Residents in the surrounding areas complained, but the Pune Municipal Corporation did not know how to clean the mess up and restore life to the vacant land skirting the Ashram.

But today, the area hosts the Osho Teerth, a visual treat with a superabundance of verdure. Mangroves ring it all around the periphery. Roses bloom and lotuses smile. Water streams gurgle, fountains spray water and sprinklers kick up mist, allowing sunrays to descend into a rainbow. The bamboo thickets attract birds, and the lakes have swans floating on their silvery waters. A stream cascades down into the pools which harbour fishes in myriad colours. The view, for those who preserve the memories of the old site, is particularly stunning from the monolithic stone bridges which run across the central stream .

The change

The Ashram management took over the place in 1989 and invited Shunyo Foundation, a Japanese environmental firm, to revitalise the area. Shunyo brought in Nihar, a Japanese landscape artist, to create a park out of the wasteland.

The nala flowed from north to south, discharging 500 gallons of water a minute at a particular point. Nihar first raised a barricade to keep off the cattle. It was then meshed off with iron grills to catch the floating solid garbage once it entered the proposed park. The stream was then made to course like a serpent over the land to allow maximum oxygenation of water. It was planted with water hyacinth and stocked with fish such as gambusia and silver carp which eat pollutants and mosquito larvae. It was then passed through a sand filter. The oxygenation and filtering made the water almost 90 per cent pure, perfectly okay for irrigation and fish culture.

Nearly 50,000 truckloads of soil was brought and dumped over the area. Local contractors were invited to dump their debris to create hills and dales. Several huge rocks were moved to the area and were chiselled into fine shapes. Trees and shrubs that already existed on the site were pruned while some special trees were brought in from Bangalore, Vadodara and Kolkata. Polished marble slabs were kept underneath the canopy of trees to create corners for meditation. Statutes of Buddha in meditative postures were installed at key spots.

Helped by Pune’s salubrious climate, the foliage blossomed into a thick vegetative cover. With fine hedges here and pools and fountains there, the Osho Park serves as an inspiration for creating an environmental project. It attracts over 1,000 visitors on a week day.

Project coordinators say the key element in the planning was slowing down the water stream in order to allow the natural cleaning process to be re-established. According to them, more the water is allowed to twist and turn during its running course, more its capacity to regenerate itself and become clean.

The second experiment

Curiously, the second experiment in the direction also comes from Pune. The man behind the transformation is Peerpasha Inamdar, the secretary of the Azam Campus which hosts nearly 25 educational institutions in the heart of the city’s Cantonment area. While Azam Campus has itself seen a huge transformation during the last two decades, some of the more picturesque sights lie obscured by the campus wall. One is sure to let out a wondrous gasp at the breathtaking scenery that may await people who can just manage a peek out of the exits in the back wall. During the last decade the Campus administration has turned a virtual municipal dustbin of an area into a pleasing park.

It was practically a no man’s land sandwiched between the campus backyard fence and a congregation ground used only on two days annually. A 20-ft. wide canal coursed through it bringing drinking water to the city of Pune from Khadakwasla Dam on Mutha river. Boys from the nearby localities took a dip into its cool and pristine pure water, least aware that the water was meant for drinking purposes.

Inamdar eyed the opportunity that lay just behind the campus he was transforming. He got the area landscaped into a park. Canal embankments were planted with grass. Trees were neatly pruned. Walls were painted with murals by artists from the Fine Arts College on the campus. A couple of iron bridges across the canal came in handy to connect with the campus as well as enhance the looks. A couple of gazebos and a handful of stone benches have altered the ambience beyond recognition.

Not merely this, the iron bridges have enabled the college to put to use this ground as a shooting range. What better use for a ground that lay unused for 363 days of a year! Efforts paid dividends too. One of the shooting trainees, Anisa Sayyed from the Girls College on the campus, won the nation a gold medal in the 2009 Commonwealth Games.

Pune’s eyesores of yesterday are the cynosure of all eyes today.

The author can be contacted at maqsiraj@gmail.com