The Chinar tree is gigantic and is one of the most beautiful of trees, changing colours along with seasons – from lush green to yellow in summer, maroon in autumn and grey in winter. It is considered as a heavenly gift on Earth. Native people call it as ‘Bouni’ and the tree derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhawani’, meaning Goddess. The hollow trunk of the tree has been used for doing meditation over several years and is considered sacred. It is often planted around places of worship but other than religious importance, chinar is a good ornamental tree.
The leaves are used as charcoal by the locals, the wood in crafts, and the huge and lofty branches as house for birds like the kite (Milvus Migrans). The decoction of bark of Chinar is used in Greek folk medicine in treatment of Haemorrhage and relieves burns, and when mixed with potassium carbonate (K2CO3) is used as a traditional dye for silk. Despite its sacred value and all other utilities, the number of Chinar trees has dwindled from 42,000 (1970s) to around just 2000 in number as on date. The main reason for this decrease may be reckless felling and pruning of trees for construction and widening of roads, and due to poor management practices adopted by Tourist departments and Social Forestry of J&K. Due to frequent tourists flocking Kashmir, road widening and other developmental activities have been expedited. Widening of roads throughout Kashmir valley, along Gulmarg National Highway has resulted in the loss of many trees due to the surrounding concrete. In Srinagar, along the banks of the Jhelum near Lal Chowk area many trees are unable to survive as chinar grows well in drained sandy loam soil. But in Bund area, some deep pits have been dug around the trees. During rainy season and snowfall water gets stored in these pits.
This water brings a lot of clay and silt content along with it, which gets deposited on the surface of the soil that hinders growth of the tree, depriving oxygen to the roots, resulting in senescence and finally downfall of the Chinar tree. However, to reduce the impact of development on the environment, ecologists and environmentalists should be consulted. During widening and repair of roads, proper aeration of roots of trees and other plants must be considered. Measures such as covering the roots of the trees with soil from all the sides for aeration, instead of directly pouring concrete. However it is heartening to note that the Govt is making honest efforts to stop the illegal felling of this great tree of Kashmir and declared 15 March as Chinar Plantation Day.
A recent ban has been enforced to curb cutting of Chinar trees as they are now being registered and are considered as heritage of state. Increased awareness means most old Chinars are protected and conscious efforts are being made to undertake plantation drives of this tree in other states as well.