Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Salman Rashid’s archetypal Amaltas

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I don’t know which trees Joyce Kilmer had in mind when he published his collection Trees and other Poems in 1914. But since he was an American (journalist and poet), I suspect he would have been taking of elms, oaks and yews that he was acquainted with. The first stanza of his ode Trees is remarkable: I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.

The poem, all twelve lines of it, is a beautiful, heart-warming appreciation of trees that one can scarcely go any better. But have you ever stopped to put your face against the smooth bark of the peepul or the rough one of a tahli or neem and imagined you can hear the sap coursing through its veins? The sap that carries the songs of several decades and, in the case of some fine old banyans, even of centuries. I have, and I have heard songs and tales and have seen events unfolding as the tree saw them. But then I suppose I am a sentimental old dreamer.

We don’t do these things. Because now as Lahore expands unplanned and uncontrolled the ancient trees are being destroyed to be replaced only by shrubbery and fast growing species like rubber plant, asoka and, lately, conocarpus. As we are in too unholy a haste to get nowhere, similarly we are in greater haste to see these grow, trees that do not belong on this good land.

My gripe apart, this is the season to sing the amaltas (Cassia fistula), the tree of the smooth pale-coloured bark that in full summer has a dense leafy crown much favoured by collared doves, bulbuls, little brown doves of the somnolent coos and, if it is a big tree, by the kuk-kuk-kuk bird – the beautiful green, blue and red coppersmith or chukki rah of Punjabi.

Unlike the tahli, neem or the peepul that shed in midwinter and come back into leaf by April, the amaltas sheds in early May. Then for about three weeks it stands bare, its skeletal branches, smooth and almost white, pointing fingers at the sky which in this season is always a quarter tone of blue. I have so many times stood under a bare amaltas this time of year and imagined it is shaming the sky for losing its azure to the dust and filth we humans have pumped into the sky.

Sometime in mid-May, tiny green buds break out on pendent new shoots. But instead of unfurling into leaves, these buds grow fatter by the day until they burst into yellow blossoms. Every day they grow in numbers until the tree, still without its green drape, becomes a very cascade of fragrant gold. It is a flower fall (if we can have waterfalls why not a flower fall) of gold, gold, gold.

And the fragrance, oh, the fragrance! I don’t think even Kilmer could have described it. It is as mellow and subdued as can be. Not the overpowering exuberance of Raat ki Rani but no less straight out of some similar mythical paradise. Whereas the Raat ki Rani drowns you so that you do not wish to rise again, the fragrance of the amaltas is only just discernible as it rides the breeze in undulating waves; it uplifts. It is a lilt in the air, a melody and a dance that rolls like the waltz – always smooth, always without a twitch, as if it has oiled the very breeze that carries it.

This is the time when the tree also breaks out its new foliage. Not its parrot green of high summer, but a pale brick-red turning to olive, just so to set the gold to blazing advantage. It is the shade of the crown on the tailor bird’s head. Is it the colour then that invites the tailor bird to nest in this heavenly tree when its leaves mature in June?

Every morning shortly after sunrise, I stand under the amaltas in my yard and look up through its cascade of gold and brick-red amid the white branches to a sky that is not yet burned to a half-tone by the blistering sun. I stand there for minutes on end until the doves and the bulbuls become nervous with my stare which they assume is aimed at them.

With the sun low in the east, the gold of the blossoms catches the slanting rays to shimmer and glint as if it were liquid against the solid blue of the sky. I don’t think there is a prettier sight in Lahore in May through mid-June. And then then there are those ripples of fragrance to uplift. Every morning, I have but one regret: why must the amaltas only favour us for, at most, six weeks a year? Why cannot we have it in blossom the year round?

But that is the way of Nature. So before it is too late, shake a leg, go out and make friends with an amaltas. You will not regret it [Images by Rahat Dar of The News].


posted by Salman Rashid @ 13:31,


At 27 May 2013 at 13:50, Anonymous Sobia Bajwa said...

Out of this world!

At 27 May 2013 at 13:54, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you very much, Sobia.

At 27 May 2013 at 14:05, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

Joy of Summers. Yes, the beauty moves anyone. Lovely.

At 27 May 2013 at 14:43, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thanks, Nayyar.

At 27 May 2013 at 20:03, Blogger Arthur Anab Shams said...

Its a beautiful Article on Amaltash, a gift of the hottest summers. I have always been in love with the colour and beauty of the tree. It has very few leaves when flowering. I have been spotting the tree on two location around me, one along the road behind Nawaz Sharif Park, parallel to Ferozepur Road, and second in Jam-e-Shireen Park, on the road that leads from Center Point - Gulberg to Cavalry Ground. I suppose this is the best time if you wish to photograph the tree.

At 27 May 2013 at 20:26, Anonymous Arthur Anab Shams said...

Did I say, "please keep showing us good things about Lahore and Pakistan. That makes it a bit easy to live here."

At 27 May 2013 at 21:52, Anonymous Mahwish Shaukat on FB said...

BEAUTIFUL! So artistic & poetic.... While driving through the cantt area.... its a treat to watch these amber color lovely flowering trees...

At 27 May 2013 at 22:18, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

These days, Amaltas trees in PU are seen everywhere and get my special attention because of their unusually vibrant colours. Their presence is very pleasant and I love to look at them until they get out of sight. Nice post.

At 27 May 2013 at 22:24, Anonymous Sarah said...

These beautiful trees are in bloom many places right now, reminds me of the Cold Chisel song...

At 28 May 2013 at 09:41, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Arthur, Mahwish, Kausar and Sarah, thank you very much. It's good to know that I am not alone in this wilderness, that there are some kindred souls too who keep their senses alive and appreciate the good things of Nature. Be blessed always.
But what is that Cold Chisel song?

At 29 May 2013 at 14:44, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

How romantic! I wish I could steal your Amaltas and surroundings. By the way you accelerated my memories and I am going back to the bogan vilia of my childhood. Thank you for such a romantic reality of the day.

At 30 May 2013 at 07:43, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Saima, All you have to do is plant, water and be patient. You'll get a garden like mine. Very happy that you enjoyed the piece.

At 30 May 2013 at 13:14, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

I have a gardener at home before the reach of salinity and water logging in my area. And the tale of the past is I have roses of all colors at home except Black Rose. But now there is only sand and sand.

At 30 May 2013 at 14:36, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Saima, if you have salinity and sand, grow suhanjna. It is another magic tree of this great and wonderful land of the subcontinent. It has medicinal properties that are only now being investigated and its buds make a great curry. There's a trick to cooking it, though.
You can also grow tamarisk (known also as khuggal or okan) and you can grow tacoma (rohira) with its beautiful orange-red flowers, or prospis (kundi) Ber and neem do well in the kind of soil you say you have.

At 31 May 2013 at 09:24, Anonymous Ali Raza Qazalbash said...

In a linear Pakistan full of hard facts and harder realities, Amaltas are welcoming and nonthreatening. I spotted some along the road while coming from Lahore Airport. They are young but still blooming.

At 2 June 2013 at 21:35, Anonymous Arshad Awan said...

We have some Amaltas trees in our university. One is right in front of my office. Alas, I never noticed that before reading your article.

Now I notice it every time I come out of my office. It looks good. Thanks for sharing this.

At 2 June 2013 at 21:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

مرے آنگن میں بہاروں کا بسیرا

At 3 June 2013 at 11:11, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Arshad Awan, see how much we miss of life because our eyes are wide shut!

At 9 June 2013 at 20:29, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True. How we live with 'eyes wide close?' I live in PAF Officers Mess on Sarfeaz Rafique Road and there are two full grown Amaltas in our lawn and I never noticed. Thanks for reminding.


At 10 June 2013 at 13:29, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Well, it seems like I have finally started to make some little difference. Thank you for letting me on, Sharjeel.

At 26 May 2014 at 15:33, Blogger Unknown said...

Oh what a lovely post!! Amaltas heavenly n the blooming yellow flowers an amazing sight.
We are lucky because we have time to stand n stare.
When are we going to plant our very own Suhanjna tree in Alba?
People, Salmab Rashid has a wonderful ,wonderful garden.

At 26 May 2014 at 17:16, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Of the 8 sohanjna seeds only 5 sprouted. And three died. Left with 2 saplings. I'll bring one to your school sometime this week. Will call you before hand.. Thank you so much for your interest.

At 26 May 2014 at 19:04, Blogger Unknown said...

:)) am excited.

At 27 June 2014 at 22:43, Blogger Unknown said...

You write like no other. You are the master.

At 27 June 2014 at 22:44, Blogger Unknown said...

Poem by Mushtaq Sufi:

At 28 June 2014 at 08:58, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you for the kind words, Athar Saeed. Mushtaq Soofi is a master craftsmen in Punjabi. He too writes like no other - especially in Punjabi

At 2 June 2015 at 23:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just two days ago, i told my friend that i am in love with amaltas tree and it happens every summer but i have never seen a writer describing the beauty of amaltas, i am truly cheered to see you doing this.
please keep writing about the things which matters, but we rarely notice...

At 3 June 2015 at 10:31, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Anonymous. So glad to know that there are others too who love this tree of exquisite beauty.Enjoy it for in July the fragrance will be gone and you'll have to wait another ten months.

At 2 September 2016 at 10:38, Anonymous Amal Farhaan said...

This was the first tree I planted in my garden when we were building our house. It is now,a tall lush tree, reaching out to the sky, full of gold flowers that not only look good on the tree but equally good when they fall and carpet the ground beneath. I can see this from my bedroom window every day when i wake up, and wait eagerly for the season when the flowers come out.
I seem to remember you writing another ode to the Amaltas? Did you not? Or am I mistaken? If you did, do share.

At 2 September 2016 at 11:04, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

I am not certain if I did, Amal. I might have for The News on Sunday. Or was this one for that paper? I'll try to look for it. BTW, I love it too when the gold carpets the ground beneath the tree.

At 2 September 2016 at 11:08, Blogger Unknown said...

Thank You Sir for being so informative in such a beautiful manner.

At 2 September 2016 at 11:32, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Ahmed. Gratified that you enjoy my work.

At 14 June 2017 at 01:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Against the blue moving its own blue,
the sea, and against the sky,
some yellow flowers.

October arrives.

And though it may be
so important for the sea to unroll
its myth, its mission, its yeast-like inspiration,
there explodes
over the sand the gold
of a single yellow plant
and your eyes
are fixed
on the ground,
they flee from the great sea and its rhythms.

We are and will be dust.

Not air, not fire, nor water
only earth
we will be
and maybe also
some yellow flowers.
~ Pablo Neruda


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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Books of Days