Community Story: Mapping 300 Banyan Trees of Saalumarada Thimmakka

Almost 60 years ago, Saalumarada Thimmakka started the quest to create greenness around her home area in India. Today, the results are captured on OpenStreetMap and Mapillary. In this guest blog post Chethan H A tells the story.


Saalumarada Thimmakka

Thimmakka is an environmentalist known for planting about 400 trees in rural India in the state of Karnataka. As the story goes, she and her husband Chikkayya started planting banyan trees (a type of fig that is the national tree of India) in the 1950s to give meaning to their life after it became apparent that they cannot have children. They placed the trees along the 4-km road that lead from their village Hulikal to the nearby Kuduru. Villagers had to walk that dry and hot path very often, so Thimmakka and Chikkayya thought it would be good to create some shade along the way.

The couple made incredible efforts to care for the trees, nurturing the saplings in a tiny nursery and watering them daily after planting them along the road. This meant walking back and forth countless times with heavy water jugs! Their incredible work only started to be acknowledged several years after Chikkayya died in 1991. Thimmakka received recognition from both the Government of Karnataka and the Government of India for her contributions towards the environment. She even had an environmental organisation in California named after her, Thimmakka's Resources for Environmental Education. People popularly call her Saalumarada Thimmakka for her achievements - 'saalumarada' means 'of the row of trees' in the local Kannada language.

In the state of Karnataka, Thimmakka is an icon for World Environment Day which is celebrated on June 5 every year. This year I got to thinking about it more and found out that her banyan trees are not far from where I live. That's how me and my friends, Arun Ganesh and Maanya Umashaanker, got the idea to map them.

We started to survey the banyan trees from Kuduru to Hulikal, Thimmakka's village. We used the Open Tree Map web app to count them. Starting early in the morning, we spent 5 hours to collect data on approximately 300 banyan trees. The trees were mapped on OpenStreetMap by OSM user ramyaragupathy.

In addition, Arun took a tour of Mapillary photos during a bike ride from Kuduru to Hulikal as well as walking sequences from Hulikal to Kuduru. It was a nice journey with the banyan trees, the local food along the way, and fun with rural kids who were cycling in hurry for an early weekend on Saturday. Thimmakka and Chikkayya's work has really paid off to create a lovely green way between the two villages. And now it is mapped!

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