12 July 2011

From the B62 to the Anuradhapura Bo tree

The pharmacist told me to take the Typhoid directly home. It was in the 90’s in New York yesterday, and I had just picked up my traveler prescriptions, including anti-malarials and some just-in-case antibiotics. The tiny box labeled “Live Typhoid” needed to stay refrigerated, so I hopped on the bus to spare it a hot walk down Bedford Avenue. Though harmless in its four blister-packed capsules, it was a heightened moment on New York City transit, a la La Jette or 12 Monkeys.

This is part of my travel prep for Sri Lanka, my next OLTW journey, which will be underway in a few weeks. Film? Check. Culturally appropriate clothing? Check. Immunizations? Check. I leave on August 1st, and arrive in Colombo, the capital, on August 3rd after what I’m sure will be a delirious 12 hours in Dubai, sandwiched by nearly 12-hour and 5-hour flights, respectively. (Sri Lanka, to save you the Google search, is the tear-shaped island off the southeast coast of India.)

And what is it I’m after, you ask? A 2,239-year-old banyan fig tree that lays claim to several distinctions:

  • It’s the oldest historically cultivated tree on record
  • It grew from a transplanted branch of the tree under which Siddhārtha Gautama attained enlightenment. As the story goes, the branch was brought to Sri Lanka under the specific instruction of the historical Buddha, planted in 228 BCE
  • It’s one of the world’s oldest angiosperms. (That’s flowering plants, kids. Look that one up.)  The oldest angiosperm? Probably not. You might remember the ancient Olive and Chestnut I photographed in the fall that also meet that distinction. The Baobabs, too. Ooh, and the Llareta. You get the picture.

As I was calculating the exact age (um, yes: 2011 + 228) of the Anuradhapura Bo tree (which also happens to be a UNESCO site and one of the longest historically inhabited cites in the world), I was reminded of the “year 0” dilemma.  A number of numerical systems skip from - 1 to +1, as it were, without counting the zero. Sort of like buildings that eschew a 13th floor. The Buddhist calendar does include a year zero, though it begins somewhere between 554 and 483 BCE. Which means that our 2,239-year-old tree just might be 2,240. But who’s counting?

1 comment:

oldest living things said...

What an amazing discovery! Hope you found what that oldest living tree for in Sri Lanka!

~oldest living things