Saturday 16 March 2013

The Pomelo of Devanahalli

Devanahalli is known as the birth place of Tipu Sultan. Today it is known for the location of the Bangalore international airport. But what many do not know is that  Devanahalli is also known for its pomelo-a fruit whose local flavour is not found anywhere else in India.
Interestingly, the Devanahalli Chakotha or Pomelo was on the verge of extinction a few years ago, Soaring land prices and the location of the new international airport had almost sounded the death knell of this wonderful fruit.
However, the State Government and agriculturists joined hands in preserving this “rare piece of heritage:, which was first introduced in this region by Tipu Sultan more than two centuries ago.
The world over, Pomelo is  used in exotic cooking, particularly in Thai desserts, jams and jellies.
The Pomelo fruit is unique to the Devanahalli region where it is cultivated. The shallow, well-drained, deep soil in and around Devanahalli is ideal for its cultivation.
Changing climatic conditions,  lack of proper cultivation methods and soaring land prices made farmers lose interest in cultivating this exotic crop. A few years ago, Chakotha was grown in large numbers in Melinathotadahalli, Raghunathapura, Shivanapura, Soopanahalli, Neelaganapalya, Beerasandra, Vishwanathapura, Neelaguntepalya and other villages in and around Devanahalli.
Today, many of the lands are gone and cultivation of Pomelo is shrinking.
Generally, there are 60 to 70 trees in an acre and each acre yields about 100 fruits weighing between 2 kgs and 2.5 kgs. Today, less than a hundred farmers are cultivating the fruit, when their number was more than a thousand a few years ago.
The Horticulture Department has begun conservation of germ plasm of the fruit to retain its originality. Plants have been collected at the department's biocentre in Hulimavu and are being propagated to farmers. Grafted varieties of the plant are also being looked into.
However, the highest number of germplasms of this fruit is in the Institute of Horticulture in Hesarghatta.
The Horticulture Department is trying to introduce new varieties of Chakotha in its farm at Doddakaggere, about 60 km from Devanahalli. It has setup a Pomelo Conservation Centre at Devanahalli. It is also introducing new plants in the area apart from supplying genuine quality planting material.
Chakotha is a thick, yellow-skinned fruit. It is the largest citrus fruit in the world and belongs to the Rutaceae family. It is known in the West as pomelo, Shaddock, Batavia lemon and its scientifically name is Citrus Grandis. The fruit is consumed as it is and is also used in cooking to make desserts and jellies. It can weigh up to 10 kg.
What makes it imperative to preserve the Devanahalli Chakotha is that the type of Pomelo grown here cannot be grown anywhere else. The unique nature of Devanahalli soil-loamy, clay and neither too dry nor moist- disallows the fruit from being taken to other locations in the state for cultivation
The Chakotha of Devanahalli is unique in the sense that its outer rind is thick and light yellow in color and its flesh is pinkish and mildly juicy.
Chakotha is also seen in eight villages in Siddlaghatta taluk, seven villages in Doddaballapur taluk and one village in Chickballapur taluk. Chakotha can provide supplementary income to the farmers and each tree has the capacity to bear around 300 fruits in a year.
As there is no organised market for Chakotha, most of the produce is sold by pushcart vendors at Devanahalli town and along the adjoining National Highway No 7.
Apart from the fruit, demand for the Pomelo peel too is increasing. The peel is used in some cosmetic and Ayurvedic preparations.
The Horticulture Department, under the National Horticulture Mission Programme, imported varieties of Chakotha from Thailand. Samples of imported Chakotha  were planted in Lalbagh, Hulimavu, Devanahalli, Hesaraghatta and other places. Unfortunately, it was only in Lalbagh that one of the samples started thriving.
The new variety which is successfully yielding fruits in Lalbagh is named Lalbagh Seedless. The Indian Institute of Horticulture Research (IIHR) at Hesarghatta has developed another variety called Devanahalli Red.
Chakotha or pomelo is a native of South China and South East Asian countries. It is a bigger version of the orange and it is known for its therapeutic qualities. The fruit is good for people suffering from heart related ailments as it reduces cholesterol and purifies the blood. It is also used as an anti-oxidant and prescribed for people recovering from Chikungunya in order to tone their fatigued muscles.
The tale of the Chakotha is as fascinating as the history of Bangalore. Though the Horticulture Department claims the fruit came to Bangalore along with the Britishers way back in 1880, others say it was Tipu who first introduced it.
While a small-sized Chakotha weighing around 1.5 kg to 2 kg will cost you Rs 35 to Rs 40, the bigger one weighing 2 kg will cost you Rs 50 to Rs 60. The Chakotha plant starts yielding fruits at the age of 3 to 5. Each tree bears around 30 to 40 fruits at a time.

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