Just late last week we were still enjoying spring weather. And one of the things we were celebrating was the flowering for the first time ever – something that happens only in late spring – of our Red Silk Cotton Trees (see previous post). Every time we passed under these trees in the eastern court, we were happy to see that our parrots and other resident birds were also exulting over the juicy bright red blooms that stood out prominently on the dramatically bare branches.
We were reconciled that the relative cool of spring would soon pass. And we were content to take in deep breaths of the nippy early morning air, and admire the last of the Petria, Sweet Peas and Nasturtiums even as we exclaimed at the way the Bouganvillea and Golden Tecoma were racing ahead to demonstrate that they are going to be our summer mainstays.
Then, on Saturday, the temperature suddenly started to rise steadily through the day, and by evening we had our first – and unexpected – dust storm of the year followed by another in quick succession.
Was summer here already? What did these premature dust storms presage for the rains this year?
In Rajasthan, dust storms are common in the summer and are, in fact, welcomed by the farmer. Periodic dust storms through the summer are a good predictor of bountiful rains in July and August (which are the monsoon months in Rajasthan). But premature dust storms could well be false alarms. Would we see scanty rains appear and disappear during the rainy season?
By Sunday, temperatures had soared to full blown summer heights. And on Monday evening, when the dinner table was being laid by the poolside and candles readied for lighting, we had an unprecedented two hour long dust storm. It was the fiercest that we have ever seen; even our staff who have lived in this region all their lives say that they have never before seen a dust storm go beyond 15 or 20 minutes. The storm brought down the crown of a mature Siamese Cassia tree standing close to the haveli. Spring blooms got thrashed mercilessly and lay in tatters everywhere. And the courtyard and pool came to be littered with dried leaves and sand.
It is Wednesday today, and the Orange Jasmine – our seasonal herald – is in full bloom since yesterday, scenting the air. It is an overnight announcement that summer has officially set in; and this news is being echoed and re-echoed by peacock calls from all around us.
How the rains will behave this year remains to be seen. For now, our garden flowers will compensate for the heat. We notice this morning that summer Jasmines which, even last week were looking nondescript, have budded overnight and begun blooming. The Crape Jasmine, whose flowers nature has left unscented but gifted with rare visual beauty, is one. The brilliant white colour of its generously open and sturdy blooms is set off to good effect by the dense glossy dark green of the leaves, causing the the flowers to shine like the full moon (hence its local Hindi name Chandini meaning moonlight). The sweet-scented Jasmine sambac that climbs up the Khejri trees just outside the haveli front door is already perfuming our entries and exits.
The Indian Laburnum (Amaltas in Hindi) just beyond the lily pool, its branches bared in readiness for the delicate hanging bunches of golden yellow blooms that will appear some time soon, gives hope that yellow-gold will be the colour theme through the summer for the invisible dividing line between the haveli and the rest of the grounds.
We are not sure if the hesitant buds that have clustered at the tips of our bare branched Palash tree (Flame of the Forest) will bloom fully this year; it has shown itself to be a temperamental friend in past years.
But our Gulmohur trees ( Royal Poinciana, Flame Tree) will not disappoint. They have almost fully shed their tiny fine leaves so that the big clusters of brilliant fuscia tinged with orange flowers can appear and light up the front garden through the summer.
The sturdiest and most prolific blooms will doubtless remain the in-your-face Bouganvillea. You can see them here, ramping up their colour quotient.