Meet Verhaen Khanna of New Delhi Nature Society, a wearer of many hats. His mission to cure 'tree blindness' involves not only educating people about trees, but to engage them in fun activities that promotes respecting the environment around. The growing community explores all aspects of connecting with nature. Read on as we have a candid chat with him.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and brought up in New Delhi. I like art, photography, making music and films, learning, writing, breathing, flying airplanes, climbing trees or rocks, vegan food and most of all, I love nature.

What made you start New Delhi Nature Society?

Meditation. One fine day, I made the NDNS FB page and began uploading pictures of my nature activities with friends. From then on, more people began liking my activities, since they were always related to nature in a fun and innovative way. It started from, Yoga in the park early mornings, to small campouts over the weekend, which included several workshops, then there was rock climbing, exploring nature, tree climbing etc.

The whole idea of creating NDNS is to raise awareness about nature in Delhi, since the “Mall Culture” has been devastating to our surroundings. There is no “Form” you need to fill up to become a member of this “Society”, not even a “passport size photo” nor any “signature”. 

If you live in Delhi and if you love and care about nature then you are automatically by default, a member of the New Delhi Nature Society. 

This is not a business strategy; the aim is NOT to buy a big red expensive sports car! 

I started the @newdelhinaturesociety page on Instagram with “#NewDelhiNatureSociety” which helped me reach out to many people. I also created a youtube channel called New Delhi Nature Society which is all about using videos made by NDNS to raise awareness about nature.

NDNS also organizes various nature related festivals. Do elaborate on them. 

It was late in Feb this year, Spring was in the air and I gave myself 30 days to celebrate the world’s first Nature Festival. An event to appreciate the absolutely amazing awesomeness of the planet we live on. 

I believe that the spirit of the earth must have put this idea into my head and guided me with the power of the universe to make it happen. 

My friends and people around me helped a lot with many different things that I would not have been able to handle. Lots of miracles took place within that time. There were photographers and artists exhibiting their work where the theme was “ nature”. “3 Days, 2 Venues, 1 Love” celebrated at HKV. Each day had its theme for speakers talking about; waste management, plants and animals, Health and fitness. 

There was live music, free saplings to take home, film screening, Poetry Slam & it was all free to the public. I didn’t expect anybody to show up, honestly. Since I felt like not many people really care about nature in Delhi, but I needed to see it to believe it. To my surprise, the place was packed up, there was no more room for people to sit, so people had to remain standing or sit on tables and steps. There was a lot of positive energy around.  

Post this, we collaborated with CMS Vatavaran and Dastkar for the Environment month, where NDNS had some space to raise awareness about nature with up-cycled music and selling fresh air in a bag. 

We were at the Delhi Organic Farmers Market for the Big Teej celebration, holding workshop for tree hugging and tree climbing. At the 8th CMS Vatavaran Environmental Film Festival, NDNS had 4 exhibits dedicated to awareness and importance of water and its conservation. 

We were given some space at the Naivali Diwali Mela to raise awareness about the negative impact of concrete around trees in the city. We had a Vegan fruitluck picnic at lodhi garden recently. A fruitluck is where people get together and bring fruit to share with each other. 

We choose Vegan because it is best for our health, for the environment and for the animals.

We also organized a movie night, where the films were sourced through CMS Vatavaran at a fully Vegan restaurant, Spaghetti and Samosas & knowledge partner FIAPO.

What are your recommended must-visit nature trails in Delhi?

I don’t recommend any nature trails as such, in fact I try to avoid giving details of beautiful locations because I fear that if too many people start getting to know these places, they might turn it into another HKV. But by all means, I always suggest to open Google maps and lookout for a giant green area nearby, and go exploring with a team or friends. Go at well lit hours, find experienced people and build your own experiences. 

Its best to only take environmentally aware people to these beautiful locations, since we have come across some places which have broken glass of alcohol bottles everywhere, making it unsuitable for us to enjoy walking barefoot or rolling around on the ground, plus we see non-biodegradable waste, unable to rot, unable to become compost matter in the wild.

We’d love to hear about some of the projects you're currently working on; which of them lies closest to your heart.

Currently, we have a big network of organizations collaborating towards “De-Choking Trees”. Using all our resources to spread awareness and getting the work done. The cement does not allow water to seep through, and it also prevents the trees from growing and expanding. This also kills the trees. So there is also an online petition which people can sign. 

We have been conducting workshops to sensitize students about the environment. Sadly the majority is exposed to unhealthy lifestyles, which is not their fault and contributes to damaging the environment. So guiding them in a direction which appreciates the value of our planet Earth, “home sweet home”, is kind of important. Studying things out of a text book is different from having practical experience to go with it. 

Every month we go around the city, in some neighborhood or the other, and award “certificates of appreciation” to homes with maximum greenery. This “Offline Activity” makes the home owner happy and appreciated. When they show it to the neighbors who did not receive the certificate, those neighbors also grow plants to receive a certificate next time. Win Win

We use the FB platform to promote and support other organizations who are working towards the same goal. We are all Important pieces in the big jigsaw puzzle of life after all. 

The biggest project out of all these is the overall greening of New Delhi.  To make the capital of India, my hometown, an example of what paradise looks and feels like.  A far-fetched dream, most lazy people would say.

However, a few simple changes here and there would make all the difference.  A little sacrifice of environmentally degrading habits in exchange for sustainable lifestyle will go a long way.  

When you look at this city using Google satellite imagery, the truth of the matter is out on your display screen. Trees are being chopped everyday throughout the city, to be replaced with concrete.  Over the years, so much greenery has vanished, so much population has increased and most importantly so many more vehicles, factories and homes have congested the city only to result in the increase of school children facing respiratory problems. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out this equation.

A great initiative, we’re all ears about the Outdoor Learning Centre in Delhi.

The Mira Outdoor Learning Center is a sister institution of the Mira Model School, Janakpuri. It is located on the outskirts of our favorite concrete jungle, New Delhi, in a place called Najafgarh.

The aim of the MOLC is to educate people of all ages and connect them with the outdoors. Through practical experience and hands on activities, everybody gets a personal experience of being in touch with nature.

A large section of this property is a wild forest land and we have built a trail through this.  It goes around various types of labeled trees and dense grasses, where one can spot exotic wild species of fauna as well, provided that respect is given to the wild creatures, by remaining out of their space and most importantly, maintaining silence is the key. 

There is also a man made swamp in the middle of the forest, where we have managed to attract a wide variety of life forms. 

We were able to conduct workshops for approx 200 children per day which lasted for 12 days, one day allotted for each age group. (class 1 to 12) 

We incorporated some adventure activities for the children as well, plus we also taught them how to grow food, since schools do not have such a practical experience program. 

Many children also climbed a tree for the first time, along with understanding the importance of shade from trees and its other benefits. The children, their teachers and parents gave us really awesome feedback.

Name 5 ways to connect with nature.

The best 5 ways to connect with nature is to use your 5 senses! 

What defines Delhi for you?

Coca Cola, Traffic, Pollution, Shopping, Booze, Alcoholics, Concrete, More shopping, Fashion shows, Sales, Discounts, Celebrations, Cars, Watches, iphones, Rich children, Servants, Caste System, Same oxygen for every Lung, Gambling, Mall Culture, Animal Lovers, Nature Lovers, Educated however Ignorant.

What kind of videos do you post on your youtube channel?

I post really cool videos on my youtube channel. One program/playlist on this channel is called “WTF Quicky”, where WTF stands for Wednesday , Thursday and Friday. “Quicky” because it’s a short video about different topics on nature. The other program/playlist is “Project Swachh”, which is “one on one” interview with some amazing people who are doing some awesome things in life towards the greater good. 

A message you wish to send out to all our viewers.

To be more proactive towards the environment. 
Try to live without spending. 
To have fun in nature does not cost a penny. 
So go out there climb some trees and roll on the grass. Most importantly keep taking deep breaths!

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