Reaching the lush science campus involved heading south from Delhi, just over the state border, along the trash-strewn Faridabad Road. The alkaline fields of dust along the side of the highway are poisonous to most plants, hospitable only for patches of the most rugged and ragged of species. Cars honked, buffalos labored, and I coughed. A fence loomed along the left side, opposite a temple and a rundown snack stand. On the other side of that fence, scientists were mass-producing spores that are rescuing broken down lands just like this one.
The auto rickshaw was still sputtering as I stepped out. I handed the driver some rupees and walked up the driveway to the guarded gates of The Energy and Resources Institute. As I stepped through TERI’s fence line, I took in the spectacle of an oasis. To my left was a gleaming green golf course. Caddies stirred, mistaking my interest for that of a golfer. A guard told me cricket ovals were off to the right, past the trees and the solar panel-covered parking lot. Ahead was a wide path that disappeared into jungle.
Somebody ought hand me a drink with a miniature umbrella.
Out of the shadows of the jungle appeared an electric buggy. Internal combustion engines are banned on the campus. The buggy ferried me quietly down the path and through the half mile of acacia trees, gardens, bamboo and rows of palm trees to Alok Adholeya’s laboratory on the other side.
If green-thumbed people ever got together to vote on who had the greenest thumb, this guy might win. The microbiologist is a maestro of mycorrhizae – the name given to an ancient subterranean union between fungi and plants.
“What you see here is all reclaimed land,” Adholeya said proudly, welcoming me to his research station of more than a quarter of a century.