Paradise Garden

Secret Delhi: Shalimar Bagh

There is a scuffed-up, chipped and fractured jewel of a garden close to Delhi’s northern limits — Shalimar Bagh. Despite its slightly unkempt appearance, the garden has historical importance. It was here that Aurangzeb was first crowned emperor after deposing his father Shah Jahan in 1658. The garden itself was built by Shah Jahan in 1653 and was used as a stopping point en route to Kashmir. Originally, it was called Azimbad after one of Shah Jahan’s mistresses. During the British Raj, Sir David Ochterlony and Lord Metcalfe — both British Residents of Delhi — used the garden as a summer lodge as it had an efficient fountain system and two tanks.

In a curious twist of collective amnesia, the garden is popularly called “Sheesh Mahal Park” by the residents of Shalimar Bagh colony. The original baradari, the Sheesh Mahal, is still standing (barely) next to a “hathikhana,” and there are also two pavilions near the fountain tank. You can make out how the water system worked — starting from a deep well and running to a beautiful, though sadly dry, embellished tank edged with fountains. The remnants of what must have once been pleasant grounds are strewn with litter and a surprising amount of old clothing. The Sheesh Mahal is extremely dilapidated, but you can make out the simple floral paintings on some of the outer alcoves. Beyond the fountain pavilions, the blue glass buildings rising out of the Ring Road look like icebergs.

Perhaps less depressing is the rest of the garden, which though not terribly well-maintained, has a genteel air to it. Curving paths meander through the grass and shrubs. There is a lovely grove of pine trees — quite astonishing for this city — and lots of multicoloured wildflowers. There is even a planned lawn with ornamental palms, where groups of men and women congregate for siestas, cards, and tea. It’s got atmosphere to spare and everything seems far more laid-back than New Delhi’s jogger-and-dog-filled gardens. Even the chipmunks seem utterly unconcerned, scurrying about between your feet.

This story was originally published in Time Out Delhi‘s “Secret City” cover story.

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