We are ten days into our three-year Indian sojourn and finding much to enjoy, and much that has us floundering.
Yesterday, in soul-sapping heat, we visited one of our local parks in New Delhi, the Lodi Gardens. At first, it looks simply like a lush green area amid the chaos of the city. There are venerable old trees, whose names we are just learning – the ashoka, with brilliant orange flowers, the fragrant neem, and the banyan, with its fat aerial roots. Among the lawns at Lodi are beds of cannas and other exotic plants, and some clipped little shrubs that look to me rather stumpy and mean in the great sweep of grass.
And then suddenly, as we turned a corner, we found the heart of the Lodi Gardens. Among the greenery are a number of unutterably beautiful stone monuments. The names and history of these ancient garden tombs, mosques, walls, gateways and bridges mean little to us as yet, but helpful signs told us that some were constructed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by the Sayyid and Lodi dynasties, and that some are later, Mughal structures.
Lodi is in the midst of a major programme of preservation. But nothing is being made shiny and new. Instead the work is retaining the ancient character of the monuments by just carefully conserving what is left.
The 90-acre gardens themselves were a much later creation, added by the British during the Raj. Lady Willingdon, wife of the British Viceroy, decided that parkland would be nice around these ancient monuments, and in in 1936 had the two surrounding villages removed, and the undulating lawn and pathways of a typical English park installed in their place. Apparently in the 1960s the gardens were re-landscaped with help from American designer Garrett Eckbo.
And so Lodi reflects many of the dynasties and cultural influences that have shaped this great city; today it is one of the most popular parks in New Delhi, and one that I am sure we shall grow to love.