garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
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.
Oh, hooray–it’s good to see you back! Whenever I see photos of gardens in India I’m always amazed that no matter how massive and weighty (and beautiful) the buildings are, they don’t seem to predominate. Maybe the growth around them is lush and weighty enough to provide balance.
“…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.” This made my jaw drop…
I hope the settling-in process goes smoothly for you all, and that any adventures that befall you are the entertaining kind.
Thanks for the greeting! It’s nice to be back.
I’m going to look into the installation of the gardens a bit more. From the little that I have read, Lady Willingdon seems to have been on the side of the angels – she established schools and hospitals elsewhere in India. And one report I saw suggested that the “villagers” evicted were effectively illegal squatters (or least deemed so by the authorities). It reminds me of the debate over the people evicted when Central Park was built, and seems worthy of a bit more investigation on my part.
Jill, So glad to start my virtual tour of India with you. I am relieved that you and your family made it to India safely and you are at least initially installed in your new home. Carolyn
Thanks for the message (which for some reason got stuck in the Word Press spam filter!). It is great to be here, if rather overwhelming at times, and we are busy getting settled. We are looking forward to lots of adventures!
Your photos of the architecture are lovely and show the beauty of the materials and the buildings’ siting within the park. That Garrett Eckbo contributed makes me curious, so thank you for another interesting landscape connection.
Your new background page color makes me think of mangoes, which seems appropriateto your location. I’m glad you’re settled in and back to landscape reporting.
The buildings really are jaw-droppingly lovely, especially as they retain something of their faded grandeur despite the conservation programme. The Garrett Eckbo link is on my list of things to investigate: I have no idea yet what he did or how much of it is still visible…
Love this places and wrote part of my college senior thesis about it. I see the monsoon has done its job and it is a bit lusher than when I was last there early last summer.
Thanks for the comment. I’m going to contact you separately to pick your brains some more about the garden, if I may!
What an exciting time in one’s life… 10 days into a 3-year stay in a fascinating foreign city! Will be watching this space! 🙂
Jack, thanks for stopping by. It is exciting to be here, and as well as exploring Delhi we are starting to plan trips further afield. I suspect our three years will pass very quickly.
Learning the names of Indian trees – try Gifting Trees blog.
Thanks for the tip!
Jill, The photographs from the inside looking out feel so cool and serene — and I just love the intense blue color of the tile. The story about the villages being removed to make way for the park is very disturbing; how do we balance the beauty thus created with the ugly arrogance that made it possible?
You’re right, the weather was sweltering outside and yet as soon as you stepped into one of the buildings, it was cool and quiet. The contrast was one of the delights of the gardens. Apparently those bright blue tiles once covered much of the top of the building that you can see in my second photo: the monument is called Sheesh Gumbad, which mean “glass dome.”
I have read a little more about the villages that we removed to create the park, and think my original description perhaps over-simplifies what happened. Apparently, in the first part of the 20th century, many of the monuments of Delhi had become unofficial homes for the homeless – what today we might call shanty towns. So, as part of the efforts to preserve and celebrate the city’s great buildings, some of those towns or villages were relocated elsewhere. Such actions may not feel right to us in the west today, but I am not sure it is very different from the destruction of Seneca Village to make way for New York’s Central Park (see http://www.bet.com/news/national/2011/07/29/archeologists-uncover-black-village-beneath-central-park.html ) – or from the hundreds of villages that were removed by European landowners to allow for gardens designed by the likes of Capability Brown and André Le Nôtre.
I love your sense of adventure. Be sure to have breakfast at the Taj hotel and enjoy the gardens and parrots that come in for the early morning adventure.
Good luck in Delhi. It is quite an adventure.
It’s good to hear from a fellow Landscape Institute graduate (for some reason you were stuck in the Word Press spam filter for a week). It is indeed an adventure here and one we are starting to enjoy enormously. I’ll report from the Taj Mahal after our trip to Agra in early September.
One way to appreciates India is having such a nice environment. Hopefully we could visit India.
Thanks for calling by – and for subscribing to the blog. I hope you do get to visit this fabulous country for real.
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Hi Jill – Congratulations on your new adventure. Your photographs are stunning. There is something so alluring about ancient architecture in a garden setting. We’re excited to see more!
Malinda, thanks for your comment. More ancient architecture coming up soon – the precursor of the Taj Mahal, and then … the real thing.
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How I envy you!! having those beautiful places for you to discover, thanks for sharing, it will be a trhilling journey with your blog! Lula