Lahore Shalimar Garden

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The most spectacular of Mughal gardens, the Shalimar Gardens, are located 3 miles east of the Walled City on  G.T. Road.  As you drive on east on G.T. Road keep a watch for an octagonal turret kiosk (chattri) which will become visible on your left (north) above the surrounding structures. Since the garden is totally enclosed by a plain blank wall in which a small doorway is located, it is best to be vigilant.

As is usual in the world of Islam, the gardens are usually introverted—inward looking—where  their breathtaking splendor is experienced once you enter the enclosure externally bordered by walls. In the case of the Shalimar, the blank wall hardly prepares you for the awesome scale of the garden as you step inside the small doorway. It is an introduction to Lahore, City of Gardens,  as no other garden of the city can give.

Gardens have been an integral part of Mughal royal life ever since Babur, the founder, laid out the first gardens on the bank of the Jamuna River. It was an attempt to recreate a Chaghatai world of his beloved Kabul—"in spring a heaven"—in a newly conquered India, which Babur, in his remarkable Baburnama, referred to as "a country of few charms" with no running waters in the gardens, nor any charm in the residences nor hawa (air), regularity or symmetry.

Shalimar Gardens constructed by his great grandson, the aristocratic Shah Jahan, is the epitome of Mughal garden design, incorporating the paradisical chahar bagh, nahr (water channels), waterfalls and tanks, along with terracing and beautiful pavilions, creating a world of its own within its lofty enclosing walls. Covering 80 acres,  they were laid out on the plan of a garden in Srinagar (Kashmir), primarily to provide accommodation when the emperor was on tour in Lahore, and as a place of recreation for the royal family.

The generous water supply and dramatic water falls became possible due to the engineering skills of Ali Mardan Khan, buried not far from his favorite garden, adept at constructing canals for supply of water. Ali Mardan Khan proposed to the Emperor that the waters of the Ravi be brought from Rajpot (Present day Madhpur in India) to Lahore. Shah Jahan approved, and within two years, a canal named Shah Nahar (Royal Canal) over 100 miles long  was completed. The complex water storage, system of aqueducts and hydraulic devised by Mughal architects and engineers, to provide water supply on a large scale in the flat terrain of the Punjab simulating the undulating and dramatic sites of the Kashmir is a tribute to their ingenuity and skill.

Once the canal was completed, a royal edict was issued in 1641 to commence the garden on a spot "so delightfully adapted to the purpose that it was universally commended." The garden, a rectangle 1560' x 690' in three distinct terraces, rising 15 feet at each level from north to south. It consists primarily of two perfect squares of  paradisiacal garden—chahar bagh—in north and south, interrupted in the middle by a rectangular third terrace of an enormous body of water. The first and third terraces, 867 feet square, are similar in proportion and design. The gardens reflect the emperor's deep love for the Farghana Valley (in present-day Uzbekistan), where the water flows in winding streams through the terraced valley. Marble used in the gardens was brought from Rajasthan, India.

Originally, the entrance to the garden was from the north, at the lowest terrace, as is customary in Mughal gardens, so that the cascades faced the visitor in his upward progress, revealing new delights as each terrace was surmounted and the full impact of the cascading waterfall, chahar bagh parterres and water channels, along with flowers and trees produced an image of heaven on earth. The gardens are unified by water running down  a 20-foot central channel and its offshoots, totaling 2,796 feet, which divide the terraces into quarters decorated with a total of 410 fountains in red sandstone and marble. Where the channels intersect, there are larger pools with more fountains.

The garden was named Bagh-e-Faiz Bakhsh and Bagh-e-Farah Bakhsh after a garden in Kashmir that Shah Jahan had constructed when still a shahzadah (prince). At Lahore, the upper terrace—Bagh-e-Farah Bakhsh, the Garden of the Bestower of Pleasure—was reserved for royalty and planted with fruit bearing trees and plants. The  present main entrance, on the uppermost terrace, was originally the aramgah (resting chambers) of Shah Jahan. The building on the east on the same terrace was originally the Hall of Public and Private Audience, while that on the west was the residence of the Empress. Its central baradari overlooks the spectacular waterfall discharging into the enormous water reservoir on the middle terrace. The middle terrace, named Bagh-e-Faiz Bakhsh (the Garden of the Bestower of Plenty), is an oblong 258 meters (867 feet) wide and only seventy eight meters (225 feet) long. It is divided length wise into three: the middle section raised and containing the great tank, over sixty meters (195 feet) across with 152 fountains, four pavilions and one of the garden's most splendid features, the great cascade. This  large white marble wedge carries water down from the upper terrace level to the central tank over a sculpted surface which artfully gives the impression of brilliantly cascading diamonds. At the root of the cascade is the emperor's marble throne. You can enjoy sitting on the overhanging throne at the foot of the waterfall or on the central platform (mahtabi) in the middle terrace accessed by causeways leading from east and west. From here you can view the marble inlaid chaddar (cascade) located in southern chahar bagh, as well as the north chahar bagh known as Bagh-e-Faiz Bakhsh (the Garden of the Bestower of Plenty), originally intended to be a more public part of the garden. On the east, in the middle terrace, there is a hammam (bath) with hot and cold baths and a dressing room originally decorated with  pietra dura work. This terrace also has four pavilions and six corner towers surmounted by domes. The lower terrace is named Hayat Baksh (Bestower of life).

In 1642, the gardens were completed due to the exertions of Khalilullah Khan, having taken "one year, five months and four days." The court historian Inayat Khan recorded, "His Majesty made a pleasure excursion to those paradise-like terraces. And the gardens and the agreeable pavilions which had been erected about the grounds, which all vied with the heavens in grandeur, were now found suitable to the royal taste. In fact, never before had a garden of such a magnificent description been seen or heard of; for the building alone of this earthly Paradise  had been erected at an outlay of six lakhs of rupees."

The gardens are surrounded by a high brick wall topped with merlons and strengthened at each corner of the lowest terrace with octagonal towers surmounted  with sandstone pavilions. This wall is plastered from the outside, but traces indicate that its inner face was covered with glazed plaster decorated with geometrical and plant designs on fresco.

Just opposite  the garden, south of G.T. Road, is the brick  vestige of the original water supply system devised to provide water for the garden as well as for the multitude of fountains that even today create a Thousand and One Nights' scene. The only  extant element of the famed system now is a large square brick structure, constructed with massive brick masonry, some part: having been unfortunately lost in the  widening of the road. The garden suffered considerable damage during the Sikh Period. The pavilions were deprived of their marble and agate work to decorate Ram Bagh and the Golden Temple at Amritsar.

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