Green peace


A few reasons to love the Lodhi Gardens. Not that you need any reasons but its a good way to celebrate this beautiful garden's 75th birthday. Did a version of this for (what else) the Time Out Delhi magazine.

It has been 75 years since the land east of Safdarjang’s Tomb was transformed, from a place where kings lay dead to a place where common people feel most alive. In 1936, the residents of Khairpur village were turfed out of the vicinity of the Lodhi tombs, so that the 90-acre Lady Willingdon Park could be planted here. This fortnight we celebrate the Gardens’ 75th birthday.

Democratic mingling It’s the only place in Delhi where Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma or Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley stroll by as families picnic on the lawns and octogenarians squabble about politics. Anil Ambani’s lobbyist in Delhi, Tony Jesudesan, works his charm on politicians over evening walks. Hopefully the tombs of the dead sultans send a message to today’s proud rulers.
The butterfly conservatory Visitors to the gardens will spot a multitude of butterflies, courtesy a three-acre area created solely for butterflies. Thanks to the NDMC Centre for Environmental Management for Degraded Ecosystems and the organisation Green Circle, the butterfly conservatory is insecticide-free and has 22 plants specially chosen to accommodate butterfly larvae.

The greenhouse Within the garden complex, this shaded area shelters plants unable to withstand the Delhi heat. Although the flora isn’t for sale, it attracts students of botany as well as visitors interested in plants like the golden fern.

 Time travel By now, its heritage is unconfined to any particular era. Muhammed Shah Sayyid’s tomb of Delhi quartz is believed to have been built around 1444. The athpula, or eight-tiered bridge, was built by Nawab Bahadur, a nobleman in the court of Akbar; it spanned a canal which was part of the river system that once drained Delhi. The gardens were designed in 1936 by Lady Willingdon, the wife of the Viceroy. In 1968, it was re-landscaped by architect Joseph Allen Stein, who also designed the India International Centre next door.

The trees Not just for sheltering canoodling couples, the garden’s foliage keeps all kinds of secrets: The pale grey bark of the Kaim, for instance, is used to treat colic and fever, while its pinkish-brown timber is used to make cricket bats. The leaves of the Jhinjheri are good for rolling beedis and the oil from Kosam seeds are used to treat skin diseases. The city’s only freshwater mangrove can be found near the entrance to the greenhouse.

Recycled water Don’t think about it too long, but the water used to water the lawns is recycled from the Okhla Sewage Treatment Plant. The NDMC plans to set up a treatment plant at the gardens to ensure it has no effluent smells.

Fourty-four species of birds can be spotted at the gardens. These include the Blackrumped Flameback woodpecker, which parks its cackling self on tree trunks. That noise is offset by the fluting call of the Eurasian Golden Oriole which can be spotted in April.

 Its literary prominence The Gardens crop up in every other novel set in New Delhi, recently including Aatish Taseer’s The Temple-goers. Khushwant Singh chose it for his latest work The Sunset Club, in which three octogenarian friends share secrets and discuss sexual fantasies. Singh’s son-in-law, the late publisher Ravi Dayal, chose to stroll in Sujan Singh Park rather than Lodhi Gardens because he said “Lodhi Gardens is a place full of rejected manuscripts”. Vinay Dharwadker called his collection of poetry Sunday at the Lodi Gardens. But it was Octavio Paz, the late diplomat and poet, who captured it best in this poem “In the Lodi Gardens”:
The black, pensive, dense
domes of the mausoleums
suddenly shot birds
into the unanimous blue