Although Delhi deserves the rap it gets for its abysmal air quality, it does have these pockets of redemption where one can peacefully, & I’m not saying quietly (Peace being a state of mind & quiet..well a totally different thing! ) or very healthily still, inhale & then inhale some more. Exploring the gardens is not only a walk on the green side but, in a lot of the gardens in Delhi, a walk through history. There are many where the the monuments not only sit pretty in their manicured surroundings but have immense historical value. Although not laid out like the Mughal gardens of say Srinagar, they have a certain charm to their meandering layouts. The most beautiful bit is that in every season one sees some or the other tree flowering.
My favorite for all the seasons & reasons of the heart is the Lodhi garden. Back in the pre-pollution days it used to be my evening dose of fresh air. It has the octagonal tomb of Mohammed Shah, circa 1440, on a mound looking imposing. The Bara Gumbad with its adjoining remains of a mosque faces the Shisha Gumbad. Both straddle the middle of a mildly undulating path. A miniature walled park within the park complete with its own pint sized monument sits close to these two, housing a rose garden. One of my favourite part is the stone bridge at the end of the pond, near the geese enclosure. It arches gracefully, just so. Poetic place to watch the sun go down over the battlements surrounding the tomb of Sikandar Lodhi dating back to the 15th century. The other is the slope between the Bara Gumbad & the pond. The perfect place to relive one’s childhood & take a roll down. Not that the gradient will let you get too far! In spring this portion is a sea of colours & the place to have a picnic, sun yourself, watch couples get their pre-nuptial photo-shoot or catch the odd powers-that-be re-energize themselves with their daily doze of Vitamin D & power walk.
If you manage to get past the quaintly eclectic village of Hauz Khas & its enticing eateries & tony shops you’ll see the picturesque tank of the Hauz Khas park. The “Deer park’, as it is often called, is a bit of a misnomer. It is actually a complex of adjoining parks which surround the village. There is a deer park (Yes they are safely parked at one enclosed end! ) & a rose garden at the entrance of the village. At the end of the village lies the Hauz Khas fort park. A small complex with ruins dating back to the 12th century & includes the tomb of Firoz Shah Tughlaq & a seminary & ‘chattris’. This overlooks the massive tank made by Alauddin Khilji ( the same one, made more infamous by the movie Padmavat ) at the end of the 12th century & is now part of the district park. A wide promenade encircles this where one can sit, sip coffee & watch the world go by or go to one of the eateries overlooking the lake at night & behold the moon shimmering in the water.
The newest entrant on the green bloc sits quietly, thankfully, yet to be discovered. It’s much older & famous neighbour hogs the crowds, as it should, having been lovingly restored to such breathtaking glory. But once you are done with Humayun’s tomb, the Sunder Nursery adjoining it is a must visit. The Sunder Burj housed within & being an active old nursery lend it it’s name. Dating back to the 16th century it has recently been reclaimed & restored & it has to be seen to appreciate all the hard work. The Sunderwala Mahal shines bright, all scrubbed & cleaned. Done on the lines of a Mughal garden with water channels, ponds, tiny waterfalls & pavilions, its a fantastic take of the old on clean contemporary lines. It also houses a massive collection of bonsai. Although still to be completed on the far fringes, come spring it will be a melange of colour true to it’s name. A celebration of being alive again. Agha Khan Trust take a bow!
Nehru Park has no monuments but it makes it here purely for nostalgic reasons. Decades back it used to be our Sunday outing sometimes & we always seemed to get ice-creams at the end. It reminds me of a sleeping dinosaur with the spine running in the center & the rest of the park falling on either side & the various folds holding the slopes of rolling green with these rocky outcrops here & there. Set in the heart of the diplomatic enclave it is often the venue for some amazing cultural performances & mean gastronomical festivals. So its good for either, eating your heart out or burning it off on the undulating slopes!
This by no means is an exhaustive list. There is the Mughal Garden within the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises which is open to the public in February. The Buddha Jayanti park on The Ridge, an extension of the Aravallis which are beyond historical themselves. Likewise there are many swatches of green embellished with pieces of history in Delhi waiting for us to put that coffee thermos in the rucksack, get those walking shoes on & spend a languid few hours in the sun exploring them.