This Sunday, I decided to make a trip to Shalimar Gardens for the first time ever. My family and I were showing some friends from abroad around some Lahore and I realised that I had never been to the gardens before. In the summer, the humidity and high temperatures aren’t conducive to spending extended periods of time outdoors and in the winter, high smog and fog levels make it difficult to go to the city’s outlying areas. But I was so glad that I finally managed to make the trip. It was truly an unforgettable experience and hope to make more frequent trip to get away from the hustle and bustle and exhausting and ever-increasing Lahore traffic.
Shalimar Gardens exemplify the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s penchant for creating monuments that depict paradise on earth. Our guide at the gardens said that the original gardens were made on seven levels, each level symbolising each of the seven skies leading to heaven. The level that we enter today was the most private part of the gardens and originally exclusively for women notably the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal and other women of the palace. The gardens were built to take advantage of the canal which brought water from Rajpur, the point at which the River Ravi descends from the Himalayan foothills. All the water bodies in the gardens had foundations and the upper ones fed from reservoirs outside the gardens and the lower ones fed from the large central pool. The upper gardens were known as Farah Bakhsh (bestower of pleasure) and the lower ones were known as Faiz Bakhsh (bestower of plenty). Although the gardens have changed significantly since the time of the Mughals, especially during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, they still remain a magnificent site to be seen.
One of the main reasons why visitors are encouraged to visit the monument today is that the monument is severely at risk of being damaged by the construction of the Orange Line Metro Train proposed by the Government of Punjab. Although there is currently a court case against the construction of this train, if the government wins the case then the train will run dangerously close to the monument and may cause irreversible damage to its structure. In addition, the Gardens will lose their value as a peaceful sanctuary away from the city and Pakistan will damage one of its UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
While our transnational, peripatetic lives today often involve jetting off to the ‘hottest’ international destinations and savouring the monuments in those places, we forget about the beauty of our own wonderful nation dating back to prehistoric times. Although in Lahore we mostly roam from restaurant to restaurant and home to home, it can sometimes be unnerving though sit through (another) traffic jam to brave it across town to the Old City, Shalimar Gardens or to the Tomb of Jahangir and Noorjahan. Sunday mornings make for the perfect time to visit these wonderful destinations. And by doing this we can keep our history and our monuments alive and make sure that future generations (that grow up in Pakistan or anywhere else) learn about the unique wonders of their nations.