The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 8 Summer gardens of Kashmir

Dara Shukoh Garden at Bijbehara

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The garden, the remains of which now form the favourite camping-ground of Bijbehara, at the bottom of the Lidar valley, is by far the most remarkable of the riverside ruins. The plan, more resembling that of a garden in the plains than any I have seen in Kashmir, can still be clearly made out by the glorious chenar avenues. The trees form the usual cross on a very extended scale, radiating from what was once a large tank surrounded by wide parterres, with a pavilion set in the midst of the water. The eastern canal supplied the garden with a force of water drawn from the Lidar River, and the avenues to the north and east disclose vistas of the snow mountains which shut in this end of the Kashmir valley. The walls are broken down, but remains of octagonal towers mark their corners. There is the usual hummum, now in ruins, and the south avenue terminates in a tank and brick pavilion. Below this building is a long river terrace-a feature repeated on the opposite side of the Jhelum, once crossed by a stone bridge; and the originality of the whole plan lies in its carrying out Shah Jahans idea of a double garden, one on each side of a river. This was formerly known as Dara Shukohs garden, but is now called the Wazir Bagh. The banks are steep, and the Bijbehara reach of the river is a beautiful one. The high balconied houses of the little town, and the massive forms of the chenars overhanging the stream, stand out grandly against the piled-up mountain background; and once, when the stone-edged terraces stepped delicately down on either hand, and the water from the canals fell clear over the carved cascades to join the swift broad Jhelum, Daras garden must have had as fine a setting as any of those built by his father Shah Jahan. Dara Shukoh, it will be remembered, was the eldest of four brothers, and the one who inherited his fathers artistic, splendour-loving temperament; but unfortunately for himself and India, he failed in the more important quality of administrative ability. Dara, generous but conceited, proud of his intellectual gifts, and intolerant of advice or contradiction, fell an easy prey to the wiles of his brother Aurungzeb. In 1659 he was finally captured and beheaded; and the large mosque at Lahore was built with the funds derived from his confiscated estates. At the age of twenty he had been married to his cousin, the Princess Nadira, to whom he remained devotedly attached, and to whom he gave the album of Mughal miniatures which still goes by his name, and forms one of the chief treasures of the India Office library. His taste can be seen in this collection of illuminations with their rhythmic line, and perfection of balanced colour harmonies; the portraits of the Emperors, the decorative paintings of the favourite Mughal flowers, and pages of dreamy Persian poetry, each surrounded by floral borders as beautifully chosen as the pictures and poems they enclose. Much Jhelum water has flowed under the old wooden bridge at Bijbehara, with the mulberry trees and elms sprouting from its piers, since Dara first built his terraced garden there on both sides of the stream. It is a far cry from his once magnificent palace at Lahore to the dark, sober-coloured surroundings, the solemn hush, and the busy scratch of pens in the great official London library; but the cousins seem wonderfully near, they live again as one reads the simple preface: 'This Album was presented to his Dearest and Nearest Friend, the Lady Nadira, Begam, by Prince Mahomed Dara Shukoh, son of the Emperor Shah Jahan-1641.' [Note: Dara Shukoh's gardens near Bijbehara was still in ruins in 2005]