The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 9 Pinjor - An Indian country house and its garden

Bathing tank at Pinjore

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Far below, all the garden seemed asleep in the warm noonday haze. On a square of carpet, carefully spread in the shade beside the water, sat the head gardener and some friends. An important person at all times, just now, on his return from the wedding of the Maharajas last new wife he was very much to be cultivated. There had been great doings at the capital of the State-marriage processions that took hours to pass through the narrow crowded streets, and much feeding of the poor. All night long the tom-toms had throbbed in a rising wave of sound, broken only by the roar of cannon and the up-rushing hiss and splutter of fireworks. Weeks of festivities sustained the excitement in that curious riot of noise and colour, that fantastic pandemonium of real artistic beauty and quaintest tawdriness, that form the traditional wedding splendours dear to Indian hearts. But even this engrossing subject must have palled at last, and the listeners dozed over the gardeners best silver hookah which stood in their midst. There was hardly a coolie to be seen in the little plots of ground fringed round by the smooth, gently-waving banana leaves, where the zemindars work so busily every morning and evening. The birds were all asleep, or else the roar of the waterfalls drowned their various calls. Only the butterflies and fountains seemed alive, dancing points of gold and silver. The sun was still high, but the deep shadows of the mango trees looked cool and mysterious, tempting further exploration. Half-way below the main pavilion a masonry platform projected into the garden, in the centre of which was a large bathing-tank. The water running under the hall above fell to the level of the tank, and thence flowed away down a carved stone slope. From the terrace of the main pavilion the steps led down through the thickness of the fortified wall till they came out on the level of the bathing-tank, and continued in a second flight protected by a low rail of plastered brickwork. Here, for the first time in a Mughal garden, I was vaguely reminded of the vast stairways of Italian garden architecture-those superb flights of steps and balustrades that lend so much character and beauty to the gardens made by the Cardinals and Princes of the seventeenth century. Pinjor, too-the last, so far as I know, of the great Mughal gardens-was built in this same century. Perhaps even here the coming European influence was faintly felt; or it may have been only an accidental treatment, caused by the site and natural drop in the ground. It is remarkable that so little ornamental use is made of steps in Indian gardens in general. The Mughal garden stairways are nearly all re-entrant and wind up through the thickness of the terrace walls-a wise plan obviously for hot countries; but even in the open the steps are steep and clumsy, their only ornament being the favourite leaf pattern cut on the upper edge of each rise, and in more modern work even this decoration is absent. The lower garden was large, about two hundred and eighty yards wide by three hundred and fifty yards in length, and built on the usual plan with two great gateways in the side walls and one at the far end. The latter was smaller, and intended more to complete the design than for any use it served. On the second terrace in the middle of the garden was a large tank in which was built a little water palace with a causeway leading up to it from the south bank, the building set slightly to one side of the centre, to leave an uninterrupted view down the main canal from the upper garden. Round the water pavilion fountains played, and on each side a watercourse, now dry and filled with a tangled growth of cypress trees and roses, showed where in former days canals had led up to the gateways on either side. The garden lay wild and neglected. Tall grasses waved down the long side-walks, all but hiding the raised chabutras at the crossing of the ways. Thickets of fruit trees filled the squares, large-leaved plantations overshadowed the walks, while here and there a stray rose-bush or cypress tree was to be seen. Alas ! the old cypress avenues had gone. Still, there was no trace here of the gardener from Saharanpur and all his works. Luckily, he seemed to have confined his attentions to the upper garden terraces, and the open patch outside the entrance gates. Perhaps the great size of the lower garden had discouraged him, and so saved the old-fashioned fruit trees and flowers. For by the borders of the long canal, here, at last, was a real Indian garden. Here were the roses and pearl-flowered jasmine, with zinnias and marigolds, scattered among them, leaning over the waters edge to kiss their own reflections. Tall palms were planted at intervals, their leaves nearly meeting across the stream, where the slender fountains shot up through them, falling back in diamond spray. In the borders the green spears of the narcissus just showed above the ground-the sweet-scented flowers which Babar loved and planted in his new gardens at Agra, together with roses 'regularly and in beds corresponding to each other.' His orange trees, too, of the Garden of Fidelity,-with which he was so pleased,-here they were and citron trees, their boughs bending with their load of pale yellow fruit. Below each waterfall day-lilies grew, their green leaves trailing in the little ripples. A soft mist of blue ageratum lay in wreaths under the fruit trees, and on the lowest terrace the largeres-trcemia bushes had been a blaze of colour in the rains. Here it was self-revealed-the garden of the poets, of Sadi, Hafiz and old Omar. Through an enchanted door I had stepped right into the background of some old Mughal miniature. Even the peacocks and birds of its illuminated border called to me from the trees. All sorts of friendly wild creatures filled the garden. Squirrels played among the fallen leaves. Once, when I had been very still, absorbed in my painting, a little troop of soft-furred monkeys gathered round. There they sat, like puzzled children, gazing solemnly with their bright inquisitive eyes. Suddenly, the shadow of a huge vulture slowly sailing by to his nest among the old mango trees frightened them. Off fled the monkeys, swinging lightly from branch to branch, only stopping to look down on me from safe high-up boughs. A flock of parrots, shrieking shrilly to each other, flew past-making a vivid emerald streak on the evening sky.