The Garden Guide

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

British solidiers at Pinjore Gardens

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We were standing while we talked under the great wide archways of the palace bounding the harem garden on its western side-for Pinjor was a country-house as well as a garden, and needed more accommodation than that afforded by the slighter baradaris in gardens near a city, to which the family or Court might go to celebrate some special festival, or to spend two or three days of relaxation. Being far away from forts and walled cities, the garden had to be built for defence as well as for pleasure, and the defences of this garden are on a very considerable scale. An outer enclosure commanding the high-road was dismantled in 1793, but the two upper gardens are still surrounded on three sides by great walls, loopholed and crenellated, with bastions at intervals, and having octagonal towers at the corners, while on the fourth side there is a retaining wall with a sheer drop of thirty or forty feet to the terrace below. Early one morning, climbing up through what, on the garden side, appeared to be only an ornamental summer-house, I found that the stairway led out on the top of a strong octagonal burj. This tower on its southern side faced the long road to Umballa, commanding the direct route up from the plains. The masonry at its foot sloped sharply down into a moat, at the far side of which the road, abruptly turning, disappeared behind trees. The blue foot-hills quivered in the rapidly increasing morning heat. Far off, from somewhere down in the ravine, through which the road at length found its way to the level plains, came the murmur of the river rolling over its stony bed. Presently a tramping sound, with the rattle of jingling harness, came from the road behind me, and a brisk Cockney voice sang out, 'Come on, Nur-i-Din, cant you; you chalao (hurry up) with the maachees there !' Round the corner a little company of soldiers swung into view, coming from the direction of the village. Shuffling after them along the dusty road came an old native, his turban flying distractedly in the morning breeze, holding out as he ran the coveted box of matches purchased from the little bazaar through which they had just marched. The impatient speaker, filling his pipe, sat on the back of a cart piled high with luggage; other Tommies walked along in twos and threes, whistling gay little snatches of song, their round, good-natured faces sunburnt and cheerful. The cool morning air and wild country round them raised their spirits; but what probably pleased them more was the fact that they were returning to their station in the plains, to their own big barracks, to their football and their hockey. Even the gaiety of band nights in the local gardens was not to be despised after a long wet summer in the hills, where maybe they had been quartered in dripping tents, at some lonely station, with little level space for games. It was a quaint surprise to see suddenly below me all those English faces, when for days I had been out of sight or reach of any European. I think it was the big white bulldog that first noticed me. There he sat in the cart, carefully balancing himself on the top of a huge pile of miscellaneous objects, giving an air of immense dignity and importance to the whole procession. He was a nice dog, but his one pink eye and short disdainful nose were turned on me at once with evident disapproval. 'What was I doing there ?' he seemed to say. 'Not at all the sort of place to find a white muslin frock and gay parasol. What could my occupation be ?' Had he known, I fear it would hardly have improved matters. Being military, he would naturally look on art with suspicion: art-such a queer thing to interest any one; and who could wish to stay and paint in an old Mughal bagh ? If it were sport, now, that kept me there, he would have understood of course; or an interest in natural history would have been easily understandable, for the study of the Chua was his own great delight-chiefly on account of Chuas foolish habit of running round the rooms at night, squeaking with terror because (the stupid little mouse) he never had the courage to escape across the open floor. As it was, the nice white bulldog passed on disapproving. A little farther down the road one of the soldiers caught sight of me, and calling the attention of his comrades, they halted, blank surprise overspreading their cheery faces, astonished at the sudden vision of a countrywoman of their own perched up in the corner tower of an old Indian fortified garden, away here in the jungle. But the cart rattled on, and seeming reassured that I was in no need of immediate rescue, they hurried after it. Every now and then, as they vanished into tiny specks down the long white road, one or the other would turn round, looking to see if the sunshade had disappeared. Clearly they were puzzled. The sun grew hotter, making me realise that here even in October a morning in the garden must necessarily be short. Reluctantly, I turned to leave my burj with its lovely views and started down the narrow stairway. Where the steps turned in the darkness of the building, my attention was attracted by a cupboard door, curiously carved. As I touched it the hinge gave way, and the little door, falling back, revealed three old kettledrums. Above them in a tiny niche stood a blackened earthenware lamp and fresh offerings of flowers, marigolds and the bright purple of bougainvillaea petals. What were they doing here, and who had placed them in this apparently deserted spot ? Had they been offered to some presiding deity of the garden, or to the war drums-relics of a splendid past ? Or was it only the ancient Nag-worship, the Water-snake of the Spring, defying all the centuries ? Like the soldiers, I too went away puzzled.