Pinjore is a town on the edge of Haryana. The Shivalik range of hills form the backdrop of this lovely town. Actually there is nothing lovely about Pinjore but as Keats expressed in the start of his epic Endymion, the loveliness of the hills rubs off Pinjore just as well. Beyond the hills is Himachal Pradesh.
In Pinjore are the famous Mughal gardens laid out in the 17th century. The gardens were laid out by Fidai Khan, lieutenant and architect of Aurangazeb. It is the same Fidai Khan credited with the creation of the magnificent Badshahi Mosque at Lahore. So here I am in Pinjore after a long bus ride from Roopnagar to Chandigarh and changing at Chandigarh for another bus.
Pinjore has historic associations with the Pandavas. The twelve year exile of the Pandavas is a convenient period to create associations. They stayed here, loved the place and visited it frequently once they had recovered their kingdom. But without any monuments, tablet inscriptions, period coins or similar tangible items of historic evidence it recedes into the domain of legends and holds little water historically. On the other hand, it is a fact that Fidai Khan made a garden and the garden stands to prove it.
The terraced garden is laid out in seven levels. Decorated with pools and fountains, pavilions and cascades I quite like it for its design. The lilting cascades snake and ripple down stone chevrons. Fountains shake their cool sprays on to visitors taking shade in overlooking pavilions. At one level, a pond surrounds the Jal Mahal with fountains adding interest to the pool. Banana trees frame the view. Palm trees create perspectives while the reflective waterways add to it. A high wall with corner towers and crenellations surround the entire garden.
But the garden has its faults, perhaps not its design but the way it is presented. The garden descends from one level to the next but at its lowest level it abruptly terminates in a closed gate. I expected something more. I stand at the gate wondering what’s beyond. I believe this gate would have been open in the past leading to farther perspectives and woodland walks. The lowest two levels are in phases of restoration. Water channels are dry. Pools are dug up. The place is messy. By this, the entire experience of the garden is diluted. Due to shortage of electricity, not all fountains are switched on. They take turns.
In one of the higher levels, as water drains towards the Jal Mahal, a hole has been drilled into the masonry in one side. Ideally water should have flowed uniformly through three overflow channels. Unfortunately to make it work enough water has to be supplied. In a country stretched for even clean drinking water, this is a luxury. The quick and ugly solution has been to drill an unsightly hole. It also disturbs the manner in which water flows through. This is a universal problem in all of India. Gardens are built around the theme of water – pools, fountains, channels and cascades. The intention was to create a cool space in the torrid heat of Indian summer. But nature has her victory. Water is scarce. Many gardens across India are in a sorry state of ruin. Without water even modern gardens look like ruins. There are so many examples of this – Ram Bagh at Agra, Bibi-ka-Maqbara at Aurangabad, Jubilee Park at Jamshedpur, Aam Khas Bagh at Sirhind. There are however notable exceptions – Taj Mahal at Agra, Saheliyon-ki-bari at Udaipur and these gardens at Pinjore. This is mainly because these are popular tourist spots and local governments have made some effort to maintain them.
Moving away from the water channels and fountains, the lawns are beautiful. The flower beds are ordinary but neatly maintained. Orchards contain mangoes, pomegranates, almonds, among others. I walk along the outer wall. I climb to the roof of one of the corner rooms. A stunning view of the canopy of these orchards opens up. The hills stand shaping the horizon in the distance.