Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Travels - Part 9: The Bagh-i Hayat Bakhsh of the Red Fort in Delhi, India

People usually visit Delhi's Red Fort for its historical significance and the traces of Mughal splendor that may be glimpsed in what survives of the complex. I was not expecting much in the way of gardens and while there indeed was not much in the way of botanical rarities or extensive floral displays, I was surprised to find the remnants of an elaborate Persianate chahar bagh or quadripartite garden.

Some of the remaining palace buildings, known as the Diwan-i Khas and the Nahr-i Bihisht

 Pietra dura inlay work in one of the palace buildings

Water courses running through the palace buildings

Elaborate interior decorations

The water channel as it runs through yet another palace building

This garden, known as the Bagh-i Hayat Bakhsh or "life-giving garden", stretches  along the row white marble pavilions that make up most of what is left of the Mughal palaces in the fort. Broad, shallow water channels set in the red sandstone that gives the whole fort its name traverse large expenses of lawn , intersecting at a central pool with a pavilion at its center. Unfortunately all the water channels and pools are dry today but the lay-out and architectural details are still clearly visible and charming in their formality and intricacy.

 View down one of the water channels towards the pavilion at its end

The playful shape of one of the flower beds arranged along the sides of the water channels

The ruin of the central pavilion at the intersection of the water courses

Apart from lacking the abundant running water that must once have been a big part of its charm, the garden also retains only a rather skeletal planting. There are some rose bushes, rather disheveled-looking in the July heat at the time of my visit, and cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and similar conifers as well as Polyalthia longifolia lining the edges of the water channels. The flowerbeds may be planted with annuals at other times of the year but at the time of my visit most were simply overgrown with weeds and grass. In a few, however, pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora) were putting on quite a lovely show.

Pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora) around the base of a cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

On the whole, the gardens of the Red Fort in general and the Bagh-i Hayat Bakhsh in particular are hardly impressive from a horticultural perspective. Nevertheless, they provide an interesting glimpse of Mughal garden design in a palace setting and allow one to imagine how the various  buildings may have once been tied into a larger garden landscape that ingeniously blurred the lines between interior and exterior living spaces.

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