Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 14: The Yadavindra Gardens at Pinjore near Chandigarh, India

On my last day in Chandigarh I took a taxi out of the city to visit the Yadavindra Gardens in the foothills of the Shivalik Range just to the north. Laid out in the 17th century by Nawab Fidai Khan, a foster brother of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and the architect of the famous Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, the gardens display many of the features commonly associated with Mughal gardens, such as long water courses punctuated by delicate fountains, rows of cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens), and arched pavilions or baradaris. Since it sits on a hillside, the garden is divided into several terraces, each bisected by a long canal which cascades onto the terrace below either in a translucent sheet of water that forms a curtain in front of  rows of ornate niches or chinikhana that would have held candles of vases with flowers in the olden days or over a chadar, a steeply inclined and finely textured chute that breaks the water up into a delicate, sparkling ripple. Unfortunately at the time of my visit only some of the canals were actually filled with water and only the main fountains between the second and the third level of the gardens were operating. Furthermore, restoration work was going on in various parts of the garden, July clearly being the off season as far as tourism in this region is concerned.

The top level of the garden as seen from the entrance

View across the second terrace toward the first

View from the edge of the second terrace over the lower half of the garden

 One of the chadars or textured water chutes

 A chinikhana that would have held lamps at night to illuminate the sheet of water falling in front of it


Even before Fidai Khan laid out his garden at Pinjore/Pinjor/Pinjaur, the site had been noted for its natural beauty and the spring that provided it with water. Although it was first  mentioned in writing in 1030, legend holds that Pinjore served as a refuge of the Pandava brothers, heroes of the great Indian epic Mahabharata, during their time of banishment. As for Fidai Khan's creation, Constance Villiers Stuart includes a beautiful description of how she found it around the turn of the 20th cetury in her book Gardens of the Great Mughals, the full text of which can be found here. While no longer entirely accurate due to a hundred years of restoration work, tourism, and just everyday gardening, I still think that description evokes the place marvelously and deserves to be quoted at length:
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, shows 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 was to be seen...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 water's 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 lagerstroemia bushes had been a blaze of color 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. (Villier Stuart 224-226)
Of course this passage might be problematic in its sweeping statements and blatant Orientalism but I think Villiers Stuart's obvious enthusiasm for the place and the wealth of descriptive detail she offers convey the allure of this garden far better than a more sober text could.

 View from the lower section of the garden uphill

The water palace in its tank - it is currently undergoing restoration work

 A hedge arch leading to the outer parts of the gardens

One of the larger paths in the lush orchards that form the outer part of the garden

In the mango orchards

In addition to the plants mentioned by Villiers Stuart the flora of the garden also includes quite a few plants that are perhaps a bit more unusual. I was very happy to find a retaining wall clad in Thunbergia laurifolia, a large tropical vine which produces clusters of massive pale blue flowers that appear to deny its close relationship to the common black-eyed Susan vine. A large stand of Strelitzia nicolai caught my eye near the entrance, and close to the staircase that descends from the second to the third terrace a particularly brilliant croton (Codiaeum variegatum) caught my eye. Architecture might be paramount in this garden but that does not mean that it has nothing to offer to the plant enthusiast.

Plantings on the second terrace, including beds of hybrid tea roses (Rosa sp.)

Scarlet sage (Salvia elegans)

A fairly typical arrangement of potted flowering and foliage plants

Pink moss roses (Portulaca grandiflora)

Some flowers of Thunbergia laurifolia

 An intensely colorful, narrow-leafed cultivar of Codiaeum variegatum

 Strelitzia nicolai

 Orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) and scarlet sage (Salvia splendens)


Another display of potted plants in the uppermost portion of the gardens


Another beautiful blue flower, this one produced by what is probably Thunbergia natalensis

On the whole, the Yadavindra Gardens at Pinjore are a  beautiful place to while away an hour or two and their design continues to be impressive even after the many small modifications and various cycles of neglect that the gardens have had to endure over the course of several centuries. Hopefully they will be even prettier after the renovations currently being carried out have been finished. In any case, Pinjore's melancholic lushness makes it well worth a visit.

Sources:  Gardens of the Great Mughals by Constance Villiers Stuart, 1913.

6 comments:

  1. Since I'm pretty sure I'll never make it there, let me just say thank you for the tour and descriptions. The idea of jasmine and roses leaning into the canals on some warm night is exotic to me and any place that can grow houseplants outside like gangbusters is worth dreaming about. Especially since plants are wrapping up living/growing for the year here.

    Christine in Alaska

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  2. enjoying your posts on chandigarh!

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  3. These are magnificient gardens and I have thoroughly enjoyed your travels to this part of the world. I would like to invite you to participate in Gardening A Game!, my link is here

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  4. beautiful garden!
    it is nice to be able to travel around and see all this places around the world

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  5. Nice collection of pictures. I really liked your post. An ecosytem in itself of cacti and succulents, Cactus Garden is really more of a sprawling landscape that has been lovingly created and planted into existence, cactus by cactus. Check out more facts about Cactus Garden Chandigarh also.

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  6. Nice post on the Pinjore Garden also known as Yadavindra garden , which is an example of the Mughal style Gardens. Thanks for the beautiful pictures. The garden has been laid in seven terraces,and is still one of the beautiful gardens in India. Do check Pinjore Garden for more details.

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