For garden travelers, it’s a mistake that India is not on the radar screen. At the same time that Henry VIII was sitting on the throne of England, Babur, the first great Mughal emperor, was conquering India and creating magnificent gardens there. Several of his heirs continued the great garden tradition he pioneered and local maharajas imitated the style. The result is a rich selection of gardens to visit in Northern India.
DELHI, INDIA’S CAPITAL
In Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb is a must-see destination. Commissioned in 1565 by the widow of Mughal Emperor Humayun, this mausoleum is the first of the grand dynastic tombs built by the Mughals. The tomb is set at the center of a twenty-six-acre garden, which is designed in the traditional Persian Charbagh (four-fold garden) style. The garden is divided into four main parts by walkways and flowing water. The play of fountains adds life and motion to the scene, while the still waters of the reflecting pools mirror the spellbinding architecture of the mausoleum.
Ironically, it was an Englishman who designed Delhi’s other superb Mughal-style garden. Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to plan the new capital of India in Delhi and to design some of the key buildings, including Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the president of India. Lutyens also designed the gardens of Rashtrapati Bhavan, which are open to the public only in February and March. There, visitors can enjoy the series of lushly planted garden rooms, including the Musical Garden, Mughal Garden, “Purdah Garden,” and Sunken Butterfly Garden. Make your reservations well in advance.
THE PINK CITY OF JAIPUR
Guests at the Jai Mahal Palace Hotel get the benefit of the eighteen acres of beautifully landscaped Mughal gardens, which were created with the advice of Elizabeth Moynihan. Wife of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former U.S. Ambassador to India, she authored the book Paradise As a Garden: In Persia and Mughal India.Just a forty-minute drive from Jaipur is the magnificent Amer Fort. In addition to the multi-columned diwan (Hall of Audience), mirrored mosaics, elaborately decorated gates, and royal apartments, there are two important gardens. The first is Kesar Kyari Bagh, meaning saffron garden. It was built around 1600 for the women of the harem to enjoy looking down upon from their rooms high in the hilltop palace. The terraced garden on Maota Lake appears to be floating. Block-planted beds outlined by pale-marble partitions form an intricate pattern of stars and geometric shapes. On moonlit nights, the marble appears to glow, illuminating the lacy pattern against the dark plants.Inside the palace precincts is another patterned garden. Similar in design to Kesari Kyari, but much smaller, it features a central fountain shaped like an eight-pointed star.A day-trip distance from Jaipur is the charming village of Samode, where garden lovers come to see Samode Bagh, a 250-year-old walled garden. One of the oldest functional Mughal gardens in Rajasthan, the long water channel with its forty-two fountains provides cooling refreshment. If you fancy more time there, stay on the grounds at the Samode Bagh Hotel, or live like a maharaja and splurge on the nearby 475-year-old Samode Palace.
AGRA, CAPITAL OF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE
Perhaps the most famous landmark in the Indian subcontinent is the Taj Mahal, which was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahān to memorialize his beloved wife Mumtāz Mahal. The mausoleum and Persian Paradise gardens are now a UNESCO World Heritage site for being, “The jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”
UDAIPUR, THE MOST ROMANTIC CITY IN INDIA
Set in a valley surrounded by mountains and graced with seven lakes, Udaipur is indeed a scenic, romantic spot. And two of the gardens here are worth a special visit.
The first is the courtyard garden in the Jag Mandir or Lake Garden Palace. Accessible only by boat, the setting in the middle of Lake Pichola is sublime, especially at sunset. Enjoy the boxwood parterre garden with its grove of frangipani trees as well as the views across the water of the floodlit City Palace and the Taj Palace Lake Hotel.
Just two kilometers outside the city’s north gate is Saheliyon Ki Bari (Garden of the Maids). Built in the early 1700s as a place where the ladies of the royal household could retreat from palace intrigue, the lush plantings are embellished with tiered and elephant-shaped fountains, beautiful lotus pools, and marble pavilions.
Steeped in history and created by fascinating, powerful rulers, the gardens of Northern India are inspiring places to go to rejuvenate the spirit as well as enjoy the rich legacy of the Mughal Empire.