Pakistan’s Lahore holds one of the famed Shalimar Gardens, which were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in conjunction with the city’s fort. The Shalimar Gardens of Lahore or Lahore’s Shalimar Bagh, as some refer to them, are not actually the only so-named gardens in the world, as people who have travelled around the region would know. India holds at least two more historic sites of the same appellation, and this has led to some confusion on occasion.
It pays to know more about their backgrounds. The Lahore gardens were built in 1641-1642 by the great Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. The gardens may be found along the city’s Grand Trunk Road and cover a spread of 658m by 258m-no small area, to be sure. The first thing most visitors remark on when visiting is the geometric perfection of the outer walls’ fretwork, which is typical of Mughal garden architecture during the period. Like most other Mughal era gardens, the space is divided into terraces of varying elevation (in the case of the Lahore gardens, there are three) and a central channel or water ramp is used for irrigation, carrying water to basins equipped with fountains. The Lahore gardens have over 400 of these fountains. There are also the typical pavilions, sleeping chambers and baths, and halls.
The similarly-named garden in Delhi actually had much the same design, having been commissioned by the same emperor and built shortly after the one in Lahore. The most important difference as far as the people of today are concerned, though, is that the Delhi gardens have not survived as well as the Lahore ones have. Only the bare remnants of the old structures and gardens remain of the Delhi gardens, because majority of the old park has been taken over by modern shopping and commercial structures. There is genuine concern over the fate of the remaining structures from the old garden, since upkeep is not very strict, unlike with the Lahore one.
The third garden of the same name, the Shalimar Bagh of Srinagar, is not actually directly related to the Lahore and Delhi ones. The transliterated word “Shalimar” actually stands for the “Hall of Love”, and the emperor responsible for the Srinagar gardens was in fact the predecessor of the builder of the Lahore and Delhi gardens. Jahangir, as he was known by many, gave shape to the gardens that he named Farah Baksh at first but which later became known as Shalimar Bagh due to the name of the village in which the gardens were constructed. The name of the village itself was from a far earlier ruler of the area, who used to frequent it and held a rest house of this name centuries before Jahangir’s predecessor, Shah Jahan, even came to be.
The three Shalimar Gardens are all worth visiting, but the better-preserved ones are inarguably those of Srinagar and Lahore itself. The Lahore one has the added benefit of being situated near the Lahore Fort, which is also superbly preserved and exerts more than a bit of attraction on the history-loving tourist.