I had been longing to stroll through the Mughal Garden (presidential gardens at Rashtrapati Bhavan) since I moved to New Delhi. I love gardens, and especially love the idea of a secret garden that you can enter only five weeks of the year (16 February to 23 March). The timings are 9.30am to 2.30pm and the garden remains closed on Mondays.
I finally cornered a friend to go with me on a Tuesday, hoping we would escape the weekend crowd. She is usually game for every kitschy Delhi activity, but this time around, she gave me a pitying look and stammered out an apology: “Uh, no thanks.”
I should have learnt then not to expect too much.
You’re outside. Flowers are in full bloom. The fountains which rise upto a height of 12ft, are gurgling. It is the one fleeting month of comfortable weather. If I weren’t here, I would be stuck in my office. Life can’t be bad under such circumstances.
Unfortunately, I can still find plenty to complain about. For one, the gardens could have been slightly more impressive and the rules far less rigid.
The day I chose to review the greenery, a few hundred schoolchildren were present as well. I am sure it is a great trip for them, and most seemed thrilled to have made their Great Escape from a math class, but when you are expecting a pleasant stroll in the park and you see about 600 uniformed children jumping in line before you, it can be a bit of a disappointment.
Once inside, I felt like I was on a conveyor belt. You can’t stop to sit anywhere other than the tented “Lounge Rooms”. And, finally, you are hurried into the Mughal Garden—a large rectangular space with intricate fountain structures that cut the garden into quadrants of various sizes, with tulip beds, rose beds and trees dotted about the lawn. Along one walk, a small cactus display and bonsai tree display seem strangely out of place, as if one of the president’s grandchildren started building their own garden and was called away in the middle of play. Shuffling through a walled arch, we enter the fragrant rose garden walk, also called the Long Garden or the Purdha garden with long beds of roses, some of which are still in bloom. Small signs denote the flower names, such as the Christian Dior, the Queen Elizabeth and the Golden Shower. Next, we come to the Circular Garden, and my favourite, because of the wall of bright flowers ringing the walkway. Layers of flowers make the fountain in the centre look like an ornately decorated inverted cake. The last garden, holds different plants mentioned in religious text. The effect is a rather haphazard look, with trees spread across a lawn without any outward relation to the other. A beautiful, wide open space with flower beds, fountains and a perfect expanse of lawn. I thought we would be able to relax here, but I was wrong. If you took two steps off the path, a guard would quickly set you straight.
While the gardens were beautiful, they were not in great condition. I’ve seen streets and corners in the Capital with healthier flowers. By the end of the walk, we saw a rather fitting image: a rose bush had a signboard next to it declaring its name—First Prize. The bush looked nearly dead and had nary a blossom on it.
One thing I can’t complain about: the price. Entry is free and drinking water is provided along the route. A snack bar at the entrance serves tasty vegetarian patties for around Rs15. If you haven’t been back since your school days, it is a pretty decent way to spend your lunch hour. But next time around, I’ll opt for Lodhi Garden.