LAHORE: The historic Shalimar Gardens are losing height to construction work, which continued for decades, and lack of interest shown by the authorities who should be preserving the monument.
Similarly, most eastern and northern walls of the monument, with the precious artwork done by the Mughal era artists, have been lost or is on the verge of collapse, but the authorities concerned failed to restore the walls of the gardens despite having millions of rupees at their disposal, provided by Unesco and other donor agencies.
The Shalimar Gardens were built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1641 AD while the project was launched under the supervision of a noble of Shah Jahan’s court, Khalilullah Khan, and other prominent figures, like Ali Mardan Khan and Mulla Alaul Maulk Tuni.
The monument, which measures 658 meters north to south and 258 meters east to west, is one of the Unesco World Heritage Sites besides the Lahore Fort. The international agency has provided millions of rupees for the protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage but the authorities mainly focussed on the inner beauty of the place and the boundary of the gardens were neglected despite being in shabby condition.
Hundreds of houses and shops, situated around the monument, especially on the eastern and northern side, were built in violation of international rules on the preservation of historical sites while the massive growth of the population and frequent construction during the past decades left the gardens feet below the earth, allowing rain and sewage into the base of the internationally-recognised monument.
An Archaeology Department official, requesting anonymity, told The News the condition of the boundary walls of the monument was shabby and they could fall in case of even a minor earthquake. The walls are already on the verge of collapse due to massive rain and drain water in the base and heavy wear and tear due to the negligence of the government departments, which were supposed to preserve the national asset.
He said the northern and eastern walls of the gardens were never given proper attention by the departments concerned and the two main gates situated along the eastern wall gave the look of ruins instead of an international monument. The official also expressed dissatisfaction over the progress of the renovation work being done inside the gardens, saying that most of the old structures, especially the floors, were being replaced with new floors instead of proper preservation.
He said the government and international agencies had provided enough funds to fully restore the monument, but the department concerned lacked the skill and capability to save the historic site.
More than half of the northern wall is also crumbling due to lack of care and most of the murals painted by Mughal artists have almost vanished, but a small number of murals are partially visible along the north-eastern gate of the gardens. Similarly, the authorities also removed the northern main gate of the gardens due to some unknown reasons while huge piles of garbage can be seen around the walls, especially on the northern walls, and standing drain water along the wall is silently weakening its bases.
When contacted, Punjab Archaeology Department (PAD) Director Shahbaz Khan said the City District Government Lahore authorities and people were responsible for garbage and sewage along the walls. He said the PAD had warned the people and the authorities that their negligence could damage a great asset of the country but some people were still throwing garbage beside the wall.
He said PAD officials had been informed about the lowering of the level of the gardens due to massive construction in violation of international standards and the department was planning to vacate hundreds of houses in the area and maintain the level of the gardens.
Khan said the Punjab government had allocated Rs 300 million while Rs 15 million were provided by the Unesco and the preservation work had started since June and it would conclude in the same month in 2008.
The centuries-old gardens were famous for three terraces on different levels, a small canal to irrigate land and beautiful fountains. The gardens have five cascades, including the great marble cascade and Sawan Bhadoon, while the main buildings situated on the premises included Sawan Bhadum pavilions, Naqar Khana, Sleeping Chambers, Hammam, the grand hall, resting place, Khawabgah of Begum Sahib (the queen), Baradaries to enjoy the cool breeze produced by the surrounding fountains, Diwan-e-Khas-o-Aam, two huge gateways and minarets in the corners of the gardens.