Tag Archives: gardens

Bureaucratic Ineptitude Turning Lahore Into a Green Desert

We are cross posting this excellent piece by Salman Rashid:

I was telling a relative of mine about the one dozen different species of birds that nest in my garden (and it’s a one-kanal house) and at any given time the song of twice as many species. He, a retired judge of the superior court, living in Judicial Colony near Thokar Niaz Beg was surprised that there was a total absence of birdsong in their area.

I told him that the birds were missing entirely because of the absence of indigenous species of trees in the locality. The entire colony is choc-a-bloc with all sorts of exotic trees. There is not a single peepul, neem, amaltas, to name only a few.

Ornithologists tell us that Lahore was home to no fewer than a hundred and seventy different species of birds until the mid-seventies. In the latter part of that decade, flight and cabin crews of the national carrier began to flood this unfortunate land with all sorts of ornamental shrubs and trees from the Far East. Ignorant and foolish, these people only had their eye on the huge profits to be gleaned from the sale of this contraband.

That was also the time of the establishment of such residential areas as Iqbal Town and sundry other ‘societies’ in south Lahore as well as of Defense Housing Authority. Vast tracts of real and ancient forest were cleared; roads and housing came up and with them a new forest of shrubs and araucaria – this import being the most popular in those days.

Not that this was the first alien invasion. We had earlier seen the clearing of indigenous trees to plant the Australian water-guzzling eucalyptus and the pretty alstonia. Mark: birds were singularly repelled by both species. However, over the decades, crows and pied mynas (the latter very rarely) have taken to nesting in eucalyptus mainly for want of any other species. But very strangely, I have never ever seen any specie of bird nesting or even roosting in alstonia. The result was that our birds began to leave Lahore for forest and scrub outside the city.

The disease of preferring exotic tree species over our own was matched by yet another sickness: the preference for ornamental shrubbery in place of real trees. One example that I know of is the Anjuman e Himayat e Islam premises in Lahore that was home to many magnificent hundred year-old trees. In the 1980s or shortly after, they were all chopped down by one very, very foolish man and replaced by shrubbery. Thousands of birds that thrived on those trees in the heart of smoggy Lahore were banished and part of the lungs of the city destroyed.

Roads in all the new residential societies were planted with either eucalyptus or alstonia; houses only with some little shrubbery. The 21st century rolled around and we discovered some more useless species to replace our own. This was the age of ficus and ashoka. Today, every new road is adorned with these absolutely worthless trees.

To anyone who understood ecology, this was the making of a disaster. But importers of these exotic species were only concerned with the profits to be had. Having spoken to at least three importers, I have learned that they have not even the faintest clue of ecology. The Forest Department nursery on Ravi Road stocks indigenous plants and sells saplings for one rupee a piece. Twice, the officer in charge, seeing my concern for the loss of our trees, even refused to take any money for the few dozen trees I obtained. Yet the average person will not go there. Instead he will blight his home with ficus.

One importer of exotic species with connections to the ruling party in Punjab has meanwhile become a billionaire selling exotic species. His links permitting him free run with the Parks and Horticulture Authority gives him room to sell exotic shrubbery and miniature palm trees for a preposterous six-figure price. Damn the ecology of Lahore. Lucre is the God and birdsong can go to hell.

We have seen example of these pricey plants in the green spaces leading up to the Saggian Bridge from the Ring Road in north Lahore. The Ring Road in the south and near the airport is similarly blighted. Indeed that vast over a hundred acres of open space in front of the airport is a sad, arid and shadeless desert contaminated with the rubbish of imported shrubbery.

And now recently we were told that the government had uprooted five hundred and some trees to widen the canal road. In the stead of these lost trees, we are being promised ten times more. I assure you that as surely as night follows day and as surely as we have been blighted by a lack of foresight and understanding over the past six decades, we are going to have five thousand imported trees along the canal.

This will nicely put the politically-connected importer of exotic rubbish up by Rs 500 million and Lahore the poorer for birdsong.

The sad thing is that PHA is run by general duty bureaucrats who have no clue of ecology. In any case, a bureaucrat is hand maiden to the political master and what the master says goes. Consequently, bureaucratic ineptitude and sycophantic compliance are killing the birds and turning Lahore into a green desert.
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Hundreds of parks now victims of PHA neglect

By Nauman Tasleem

LAHORE: The Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) is neglecting hundreds of small parks in different parts of the city.

The authority has been focusing on 600 parks, including a few main public places, while ignoring the remaining 400 situated in different localities of the city. The PHA was established in 1998 with the objective of making the city “clean and beautiful”. The authority works on the parks and grounds of housing schemes approved by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA). The PHA is neglecting a little under half of around 1,000 parks in the city, leaving most of them in an abysmal state. Continue reading

Do not enter Lawrence Gardens without a permit

Raza Rumi

The NEWS have published this editorial entitled – morality brigade -on how public spaces are being denied to the youth in Lahore. This is deplorable and needs to be questioned…

A bizarre notice, worded in Urdu and installed at the Bagh-e-Jinnah in Lahore, warns students that they are not allowed to enter the public garden, unless they are on an educational trip. For this they must bring a letter from the head of their institution. It is assumed the purpose behind the directive is to prevent young men and women from meeting at the city’s largest garden or taking a stroll beneath its leafy trees. The bar on students amounts to a restriction on their right, as equal citizens, to free movement. It also deprives them of space to enjoy a picnic or to study in a pleasant, relatively noise-free environment. Dozens of students can be seen in the park at exam time poring over their books on a bench or revising lessons as a group. No one should be deprived of these simple pleasures of life. It is also a fact that many students lack a conducive study environment at home.

As for the idea of ‘morality’, the restriction simply means that couples seeking to spend time together will go elsewhere. If they do enter the sprawling gardens they presumably face harassment from police, often present there. We must also ask who has authorized the sign? No law exists to prevent students either skipping classes or from meeting those of the opposite gender. The kind of misguided morality we see behind this notice has already inflicted grave damage on our society. The Punjab government needs to take note of it, and adopt measures to ensure no one’s rights are curtailed. Arbitrary measures such as those at the Bagh-e-Jinnah act to stifle life, add unnecessarily to the suffocating atmosphere we live in and encourage extremists who have in the past attempted to impose their own brand of morality on all of us, in some cases by using bombs and other means of violence. Continue reading

Shalamar conservation

Dawn Editorial

The news of the completion of some conservation work by Unesco at the historical Shalamar Gardens, Lahore, is nothing short of exhilarating. Continue reading

Lahore: Blossoms, bricks, bravura

Salma Mahmud recalls the beauty of Lahore’s past (The Friday Times)

Maharaja Sher Singh after
a royal bath

Raja Dina Nath was granted the title of Diwan
by Ranjeet Singh in 1826

Ranjit Singh holding a darbar

A malang dancing at Shah Hussain’s mazaar

The demolished Shivala used to be a gathering place for Kashmiri pundits

” align=”justify”>Some felt that Raja Dina Nath’s falseness was the means to his success, for he never hesitated in deserting a losing party or a falling friend. There were others who testified to his generosity towards faqirs and orphans

If one is to be unbiased, then one must admit that The Lion of the Punjab was a great lover of natural scenery and greenery. He passed an order that not a single spot of barren land should be visible along the five miles between Delhi Gate and Shalimar. The GT Road was thus lined on both sides by eager courtiers and noblemen vying with one another to plant trees, gardens, parks and green fields … Lahore was in truth turned into a city of gardens

FFor those who love Lahore there is a mystical connection between themselves and the city. Regardless of its current ravaged and bereft condition, it continues to tug at the heartstrings with its lure and lustre.

And as you drive along the old Shalimar Road, the mist is thick, grey, smoky. You can almost eat it. This ancient road is withdrawn, remote, secretive, compressed within itself, surrounded by its dreary new townships.

Yet it is still full of magic, the magic of things half-seen in a dream, the magic of the barely visible or the partly remembered, which is the very stuff of dreams. Wily Raja Dina Nath’s legendary garden exists in this dream to the east of the old road, laden with fragrant blossoms, fruit trees, fountains, pleasure domes and pavilions. And the ruins of Shah Bilawal’s Baradari lie crumbling along the way, where Ranjit Singh’s heir Maharaja Sher Singh and his seven year old son and his retainers were brutally murdered by the Sandhanwalia conspirators. Surely all that blood must still exist somewhere under the earth? And perhaps it will cry out one day against the Qabza group’s encroachments on the Sher Singh family samadhs. Latrines have been constructed through the retaining wall, into the mound atop which stand the sacred chatthris. What further desecration could be possible? Recall the exquisite painting of the young Sher Singh after his bath, sitting with his curling hair spread out over his shoulders, and recoil from the current morass.

‘Nadiyon paar Ranjhan da thaana,

Mintaan karaan malah dey naal

A turning to the left off the Grand Trunk Road takes you to the tomb of Shah Hussain, the 16th century Sufi saint, whose festival of lights Lahoris celebrated at the end of March. The entrance is marked with a gateway of brick composed of a multi-foil of several leaf-shaped curves, and a simple cusped projecting archway through which a few steps lead you into an elevated court. The enclosure of the tomb is large, with a small graveyard located on the east side. Somewhere here lies Ustad Daman, one of Lahore’s beloved icons, who spent the last years of his life in Shah Hussain’s Hujra, situated below a mosque near Heera Mandi.

A well adds ambience to the area, and large old trees provide shade and tranquility. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s beautiful Muslim wife Moran, a former Amritsar courtesan, whom he affectionately called Moran Sarkar, built a small mosque in the environs of the tomb as a token of reverence for the saint. Unfortunately this entire structure has been demolished and rebuilt.

Ranjit Singh, apart from giving lavish donations to the shrines of Hazrat Mian Mir and Baba Farid, was a great devotee of Shah Hussain, and a sincere believer in his powers of performing miracles. Two of these are worthy of mention, the first being his reputed ability to change wine into milk and then back again into wine. He is alleged to have performed this miracle at the court of the Great Mughal, Akbar Badshah.

The second miracle was his supposed power to transport human beings from one place to another. He is said to have achieved this for his beloved disciple Madho, who expressed a wish to be with his parents at Haridwar, where they were performing their pilgrimage. His parents saw Madho bathing in the holy waters of the Ganga, which was considered adequate proof of Shah Hussain’s supernatural powers in this regard.

Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s intensely controversial figure still permeates the area between the Fort and Shalimar. He used to celebrate both Basant and Mela Chiraghan with great enthusiasm at Shah Hussain’s mazar as well as at Shahjehan’s romantic garden. On Basant all his courtiers were ordered to wear yellow clothes, and much of the food served during the festivities was yellow in colour. His cavalry stood at attention on the route from Delhi Darwaza to Chah Miran, as he wended his way along the GT Road, with Moran riding beside him on an elephant. Dancing and singing and carousing were the order of the day on both occasions.

His forty year rule was a strictly secular one, and two of his most trusted advisors were the celebrated Faqir brothers, Nuruddin the Hakim who cured him of a severe eye infection, and Azizuddin his Foreign Minister. Of the latter’s tact and diplomacy there can be no greater proof than the celebrated anecdote when the Governor General of India, Lord Aukland, asked him which of the Maharaja’s eyes was the blind one. His reply was, ‘The Maharaja is like the sun, and the sun has only one eye. The splendour and luminosity of his single eye is so much that I have never dared to look at his other eye.’ The Governor General was so impressed by Faqir Azizuddin’s reply that he presented him with his gold wrist watch. (Incidentally, the left eye was the blind one.)

Of Ranjeet Singh’s Hindu advisors, the most intriguing is surely Diwan/Raja Dina Nath, of the large deep-set eyes and neatly clipped white beard, referred to as the Talleyrand of the Punjab. Dina Nath was a Kashmiri Brahmin who came to Lahore in 1815 and soon rose to prominence at the court due to his diligence and brilliance. In 1826 Ranjeet Singh gave him the title of Diwan and granted him many jagirs.

Revolutions in which his friends and patrons perished passed him by, and in the midst of bloodshed and assassination his life was never endangered. Some felt that his falseness was the means to his success, for he never hesitated in deserting a losing party or a falling friend. He maintained his position during the years of anarchy following Ranjeet Singh’s death, and in fact his prestige and power continued to rise. This clearly depicts the strength of his extraordinary talent and tact. Eventually the British made him Raja of Kalanaur in the Jullundhar area.

On the plus side he has been described as physically brave and morally courageous when the occasion demanded it, and thereby he was one of the most successful courtiers of the Lahore Durbar. Nur Ahmed Chishti in his ‘Tehqiqaat-e-Chishti’, praises his boundless generosity towards faqirs and orphans. Chishti’s father Ahmed Bukht Yakdil was tutor to Dina Nath’s family, so this information comes from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

The two elegant havelis that he built near the Wazir Khan Mosque still survive, with several families living in each one. However, the beautiful Shivala or temple complex that he constructed in 1835 near the junction of Vachchuwali and Mohalla Sareen was demolished in 2006 by the Pakistan Evacuee Trust Property Board, in order to make way for a commercial building. This Shivala was a gathering place for Kashmiri Pundits, all of whom worship Lord Shiva, and their celebrations at Shivratri used to be exceptionally grand. It was two storeys in height, containing a large central courtyard, in which stood a five foot high Makrana marble statue of Shiva in the celebrated Nathraj pose, placed on a large pedestal. The Shivala was constructed of red sandstone, with the main door being of engraved Burma teak. The inner walls Continue reading

Great music lives on in Lahore

by Raza Rumi

This is the magic of Lahore and its deep-rooted cultural mores. No other city can boast of such individuals, movements and trends. Hopefully, the music will live on. The interest of younger generations and their experiments with various forms of music hold great promise

Last week the breezy environs of the majestic Lawrence Gardens once again swayed to the tunes of Hindustani classical music. A week long music festival organised by the All Pakistan Music Conference attracted musicians, vocalists and enthusiasts from all parts the country, as well as from the imagined “enemy” India. How could it not be the case when musical traditions emerged out of a cultural synthesis of 700 years or more?

The leading light of APMC was Hayat Ahmad Khan, whose sad demise in 2005 was interpreted as an end to the glorious tradition of subcontinental streams of music in Pakistan. However, 83 years of hard work and philanthropic contributions was not in vain. He left behind a powerful institution and a network of committed individuals and aesthetes who have kept the torch ablaze. Not a small feat in the troubled waters of a Pakistani cultural landscape constantly under attack by nation-state ideology and extremism that consider music to be too “Indian” or, even worse, un-Islamic.

This is the greatest irony of our existence: the Muslims in India contributed to what is known today as Indian classical music and innovations such as the sitar and the tabla. The Qawwal bache trained at the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi under the tutelage of Amir Khusrau became the founders of what was to later evolve as the sophisticated Khayal style of music. In dire times of the Sultanate and Mughal periods, these musicians had to take refuge in the princely states, and this is how the various gharanas, or schools of music, originated. This loose network of musicians organised along the lines of kinship or teacher-pupil bonds, sustained by court patronage and eclectic and secular in appeal, led to some fine moments. Tansen at Akbar’s court, Mohammad Shah Rangeela’s patronage and later the Kingdom of Oudh defined the high-points of this fused and seamless culture beyond religion, communal and sectarian divides.

To keep this tradition alive in post-independence Pakistan was a Herculean task. Pakistan was a moth-eaten and truncated country in the words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The psychological trauma and barbarity of the Partition had jolted everyone and the traditional patronage of the state was missing. It was under these circumstances that on September 15 1959, music-inspired citizens met at the famous Coffee House of Lahore and launched a voluntary organization called The All Pakistan Music Conference. Eminent personas such as Roshan Ara Begum were among the illustrious list of its founders.

It should be noted that this was also the age when the maestro Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan migrated to India and Roshan Ara Begum was almost about to give up the passion of her life. Thus Continue reading