Winter Wonderland

Yesterday we enjoyed one among the free pleasures of living in Delhi. The weather was perfect - sunny but with a cool breeze that made it delightful to spend time outdoors. So we set off on an expedition to Mughal Gardens, my grandma in tow. We sped through the traffic on the expressway and reached the heart of Delhi in barely 20 minutes. Of course, it then took us another 20 minutes to finally figure out how to get to the entrance of the garden, which is attached to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President's Estate.

The parking was pretty haphazard and the queue seemed endless so we had nightmare visions of standing in line for hours. But luckily the line moved fairly quickly, the only hitch being no mobile phones ( or cameras) were allowed, so once they separated the men and women, you could end up lost inside. In fact, as we queued up for the many security checks, we kept hearing announcements of lots of children separated from their parents, husbands missing wives and so forth.

Once inside, we found a treasure trove. The gardens are beautifully laid out in the formal English manner. As soon as you get inside, they have a large rectangular space, all sandstone, with huge spaces earmarked for flowers and plants. All manner of seasonal flowers were blooming there - roses of many varieties, stock both pink and white, larkspur, poppies, chrysanthemums, marigolds, dahlias which must have been a foot in diameter, snapdragons, pansies, violas and so on. The colours were beautifully planned and the parterre interspersed with fountains or just shallow channels for running water. There was even what looked like a grotto into which water from one of the channels fell like a waterfall, the noise of the running water adding to the feeling of being in an enchanted space. As one exited this space, there were vast banks of sweetpeas giving out a heavenly fragrance and running wild with colour - purple, blue, violet, pink, mauve and magenta.

Once you had completed a tour of the parterre walking on the designated paths, you were led into a sunken garden with tall rosy-red sandstone walls on either side, and an arbour with sandstone pillars and green runnels overhead. Both sides of the sunken garden were planted with roses of many varieties while the arbour had jade, petunias and other plants swinging in baskets. From this we came into a space that epitomised one of my favourite books from childhood, The Secret Garden.

There was a narrow little entrance, and once we stepped through, we were almost dazzled by the beauty of a circular garden. The garden was planted in steps made again of sandstone, with each step about 3 feet wide. We entered at the topmost tier, and that was the only level at which walking was allowed. As we walked around, we gazed down at a wilderness of flowers of all colours, hues and fragrances mingled together in the kind of picture that Monet painted so well. In fact, it was hard to believe that we had not stepped through a magical door and fallen into one of Monet's paintings of his garden in Giverny.
We just couldn't get enough of it and I ran about identifying the various flowers and sniffing their perfume like a dog gone mad. It was incredible to see the sheer variety of shades, colours, perfumes, shapes and sizes of flowers in that beautiful space - ladylike stock, bold dahlias, lacy, fragile larkspur, happy pansies, vibrant poppies and coy roses all turning their joyous faces to the sun. They seemed to be listening to some secret music and dancing to its tune. I couldn't do better than to misquote Wordsworth:
"Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line...

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance...

A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company
The Mughal Gardens perfumed my whole day, and I realised that the new dream of my life is to live, even in a small town, but in a space where I can create a magic garden for myself.


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