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Historic Gandhala Garden forgotten by time

Historic Gandhala Garden forgotten by time

Arranging freshly plucked loquats, 44-year-old Mohammad Shakil said he leased the historic Gandhala Garden - nestled between two mountains and just a kilometre from Choa Saidan Shah – for a year and he has realised he will not recover the amount he paid as rent.

“I paid Rs465,000 rent for a year but I cannot earn the same amount in the same time period as the production of loquats has decreased drastically for multiple reasons,” he said.

According to celebrated travel writer Salman Rashid, there was a Buddhist stupa where the Gandhala Garden is now. A formal garden was established a century ago by the British, who used it to grow loquat, grapes, pears, pomegranates, apricots, plums, peaches and some vegetables which were also transported to other cities.

British officers installed one of the best irrigation systems in the garden, dug up a well in the centre of the garden and also built concrete drains to bring in water from the holy pond of Katas Raj. Bulls were kept in the garden to take water out from the well and rooms were constructed for the bulls as well as the gardeners.

“Spread over 75 acres, the Gandhala Garden was one of the more famous gardens in the subcontinent and its fruits and vegetables won many prizes due to their quality and taste,” says PML-N MPA Mehwish Sultana, who resides just a kilometre from the garden.

“During torrential rains in the 1970s, locals discovered gold coins from where the Buddhist stupa was. There is also a shrine of an unknown saint on the garden’s premises,” she added.

The garden began deteriorating when the British left and although once used to produce all major fruits, it now looks more like a jungle. Only the loquat and pear trees stand today but the pear trees do not produce fruit as they have passed their fruit bearing age. The production of loquats has also decreased.

“New trees were not planted with time and with the drying up of the Katas Raj pond, the garden has lost its major source of irrigation. The well also dried up long ago,” Mohammad Shakil says.

“I can improve the garden’s condition if it is leased out for at least 15 years as only then can I spend money on it. The problem is that the garden is only rented for a year and the renter cannot invest money for just a year as it will only mean loss for him,” he explained.

District administration and local parliamentarians have time and again made claims they will improve the garden but no such steps have been taken so far.

MPA Sultana has brought up the issue at many forums, but in vain.

“I think that in order to improve the garden it should either be made a botanical garden or it should be turned into a public park while retaining its original form. There is not a single park in Choa Saidan Shah,” she said.

Tehsil Municipal Committee Chairman Haji Mukhtar Ahmed also suggested the garden be turned into a public park.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2017

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