Delhi’s self-anointed ‘dirty old man’ Khushwant Singh puts forward his reason why men like to sprawl around the Bara Gumbad, the Big Dome at the heart of Lodhi Garden. In his latest novel, Sunset Club, the 96-year-old sardar writes: “The reason for its popularity is its dome, which is an exact replica of a young woman’s bosom including the areola and the nipple.”
That maybe Khushwant’s — or his protagonist Boota Singh’s — singular reason for lazing away months of his life amid the sculpted garden. But the passion isn’t similarly shared by the thousands of others who regularly jog, bike, picnic, play, romance, do parkour or just stroll around the park’s 95 acres.
Ajit Singh goes there simply for a few rounds of the 2.2-km loop and the company of other walkers. Singh, a member of the garden’s Sunday, Thakur Dwara and Rose Park Clubs — all groups of morning walkers — has for years tried to install himself as the garden’s ‘warden’, citing the need for “strong supervision” against those who “create nuiescence (sic), defecate and ease themselves in the park”. Singh also requests all dog walkers to collect their pooch’s poos. (There are 40 vaccinated strays, too, who call the park home.)
There are those who remember the greens for altogether different reasons. Artist Ram Rahman remembers the time in his pre-teens when there used to be an “enclosed, enchanting almond orchard” where the rose park is today. It must have been about the time Dharmendra and Mala Sinha pranced around the Bada Gumbad in Neela Akash to the song, ‘Aap ko pyar chhupane ki’.
It was also the time the garden used to be called Lady Willingdon Park, after the strong-willed wife of Freeman Freeman-Thomas, who served as viceroy in the early 1930s. It’s thanks to the wife’s insistence that the village of Khairpur on the edge of Lutyen’s imperial city was shifted out and the park opened there on April 9, 1936.
The latest change has been the Butterfly Park, opened last year and lovingly maintained by a small team led by NDMC’s assistant horticulturist Satyendra Pal Singh. But nothing major has been added or taken out.
Things could have been quite different, says Ethan Stein, 63, son of American architect and Nehru’s ‘friend’ Joseph Allen Stein. Ethan, now a Delhiite for 58 years, says, “My father heard that an energetic municipal commissioner wanted to turn the park into something like a Disneyland. To thwart the scheme, he got his friend and former business partner Garrett Eckbo to do some landscaping work in the 1960s.”
We are sure, whatever passion they own up to, all those who love Lodhi today would thank Stein for that.
The parks within:
1.Butterfly park: The latest addition. Almost 50 ‘host plants’ have been planted in an enclosed part to attract different kinds of butterflies. There’s even a giant mosquito net to save some of the caterpillars from pests. The result is best seen in September.
2.Palm garden: Another not-so-old addition. Care to know the difference between Foxtail (in picture) palms and Champagne palms? This is where you should head to. In all, there are some 14 varieties, informs horticulturist Satyendra Pal Singh.
3.Bonsai park: Possibly the oldest park-within-park, it’s home to the Indian Bonsai Association that holds its annual show usually in the first week of April. This year, the show was held a few weeks earlier. But you can still stroll and meditate.
4.Bamboo grove: They grow all over, but a corner has been allocated to showcase their varieties. There’s no information on the different uses they can be put to, but you can at least marvel at the stumpy ‘Buddha knots’, if that’s your passion.
5.Herbal beds: Some 36 varities of herbs and their listed medicinal properties according to ayurvedic texts. Just that no one is supposed to take them out — just see them and maybe talk up the gardeners to know how to grow them yourself.
6.Rose park: In glorious bloom at the moment, this is where an almond orchard used to be decades ago. Now it’s home to blooming Alinkas (in picture) and Elizabeths.