“Yahan achcha kya hai (What’s good around here)?” Farooq Shaikh asks the waiter, played by Kimti Anand, as he settles into his chair at an open garden restaurant in Delhi.
He is there on a date with Deepti Naval. The backdrop of their romantic rendezvous, complete with water gushing out of fountains in the middle of a lush green garden, couldn’t be more picturesque.
“Maahawl achha hai (The ambience is good),” the waiter replies, and the three burst out laughing. Naval orders Tutti Frutti ice-cream and Shaikh settles for coffee.
This scene from the classic 1981 rom-com Chashme Baddoor was shot at Talkatora Garden, laid by the Mughals centuries ago. Back then, it used to be surrounded by walls and featured an embankment to the west – built to hold rain water in a taal (pond).
Though the ambience of the garden is still as good as the actor suggests, it has been drawing fewer visitors lately. The open-air restaurant has shut its doors to business, and the fountains do not operate regularly. The tank has long dried up, and the walls have disappeared.
However, after decades of neglect, hope is finally on the horizon. The state archaeology department has decided to undertake conservation work in collaboration with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
The only surviving structures at the spot are the embankment, two double-storey octagonal chhatris (pavilions) at both ends, and a few ruins in between — probably that of a baradari, a structure with 12 pillars or arches.
All the structures, with the exception of the embankment (which was made of lime-plastered rubble), were constructed with lakhori brick masonry. It is believed that the site also served as a hunting lodge during Mughal emperor Mohammad Shah’s rule.
A K Jain, former commissioner (planning) of the Delhi Development Authority, said the structure might have been built to collect water for gardening purposes in an organic fashion. “The city used to get its potable water from the Yamuna. Water from this site would flow into the river through the Barapullah drain,” he added.
While the garden is maintained by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the monuments therein come under the jurisdiction of the state archaeology department. The garden attached to the embankment — originally laid during the Mughal era — was redeveloped by the NDMC in 1970. Fountains were installed, and water channels laid. Concrete canopies were also constructed on the terrace of the embankment.
Scant attention was paid to these ancient structures and their surroundings in the years that followed.
A senior official of the state archaeology department said the restoration work will take about a year, after which the site would be promoted through programmes such as heritage walks and cultural events. “We plan to keep this place alive by bringing in more footfall. We will engage other agencies for the purpose, and are negotiating with a couple of them. But all these proposals are still in the preliminary stage. At present, our focus is on conservation,” he added.
Restoration of the monuments could be a challenging task because the renovators only have a few historical sketches for reference purposes — and even they are in a dilapidated condition. “However, we managed to complete the drawings after a thorough investigation, and consolidation work has begun. Our next plan is to find a water source and restore the pond to its original glory,” said Ajay Kumar, director (projects) of INTACH’s Delhi chapter.
Old timers say there was the time when the place used to be abuzz with activity through the day, with people of all ages pouring in. “While a majority of them were young couples, elderly people would also come visiting to soak in the winter sun. Parents would bring their children here on weekend picnics. I have even seen Puducherry governor Kiran Bedi jogging here,” recalled Vikas Yadav, a visitor.
The situation has changed now. “People still visit the garden, but the number is very low. A majority of the visitors these days are residents of nearby colonies who come for their morning walk,” he said.
- The historic site owes its name to its taal (pond), which is a natural depression in the shape of a katora (bowl).
- This is the place where the Mughals and Marathas clashed during the ‘Raid of Delhi’ in 1737.
- The Talkatora garden was redeveloped by the NDMC, under the chairmanship of SC Chhabra, in 1970. It was known as the New Delhi Municipal Committee then.
- The areas adjoining the site witnessed hectic construction activity when two sporting facilities — a swimming pool and an indoor stadium — were constructed for the 1982 Asian Games.
- The garden area has an amphitheatre called ‘Sur-taal’, which was the epicenter of cultural activities during the Emergency. Several legends of classical dance — including Pandit Birju Maharaj, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Shovana Narayan and Radha Reddy — performed here in the late 1990s. The site also accommodated a banquet hall, which would be rented out for wedding and social functions.
- A cricket ground near the garden was restored during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and a parking lot was developed. Former chief minister Sheila Dikshit also inaugurated a herbal garden at the site.
- Till 1964, there used to be a village at the site which was called Talkatora Village. They were shifted to some other location. ₹150 per acre paid as compensation.
- In 1964, the NDMC started the development work and it was converted into a garden. The work completed in 1971.