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Talks on to restore Mughal-era retreat

Express News Service

NEW DELHI:  Tired of the strenuous hustle and bustle of the royal court, when Mughal emperor Shahjahan craved solitude with one of his wives Begum Akbarabadi, he would head to Shalimar Bagh, laid out for her about six miles from Lal Quila. The garden, set up in 1650, comprised lofty and beautiful buildings. An imposing structure called Sheesh Mahal was the main attraction. Fast forward to 2021, the structures inside this once-famed garden are fighting the elements to stay afoot. 

Currently being used by local people for recreational purposes, the garden is in ruins and requires proper maintenance. Sheesh Mahal, two adjoining chambers and a water channel are under the control of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). However, the responsibility of landscaping and upkeep of the garden is with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

The garden is at present flanked by Haidarpur and a residential locality in North Delhi named after this imperial retreat.  Several heritage structures, constructed between 1650 and early 19th century, in the 
garden have already  ruined beyond  redemption.  After the British took over Delhi in the 19th century, the colonial administrators, too, built edifices, mainly residential quarters, here to appropriate it as their summer retreat.  

 The DDA is in final round of talks with INTACH to clinch an
agreement to conserve the structures | EXPRESS

At present, the surviving buildings which are not under the control of ASI await conservation even though a proposal in this regard has been under consideration for about two years. In October 2019, Delhi L-G Anil Baijal took an initiative for protection of the buildings and suggested integration of Sheesh Mahal with the garden. Senior officials of the DDA said that discussions with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to work out a restoration plan are underway for which an agreement might soon be finalised.

“Around two months ago, vice chairman of DDA Anurag Jain inspected the site. Representatives of INTACH were also presented during the inspection. Another meeting with INTACH was held recently. Modalities are being worked upon. However, the DDA has already begun relaying pathways and is carrying out regular maintenance work,” said the official. Poonam Dewan, director (landscape) of DDA confirmed the development. “We have spoken with INTACH. We will schedule a meeting with them soon,” she said.       

Besides structures under the ASI’s protection, there are seven ancillary buildings including two Mughal- era constructions, which are in a dilapidated state. ASI has completed restoration of a significant portion of structures around Sheesh Mahal. “After removing debris, we exposed a pathway along the water channel. Damaged floorings were also repaired,” said a senior ASI official.     

Sheesh Mahal, made of lakhori bricks and red sandstone, stands on a raised platform. It is basically a three-bay deep pavilion with seven-arched openings with columns in the foreground. There is a verandah in the back with rooms on both sides. The palace was decorated with colorful floral paintings. It is believed that while chasing his brother Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb stayed here briefly and declared himself emperor in 1658. According to a book— Botanical Culture of Mughal India (1526–1707) authored by Versha Gupta — Iranian plunderer Nadir Shah also stayed at Shalimar Bagh before leaving Delhi

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