Once upon a time Lahore was a city of gardens (the word park was very rarely used) and leafy, tree lined roads, a sight that I have been privileged to enjoy as a child. Then, as if infected with a plague, this beautiful metropolis was transformed into a concrete jungle. The gardens and hundred year old trees were cut down to create wide roads lined with mortar and glass monstrosities. With destruction of their habitat, birds and animals also disappeared, transforming the Punjab Capital into an obituary to the past.

It is often said that the old walled city was surrounded by a water channel, which served as a moat for defensive purposes and fed from the River Ravi, which flowed below the Fort Walls, before construction of bunds during the middle Mughal period, forced it to change its course. The old bed of the Ravi was known as the ‘Budda Darya’ and became a wet channel, whenever its parent water course was in flood. I remember my elder brother and his friends fishing here during the 1950s.

There was a lush green strip of turf and trees that encircled the old city. This was the domain of early morning walkers, masseurs and some well-known ‘Akharas’. These earthen wrestling pits were the training ground for some big names in this royal sport. There are multiple views on the origin of these circular gardens. According to some this garden existed along with the moat, which irrigated this green area. Another opinion is that at some point in time, the water channel was filled in and converted into a garden. Whatever be the truth, the fact is that only bits and pieces of this garden are now surviving and that too in a sorry state.

The house that I was born in was located on Queens Road. A mixed lot of ‘Shisham’, ‘Pipal’ and ‘Neem’ trees overshadowed this route from both sides and celebrated residents such as Pir Rasheeduddin could be seen enjoying an evening drive in their horse drawn carriages. The trees are no more, having been replaced by car showrooms and other commercial enterprises. I cannot resist the nostalgic impulse to drive by, what used to be our home and cannot describe the pain that overcomes me, when I do so.

There once used to be a road known as ‘Banson Wali Sarak’ or Bamboos Road. This was actually a lane that took off from Davis Road and ran along the rear wall of the Chief’s College to Mayo Gardens. The bamboos overshadowing this route are all but gone and Mayo Gardens (which was considered the leafiest locality inhabited by senior Railway Officials) is nowhere near the ‘green mansions’ of my childhood.

Brandreth Road was known to all and sundry as ‘Kelon Wali Sarak’. It was a name derived from banana trees that must have lined it at some forgotten time. There are no more banana trees nor bananas here and all one can see, is shops selling spare parts.

Lawrence Road connected ‘Regal Chowk’ with what is now called ‘China Chowk’. Eastwards from the Plaza Intersection (named so after the famous cinema close to it) till it joined Golf Road, this asphalt strip ran along the see through fence of the Lawrence Gardens on its left and large residences on the right. It has been able to retain a semblance of its original looks because commercialization along its left shoulder cannot be done (thanks to Lawrence Gardens).

Lahore is a grave yard of so many ‘Baghs’ or gardens that it may be difficult to enumerate them. ‘Bagh Gul Begum’ across the road from Miani Sahib Grave Yard on the route to Samnabad is extinct and covered with houses and bazars as is ‘Badami Bagh’. All that is left of another Mughal era ‘bagh’ is a gateway, showcasing three out of four original towers. Thankfully enough, this great monument was saved by our courts, when on the verge of being callously demolished to make way for a mass transit system.

My heart bleeds, when I recollect the flocks of ‘Tiliars’ and Green Pigeons (Harials) in the trees within Lahore. Gone are these game birds as are grey squirrels, which mercifully can still be found in Lahore Cantonment, where wanton destruction of trees is prohibited. It is perhaps time for the environmentalists to up their ante, just like the courageous, young woman, who stood in front of the bulldozer in Islamabad and managed to save an ancient banyan tree.

 

The writer is a historian.