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Bagh-e- Babur: an oasis of peaceWritten by Ali Aqa Mazeedi
Saturday, 13 November 2010 14:59
Bagh e Babur or Babur's Garden in Kabul is a real tourist attraction with thousands of people flocking to it each day. It is an oasis in a city that is increasingly crowded with commercial buildings and the pressure of a rapidly expanding population that strains the city's infrastructure.
Though the garden today is a magnificent example of a combination of natural beauty and architectural splendour, it was not always so. Initially the spot was merely a tamed wilderness, the kind favoured by Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, scion of the Timurid dynasty. Born in 1483 in Ferghana (modern Uzbekistan), Babur spent at the early years of his life battling for his kingdom until he conquered Kabul in 1503.
Though his fame lay in his conquest of Hindustan (India), Kabul remained his favourite city and his memoirs are filled with longing for the place even while he ruled from Delhi. Afghanistan is strewn with the gardens planted and nurtured by Babur. After his death in Delhi in 1530, his remains were brought to Kabul and buried in one of his favourite gardens, which was subsequently named the Bagh e Babur.
History of the garden
Spread over 50 acres, the garden has many different trees, grasses and interesting buildings and attracts many Afghans and foreigners. Initially it was open only to the royalty and noblemen who used it for recreation. But in the 1930s it was opened to the public and became one of the most popular places.
The entrance to the garden opens into a two-storied building. It was built by Shah Jahan for the use of travellers and called the 'caravan serai'. The structure was destroyed during thirty years of conflict in Afghanistan but has been rebuilt. Shah Jahan also built a mosque near the grave of Babur, a beautiful marble structure which exists even now.
In 1880 Amir Abdul Rahman Khan built two other buildings inside the garden which is surrounded by a high wall. One of these buildings is located in the southeast corner of this garden and named the 'Queen's Palace' and the second building which was used as a dining room by the royalty is now called the 'Pavilion'. According to Mr. Khair Mohammad Khairkhah, Deputy of the Babur Garden Institute, the Pavilion is one of the commercial buildings in the garden which is rented out for different ceremonies, exhibitions and conferences to private institutes. Nearby is a swimming pool that is used by young men in summer.
According to Khairkhah, approximately 20,000 Afghans and 100 foreigners visit this garden on Fridays.
Amongst the foreigners strolling in the garden we find Haji Amir Shah, a Pakistani citizen. "I read a book about King Babur's invasions and his campaigns and achievements in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. For a long time I have wanted to visit his grave. Today I am happy to be here."
Most of the visitors however do not know who Babur was, his dynasty and his achievements. Khalid Afghan, from Shakar Dara district in Kabul province, is visiting the garden but knows nothing of its history or Babur. "I came here to relax and I know nothing about the art and history or the place."
Palwasha, a young girl, is walking in the garden along with four friends. All of them are from Mazar-e- Sharif and visiting Kabul for a wedding. While in Kabul they decided to visit the Bagh e Babur which they had heard a lot about.
"We saw King Babur's grave here and we also visited the historical buildings around. It is an interesting and beautiful place." "We do not have such a beautiful and unique garden in Mazar", says her friend Najima. "I want to be here all the day."
While the garden is beautiful and has interesting buildings, some visitors would like other facilities. "There are no recreation facilities for children and youths", says Najima. "If Afghan officials provide this, families will enjoy the garden even more". However, Khairkhah says that since the garden is a cultural and historical place, recreational facilities cannot be provided.
The historicity of the place is not lost to all visitors. In front of Babur's grave a group of Afghan teenagers is transfixed by the story being narrated to them about the Bagh e Babur. The youth are there as part of a program run by the Aga Khan Foundation that targets schoolchildren, taking them on a explanatory tour of the garden.
"We have gathered here to have an educational tour in Babur Garden today", says Mohammad Arif, a class 10 student of Hashmat Khan High school. Noor Agha, who is also in this group, says the experience is an unforgettable one. Ahmad Wali Safi is in charge of the educational tours. "We invite Afghan students from different high schools from Kabul in coordination with the Aga Khan Foundation."
Revenues from Garden
Every Afghan visitor pays 20 Afs as an entrance fee and each foreigner pays 50 Afs to visit this garden. The Queen's Palace and the Pavilion are rented out for 25,000 up to 50,000 Afs per day. The caravan serai is rented out for 25,000 Afs per hour as well. The swimming pool is another income source to this garden and many youths come here and swim in it every summer, according to Mr. Khairkhah. There are also seven cabins which sell grocery to visitors.
In all the Bagh e Babur earns approximately 3 million Afs every month in spring and summer, which decreases to 300,000 Afs in the months of fall and winter, says Kharikhah adding that the income from the garden will be spent on the garden for the next five years, according to the executive board which oversees its maintenance.
The role of the garden as an important public space was made possible by the enormous effort put into the painstaking reconstruction of the garden, brick by brick and tree by tree by DHSA (Development Humanitarian Services for Afghanistan) and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The original structure of the building had to be found using old photographs and etchings, the plants in the original garden collected and replanted and special wood and marble brought for the structures until the garden was completed over several years.