Ancient Kabul garden in bloom again after years of ruin

KABUL (AFP) — Babur’s Garden, on the slope of an arid mountain, is in flower again after years of desolation brought on by drought and war, an island of green in an Afghan capital oppressed by heat and dust.

Rehabilitated since 2002 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Persian-style garden now offers more than 11 hectares (27 acres) of space — the largest park in the city — for people to relax.

And they are coming in droves, especially on Fridays, the weekly day off.

On the lawns and under shaded groves, families picnic, teens gather — boys on one side and girls on the other — and children play.

Over Ramadan, when Muslims must fast during the day, the garden is more of a place of rest than activity, where men have a siesta, play cards or talk above the chatter of a transistor radio.

AFPChristian Science Monitor blog

The garden was laid out in the early 16th century by Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire, conqueror of India and self-proclaimed descendant of Mongol emperor Genghis Khan.

He died in India in 1530, but his body was returned to this garden for burial under a gravestone of black and rose marble, behind a small mosque which, while renovated, still carries the shrapnel scars of a civil war that devastated the city after the retreat of Soviet troops in 1989.

It was at this time that the garden was destroyed: its hundreds of trees chopped down, its summer palaces torched, its beds planted with explosives.

“It was pretty bleak and had been neglected for a long time,” says Jolyon Leslie, the head of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Afghanistan who has directed the restoration work.

“The irrigation had broken down, the pumps had been stolen and people had moved in and cut wood. The walls were crumbling and all the buildings had been burned out,” he says.

In a country crushed by misery and war, the notion of spending the vast amount of money needed to revive the garden initially did not go down well.

“Attitudes have been a problem… there was a degree of incredulity that we should be doing it and a lot of cynicism,” says Leslie, a 52-year-old South African who has lived for 20 years in Afghanistan.

To win support, the trust emphasised that the work would create jobs.

Close to five million dollars has been spent with the money coming from the Aga Khan, spiritual head of the Shi’ite Ismaelis, along with support from the German government, Leslie says.

A million dollars went towards paying hundreds of labourers, mostly locals.

The irrigation system has been renovated, compost laid down, and hundreds of plane, cherry, apricot and hazelnut trees planted.

A small marble canal feeds water that runs from the height of the terraced garden down through beds of roses before being pumped back up and re-used.

The key concept of the project was “water, water and more water,” Leslie said.

At the foot of the garden, a caravanserai has been rebuilt with rooms for concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions.

In another corner, men used to hold cock fights although guards — who ensure no visitor carries a weapon — have discouraged the practise, according to a trust official.

The garden, enclosed by high walls, slopes up through gentle terraces towards the rocky face of a mountain on which traditional mudbrick dwellings perch precariously.

It attracts many visitors — 50,000 to 60,000 a month during the summer — even though they have to pay, says Leslie.

“My father would come here every morning to walk,” says one of the guards, Shamsullah Mohammedi.

“Of course it’s not like it was in the past when there were 300-year-old trees, but all that should grow back.”

Mohammad Kassim, a 20-year-old student, has come to the garden with a friend to read a book. “It is beautiful and I really love picnicking here,” he says.

“We can also see the girls who come in groups. But we can only look at them, we cannot talk to them.”

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Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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