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A Tale of Two Gardens

Date Added: January 30, 2009 04:45:01 AM

Baldha Garden

The twilight illumination of the winter’s day bestows upon the Camellia flowers a subtle but mesmerising beauty. But it goes unnoticed by the visitors in the Camellia section in the north-west corner of the Baldha Gardens; most are young couples, engrossed in only each other. Their indifference is mirrored by those who are responsible for the garden’s upkeep, and seem content with letting it die. In this, its centennial year, it celebrates silently.

The Camellia is the flower that has made Baldha garden famous in Bengali literature. Avid readers of Rabindranath Tagore’s works would be familiar with his romantic poems about this particular flower. It is said that Tagore composed the poem on the Shrabon 27 in 1339 of the Bangla calendar, after discovering the delicate look of the flower in the Baldha Garden during his visit to Dhaka.

The flower, a native to eastern and southern Asia, is found mostly in the eastern region of the Himalayas to Japan and Indonesia. It was introduced to Baldha garden by the philanthropic naturalist, Zamindar Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury. He had also collected nearly eight hundred species of trees, plants and shrubs from fifty countries to decorate this particular garden; it was established in 1909, and spread over 3.9 acres landmass in his own estate in Dhaka’s Wari area.

As we strolled through the walkways into Cybele, another part of the garden open for the public, we found more rare species of vegetation that the garden is proud of. One of these exotic plants is the papyrus, reputed for its use as paper in the ancient Egyptian civilisation during the time of the Pharaohs. Although native to the Nile delta in Egypt, the tree survives in Bengal through constant care and maintenance.

Yet another pride of the garden is the Amazon Lily – a native of Central and South America. Usually, these plants have large leaves, which can easily support a child. However, the lily in the garden lacks this size due to the lack of proper environment and temperature. The garden also houses Krishnabat, Parul, Kanaksudha, Neel Shapla, Naglingam and others; a great pick for many plant-lovers wishing to start their own garden or replenish them with new species. Apart from its environmental benefits, the garden also holds historic and archaeological value.

Despite the presence of numerous plant species in the garden, the authorities’ efforts at maintaining them are questionable. The dangerous tradition of nailing nameplates on the stems of plants and trees at the garden is still going on. Although numerous reports have been published in the media over the years, this is an issue that the authorities seem to have overlooked.

The garden also seems to have lost its glamour due to high-rise buildings built around it. While undermining the garden’s look, the buildings are also hampering the vegetation’s exposure to sunlight. Thus the country’s only sundial, which is located here, cannot function.

‘Psyche’, the main part of the garden, was completed in 1936. Two years later, the Zamindar began work on ‘Cybele’, the other section of the garden. The final touches to the garden were placed by 1940. The latter is also the resting place for the Zaminder, Roy, and his son, who was murdered that year.

After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, when then East Bengal became a part of Pakistan, the management of the garden was given to the court of wards around 1951. The government’s forest department took over the garden in July 1962. After the establishment of the National Botanical Garden in Mirpur in 1962, the Baldha Garden became a part of it, managed and maintained by the Botanical garden authorities.

‘Baldha Garden is now in a coma,’ admits Zaid Hussain Bhuiyan, Director of the National Botanical Garden, when asked about the situation. ‘As most of the trees are exotic, they need special care. We are helpless, as land-owners surrounding the garden have built tall buildings despite the protests of the department and civil society. Shadows of the high-rise houses, sand and dust from these buildings have affected the garden over the years,’ he says.

‘We, currently, have no plans related to the survival of the garden,’ he adds. ‘Even the government seems to be indifferent to the garden as they have no plan to celebrate its centenary.’ He feels that such a celebration would have generated public awareness about the garden and its values.

However, Abu Naser Khan, chairman of Paribesh Banchao Andolan (PBA), an environmentalist group, blames the authorities for the dying state of the garden. ‘The forest department did not play their role properly and did little to save the gardens,’ he says, also blaming Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk) for allowing high-rise buildings near Baldha Garden. ‘Our organisation is planning to meet the new government soon to discuss the environmental issues which also focus on Baldha Garden’s current situation,’ he says.

Botanical Garden

As soon as we walked through the gates of the National Botanical Garden on a winter morning, we came across a dried-up pond. The concrete signboard alongside it marked it ‘Shapla Pukur Section 1’. The pond’s state is a direct consequence of developers filling the wetlands that surround the garden on three sides. No doubt, the crisis becomes acute in winter. ‘We had a rich aquatic flora, which was threatened by the land-filling of wetlands. This has gravely affected the garden’s biodiversity,’ says an official of the garden, adding that, despite the decreasing vegetation, the garden is still rather crowded.

According to the ticket-sellers, at least ten thousand visitors come to the National Botanical Garden daily. ‘The number doubles on holidays. As tickets, priced at Taka five each, are affordable for the visitors, a large number of school and college students come to date in the tranquil and serene atmosphere of the garden,’ says a ticket-seller.

Zaid laments, ‘the botanical garden is also in a sorry condition as we hardly receive any budget for its maintenance.’ Interestingly, the National Botanical Garden has earned Taka 61 lakh by leasing its gate, and Taka 12 lakhs by permitting three shops to operate, inside the garden, during the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The authorities have also earned Taka 10 lakh as revenue from Baldha Garden for the same fiscal year.

A top official points out, ‘despite handing over a substantial amount of our revenue to the government, we receive insufficient funding. The bureaucratic barriers also hamper the development of the garden.’

In the master plan, the National Botanical Garden’s area was demarcated at 350 acres, of which 62 sections were designated for plants. Now, it is spread over only 208 acres and is divided into 57 sections. The groundwork for the garden was laid in 1961, and it has been open to the public since 1964.

The garden houses over 60,000 trees belonging to over 1200 species, most of which are exotic. ‘The National Botanical Garden is a larger version of the Baldha Garden. We have planted the trees taken from the garden as seeds or stems. We are continuing the re-plantation of trees so that it is always populated with ample vegetation,’ says Shamsul Haque, the only botanist of the garden, who has held the post for the last 26 years. ‘There are no facilities for research in this garden. Officials are mostly sent to this garden as a punishment posting,’ he adds.

Another official informs that many officials engage in illegal activities, and some even clone the plants to create variations of flowers.

Seedlings of all kinds of trees are available in the National Botanical Garden. The authorities sell them at different price ranges, starting from five to one hundred taka. A collection of 300 varieties of rose are also available for sale, as well as a significant number of cacti and orchids.

‘We remain worried about the security inside the garden as there is no security guard,’ says a college student, visiting the garden with his girlfriend. ‘This is giving rise to mugging incidents inside these particular areas of the garden.’ When asked about the situation, the authorities replied, ‘We have no manpower to maintain or provide security inside the garden.’

Source: New Age


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