In a teeming city of 14 million people, unplanned and rapid urbanisation has seen the death of many a playing field and park. With every new building, we bid farewell to yet another independent house with lush gardens and tall trees. One cannot be faulted for enviously glancing at the outskirts where the grass seems greener. However, the city does provide a respite from all the concrete.
Cradled all around by man’s encroaching embraces lie two beautiful locations. Wari’s Baldha Garden and Mirpur’s National Botanical Garden are Dhaka’s two saving graces.
Spanning 3.15 acres, Baldha Garden lies opposite to the Christian cemetery on Narindra Street in Wari. The garden, established by naturalist and poet Narendra Narayan Roy Chaudhury, was taken over by the Bangladesh government in 1962 after the owner’s death. Since then the garden has been open to visitors.
Finding such a green area in the midst of Wari is surprising indeed. However, more surprising is the fact that the garden has over 600 plants of species from over 50 different countries. Divided into two parts, Cybele and Psyche, Baldha Garden is testament to the fertility of our soil.
Tranquil during the weekdays, the garden comes to life on the weekends, especially during spring. Home to a variety of plants, it generated a lot of interest when the famous century plant of the garden finally flowered around 2009, a feat that happens once towards the end of the plant’s life. Although believed to flower every 100 years, the plant itself has a life span of 10 to 30 years but it is still rare to see this plant in full bloom.
The garden has also played host to a lot of famous names, including Rabindranath Tagore who was said to have written a few of his poems or gotten inspiration for them whilst staying in the Baldha Garden’s guest house.
Of the 15,000 plants currently available, some of the most famous are the roses seen in the Cybele section of the garden. The cornucopia of greenery not only provides respite from the sun, but the temperature is also cooler. The high-rises in the near distance seem almost alien when one stands in the gardens, since only endless greenery seems the likeliest option.
One may be forgiven for momentarily forgetting that this too is a part of Dhaka city. Unfortunately, the city has left some of its indelible marks even on this picture perfect location. Vagabonds are seen to be loitering about, whilst many visitors litter at will. Some of the artificially constructed ponds are in disrepair and lack of ample security personnel makes the gardens a haven for illicit activities.
“This is not a place to visit at night with family,” informs Sujan, a resident of Wari. His warning does not fall on deaf ears; the dying rays of the sun should signal farewell to the casual visitors. However, in a larger group, Baldha Garden deserves to be explored and even cherished. The garden remains open from Saturday — Thursday from 9am till 5pm, with tickets available at the gates.
For those seeking greener bounties, there is always the National Botanical Garden of Dhaka. 210 acres of pristine greenery, Dhaka’s largest botanical garden is home to nearly 56,000 varieties of flora. These include trees, shrubs, herbs and aquatic plants. Located in Mirpur, adjacent to Dhaka Zoo, this garden has as many myths surrounding it as it has plants.
For every African tulip tree there is a story of ghosts and genie, with one very famous incident of paranormal activity that had many Dhakaites mystified.
Brick pathways guide you throughout the area, with Sal trees and Sundari trees framed against the background. At once you find yourself lost in the splendour, finding it difficult to distinguish Dhaka from the famed Sundarbans.
Signboards are strategically placed to guide and inform, providing a break from your reverie. The intoxicating fragrance of Kathal heightens your sensations whilst the shy Lajja Patta amuses casual visitors. Winter is the best time to visit the location, although a rainy day is also a must-see.
Lakes, an artificial waterfall, a watch deck and a huge rose garden are all facilities provided for visitors. But the sight of the thousands of migratory birds is one to behold. As the birds go about their business near the carefully manicured watering holes, visitors watch entranced.
There is a fragile beauty about these creatures, one amplified by the sense of freedom their flight inspires. Although there are some complaints, especially regarding modernisation, sometimes it’s best to leave Mother Nature to her own devices.
The 84 hectares remain almost unspoiled in the breathtaking vistas they provide. There is ample privacy and it does make a good picnic spot with friends and family.
While the United Nation’s Environmental Programme recommends a minimum of 25 per cent open space (water bodies and plantations combined), a 2012 study by the URP Department of BUET puts Dhaka’s open space at only 14.5 per cent with a 22.8 per cent rate of green loss since 2005.
These alarmingly figures hint towards unliveable conditions in the near future. Baldha Gardens and National Botanical Garden are thus literal breaths of fresh air and the lost greenery they preserve not only provides respite but also reminds us of the fertility of our land and of what was and could have been.