Century-old botanical wonder lies in neglect | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:56 AM, April 05, 2021

Century-old botanical wonder lies in neglect

Baldha Garden no longer bustles with life, as it used to in the past with a delightful array of exotic plants and trees.

Over the years, due to negligence of the authorities concerned, the garden, which had attracted plant lovers and botany students, has been left in a derelict state. High-rises surrounding it continue to cast ominous shadows on this century-old botanical wonder, leaving it with little air and even less sunlight -- the two important elements for its survival.

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The trees and plants are left on their own to ward off pollution and human excesses, resulting in death of many plant species. The garden has also become a hub of anti-social activities, according to locals.

But it didn't use to be like this at all.

THE GARDEN

It was set up by Narendra Narayan Roy Chowdhury, landlord of the estate of Baldha (now in Gazipur).

Narendra, a poet in heart, loved everything about nature -- from the rustling of leaves in the trees to the gentle ripples of water in a pond.

True to his love, he took an initiative to establish a garden in Wari which, at that time, was the city's wealthiest area. Supervised by the world's best curators from England, the garden was set up in 1909.

Narendra also dug up a pond (around nine-katha) there. Encircled by grille fences, the square-shaped waterbody -- Sankhanidhi -- has two mosaic ghats (landing spot).

There are tree tubs placed in the middle of the staircase enhancing the beauty of the area.

There are murals of flowers on benches next to it where one can sit under the shades of trees to take in nature's splendour. As the golden hue of the morning sun spreads over the reservoir, the garden's reflection also grows larger.

Narendra continued to expand the garden and never stopped looking after it until his death in 1943.

And what a collection he had! Baldha spans 3.38 acres of land and boasts eighteen thousand plant specimens of eight hundred different species, collected from different parts of the world.

PRESENT CONDITION

After Narendra's death, the Forest Department has been looking after the garden since 1962.

But this exquisite garden is not being maintained at all.

During multiple visits over last month, this newspaper saw that the outer wall looked shabby while a rusty signboard depicting the history of the garden greeted visitors.

Some passers-by even discouraged these correspondents to enter, saying "it was not worth the visit due to its present condition".

The garden is divided into two parts -- Psyche (soul) and Cybele (name of a nature deity). Visitors are allowed to enter the Cybele part, which is open every day. The entry fee is Tk 20 per person.

Though there are signs along the walkway, urging people not to pollute the area or refrain from anti-social activities, no one seemed to pay heed.

Many of the rare exhibits were either locked or too dirty. There were plastic bottles, papers and cigarette stubs everywhere. A thick layer of dust covered many plants while some tubs were broken. There were tanks with lotus leaves that were filled with algae.

A disappointed Wari resident, Ashraful Amin, said, "Even around 15 years back, the pond was full of lotus and Amazon lilies. Its water has to be cleaned so that flowers can grow again."

His wife, meanwhile, was disturbed seeing the droves of youngsters occupying most corners of the garden in pairs.

"This is supposed to be a place that offers a green respite from our daily grind. It's sad, the way authorities are treating Baldha Garden," said Umme Salma, a private job holder.

Their five-year-old son was certainly bored seeing the condition of the place; he kept asking his father to leave.

This newspaper also tried to speak to some youths there -- many ignored the request, some became suspicious, while a few turned hostile.

When pointed out, the staff, finding whom turned out to be a challenging task itself, just tried to evade the responsibility.

Staff member Hafizul Islam blamed the lack of manpower behind the present condition.

He said there are eight staffers looking after the garden. "There used to be 12 of us, but some got transferred to the botanical garden in Mirpur," he said.

Another staffer Md Mannan encouraged these correspondents to visit the Psyche part of the garden, which was not faring any better either -- with signs of mismanagement and lack of care being evident.

RENOVATION PLANS

Contacted, Hoq Mahbub Morshed, director of botanical garden (Forest Department), said, "We have done some renovation work at Baldha Garden. Under the plan, we have set up walkway and cleaned the area. We will also renovate the building in the Psyche part of the garden along with other structures."

"There's also a reservoir in the garden, we are planning to do some renovation work there," he added.

About manpower shortage, he said the entire Forest Department is facing the crisis. "But we're hoping this issue will be resolved soon as we are looking into it," he added.

Regarding anti-social activities at the garden, the director said they are making sure that such activities do not take place. "However, some may take advantage of the situation but we try to remain alert in this regard," he added.

 

'DROP ME A FLOWER'

While visiting the garden, this newspaper also came across the tomb of Narendra Narayan, which is near the pond on a lawn in the south-east corner. One of his family members is also buried there.

Piles of rubbles were found in front of the tombs, tarnishing the serenity of the atmosphere.

It is well-known that Narendra loved to spend time at the garden. He along with his family members would sit beside Sankhanidhi and enjoy the tranquility of the liquid landscape brightened by the aquatic flowers.

It was the camellias of the Baldha Garden that inspired Rabindranath Tagore to compose the poem "Camellia" during his visit there in the late 20s.

There is also an epitaph engraved on Narendra's worn-out tomb, which reads: "I am a passionate lover of nature! With all her phases -- my joy for ever! ... With all her best wishes for thee, Passer-by drop me a flower! -- Goodbye! Sincerely yours, N Roy".

Narendra's true passion was nature and its conservation. All he ever wanted was that his garden, an important part of Dhaka's rich history, would be looked after and loved by all.

The reality, however, remains quite the opposite. 

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