Every evening I try and put on my walking shoes and set out. Beckoning, as it were, are the lush green environs of the Lodhi Garden. Spread over nearly 90 acres, the historical park is in the heart of New Delhi. A favourite of morning walkers, there are many like me, who haunt it only in the evenings.
Not a morning person, for me the walk in the evening is something that I look forward to. Sometime ago, as I walked the garden with a full moon keeping me company on a winter evening, despite the Delhi air being of ‘poor’ quality, I tried to understand what about it is so enchanting.
The patch of land has a long history. Within its boundaries are tombs and mosques that started to be built from 1444 AD and continued till 1517 AD. Later, two villages grew around the structures, which were cleared out in 1936 by the British. It was landscaped by the wife of the British Governor General, Lady Wellingdon, and was called the Lady Welligndon Park when inaugurated on 9 April 1936. A forlorn, forgotten inscription to this effect still stands there. After India’s independence in 1947 it was renamed Lodhi Garden, as a tribute to the magnificent tombs and structures built by the Lodhis and Sayyid rulers in the fifteenth century.
In the dark dusk of winter evenings as I circle the park, the wall of Sikander Lodhi’s tomb keeps me company, while dark shrouded trees stand as sentinels between the path and the wall. Lodhi garden is one of the few places in Delhi, where surprisingly one does not feel afraid walking in the evening. It is lit up appropriately, and probably its location, and the regulars who walk/run ensure this sense of security. The walking path is not concrete, and runs around the park. People of all ages, walk and run on a regular basis.
As the path turns towards the blooming nursery inside the park, bordering Lodhi Road, a familiar pack of dogs comes into view. The dogs of Lodhi Garden are an intrinsic part of its ambience. There are packs of them that jealously guard turf and territory. They bark enthusiastically in the evening hours as some people bring food in packets and feed them regularly. Avoiding the noisy pack, I turn left and the magnificent tomb of Mohammad Shah comes into view.
Aesthetically lit up in the evenings, its round canopy and innumerable pillars seem like an old friend each time I meet it. There is something mellow and gentle about the structure that engages as I take the walking path that goes around the tomb. It is lined by palm trees that rise like rows of soldiers into the dark sky – straight and eternally on duty.
Often, in the light scattered on the grounds around it, young men play football. Full of energy, they scramble after the ball in the play of light and dark on the slopes surrounding the tomb.
As I again turn into the main walking track, on my left I can see a patch of mango trees, followed by a patch of huge bamboo trees. Sometimes, hiding from prying eyes in the advancing darkness one can see couples in the thatch of trees. The walking path then opens up to the vistas of the magnificent structures of the Bara gumbad (big dome) and the Shisha gumbad (glass dome). They are also well lit.
As I walk past them every evening, they now seem to me like some elder family member sitting quietly, awaiting the return of the young. The lawns surrounding the silent elders, are often full of families winding up picnics, especially on weekend evenings. In this stretch one can hear many languages of India floating around. It is also the area of Lodhi Garden where one can see foreigners of many nationalities. In summer evenings, there are nukkad nataks (street plays), groups doing yoga or some other form of well being exercises. In winter evenings, the hustle bustle is missing, yet the garden pulsates with life.
As I walk the last leg of the walking path, an installation comes into view. I often stop for a second to see it. On every viewing it seems something different to me.
As I approach the old Athpula bridge that goes over the lake in the garden, I can hear ducks quacking. Present in large numbers, they congregate near the lake, getting ready for a cold winter night. A pack of well fed dogs lurks on the bridge, always on the look out for their daily providers of food. As I descend the bridge towards the gate, the whizzing cars on the road are visible. Nature, history and their companionship recede and the present takes over.
In the evenings, in the shadow of light and dark, Lodhi Garden provides a mesmerising experience. There is a sense of solitude, peace and tranquillity, yet there is a sense of communion with the silent buildings and the people milling around. The perfect blend that makes the walk enchanting.