Guest Post: Lawrence Gardens, Lahore

Posted on July 29, 2006
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, Culture & Heritage, History, Travel
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By Raza Rumi

Lahore’s Lawrence Gardens, baptised the Bagh-i-Jinnah in the post-independence era, represent the quintessential Raj ethos.

Built primarily for the sahibs and memsahibs, the park has managed to maintain its dream-like beauty for a century and a half. The colonial maps drawn up in the mid-nineteenth century show that eastward of Charing Cross, Gardens existed on the right. In the place of the Freemasons’ Hall, there was once a “circular garden” and what is now the Lahore Zoo was another park called the New Garden. This was followed by the Agricultural and Horticultural Society Garden, which was the original name of the city’s beloved Lawrence Gardens.

The Agriculture Horticulture Society of India established it in 1860 and years later, in 1904, the department of agriculture assumed maintenance responsibilities. Since 1912, approximately seven acres of the park have been managed by the Government College, Lahore; to this day, it maintains a delightful botanical garden replete with a greenhouse and experimental fields.

The annexation of the Punjab in 1849 and the successful control of the 1857 uprising in many regions of northern India resulted in the consolidation of the British Empire; due to its strategic location, the Punjab was central to the architecture of the colonial power. Lahore was to become a major outpost of the empire. Therefore, the sahibs had to create social and cultural spaces for themselves in otherwise unfriendly and unfamiliar surroundings. A garden in the heart of British Lahore was essential.

True to the colonial policy, the new garden would be a continuation of the Mughal tradition of creating baaghs as the aesthetic expression of self-indulgence. This project, however, was to reflect the expanse of the Empire. Thousands of saplings of different exotic species were imported from many colonies around the world and by 1860, all the necessary preconditions – such as identifying and acquiring hundreds of acres of land – had been met.

It is believed that London’s Kew Gardens were the inspiration for the Lawrence Gardens and records suggest that that a leading gardener from London was brought to Lahore to oversee the work of local malis and create a unique setting that has indeed retained its appeal over time. The Lawrence Gardens were meant to refresh in the minds of sahibs and memsahibs the memory of the subliminal Kew atmosphere.

Lahoris owe a debt of gratitude to Majid Sheikh, the brilliant chronicler of Lahore, who keeps reminding us of Lahore’s links to the bygone eras. According to Mr Sheikh, the daughter of Lahore’s Commissioner, Miss Forsyth, planted the first tree in 1860. She lived and died in Lahore.

The Lahore Gymkhana originated in the Lawrence Gardens, where a hall designed by chief engineer Mr G. Stone was built. Clubs became integral to the lifestyle of the British as private retreats; over the decades, these clubs acquired a subculture of their own. Exclusion and selectivity prevailed even in the nineteenth century, when the soldiers and non-commissioned officers were not allowed access. Natives, of course, were excluded until the twentieth century and in some cases, until all the sahibs left for their humble lives ‘back home.’ Club addiction has carried on in the post-1947 elites and modern gymkhanas in Pakistan and India are still gateways to a prestige network. Small wonder, then, that when the 1965 war sparked off, the Indian commander-in-chief announced that he would enjoy his evening bara peg at the Lahore Gymkhana!

But I digress; Lawrence Gardens’ Hall, built around 1862, was expanded to house two buildings – the Lawrence Hall and the Montgomery Hall – named after the two governors of the Punjab, Sir John Lawrence and Sir Robert Montgomery. At a later point in time, the two structures were integrated into one. Later, Lawrence’s name was attached to the Gardens and Montgomery’s to the Hall. Another Governor, General Jillani, had a sense of history and was keen to dilute the elitism inherent to his tribe; in 1984, he converted the Hall into a magnificent library dedicated to the Quaid-e-Azam. It is ironic that ordinary mortals still find it difficult to obtain membership at the library, and the highest percentage of users are aspirants towards the civil services! Some sociologists would remark that this is continuity of another kind.

The three main gates were originally called the Victoria Gate (on the Mall), the Rivaz Gate (on Lawrence Road) and the Montgomery Gate (on Racecourse Road). Time has erased these names and we will have to wait for a culturally correct administrator to revive these names – after all, losing history means losing a part of our collective selves.

It is in the gymkhana tradition that the cricket ground was built in the Gardens. The cricket ground has remained the hallmark of the Lawrence Gardens and the well-designed pavilion made from British oak-wood is a heritage site. Of course, true to our contemporary aesthetic – or lack of it – another concrete replica was added some years ago. One of our former prime ministers frequently played cricket at the Baagh-e-Jinnah and every Sunday, modern day sahibs would play with him.

The tall trees that still overlook the ground remind us of the importance of our primordial relationship with nature that modernity continues to alter each passing day. Blake put it well: But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. Trees symbolise both history and the future by promising regeneration. The Lawrence Gardens maintain a rich collection of rare trees and shrubs, both indigenous and exotic, with more than 6,000 trees. The speaking banyans, rustic keekars and shishams , mystical pipals , quiet oaks and the haunting camphors constitute the universe of the Gardens. Easily noticeable amidst the trees are groups of vultures sunning themselves in their treetop roosts. Inspired by the setting, Bano Qudsia-s landmark novel Raja Gidh – the vulture king – has Lawrence Gardens at the centre of its bleak and puritan moral landscape.

Some years ago, again courtesy the inimitable Majid Sheikh, I learnt that while the British forces were camped on the grounds of the Lawrence Gardens, the memsahibs and their obedient staff – faced with the shortage of rations – invented the famous “club sandwich.” Memsahibs had to do something with the limited supply of foodstuffs and ordered the minions to layer ingredients between slices of bread. The club sandwich is now widely available across South Asia and beyond; and by this account it owes its origin to Lahore and these Gardens.

The Lawrence Gardens also nurture two fabulous, man-made “hills,” which were probably brick kilns in the Mughal era. The famous principal of Lahore’s Government College, Mr. Sondhi, contributed to the creation of an open air theatre where performances by the College dramatic society were often held. Sadequain frequented this place for a few years in the 1970s, in order to paint some of his great works.

For decades, it has been the venue for the All Pakistan Music Conference, held in the crisp spring air and the chill of early winter. Roshan Ara’s voice and the ambience must have made the place truly surreal. Unfortunately, classical music of the Lawrence aesthetic is vanishing from Pakistan at the speed of light. Another symbol of degeneration has been the fate of the cosmopolitan club within the Gardens, which had to shut down due to claimants feuding over its administration. It was re-opened and now, allegedly, is a gambling hideout. The other hill is a true lovers’ corner and a number of young and old couples are seen romancing there.

At night, another kind of mood flourishes – the dark corners and the trees’ heavy breathing provide the impetus for abandon and surrender. It is here that the key characters of Raja Gidh indulge in “immoral” sexual conduct and turn into vultures! The real treat of this spot, however, is not the murky symbolism of Bano Qudsia but the magical trees that look different each time you visit them. The walkway to the hilltop is usually encroached upon by several types of shrubs and in spring, with flowers of different varieties. In fact, the criss-crossing paths make it all the more enchanting, reminding one of the non-linearity of life.

Over time, these Gardens have acquired a formidable quality that has survived many attempts to change their character, not the least of which are the grotesque, later-day additions that are, at best, aesthetically challenged. The only exception to this post-partition trend has been the restoration of Turat Murad’s shrine that has been built in the style of the pavilion. Lawrence Gardens need the recognition and attention worthy of their heritage and beauty.

On a personal note, I have walked for years in the Lawrence Gardens – in solitude and with people. My fondest memories of Lahore are in one way or another linked to this splendid place. Often, my soul wanders there to experience the solace and reconnection that the human spirit yearns for. Whenever I have wanted to hear the sound of trees, I have not been disappointed.

Raza Rumi is an international development professional, a proud Lahori, and a citizen of the world. A version of this essay was first published in The Friday Times. More can be found at Raza Rumi’s blog: Jahane Rumi.

16 Comments on “Guest Post: Lawrence Gardens, Lahore”

  1. MSK says:
    July 29th, 2006 3:05 pm

    What a wonderful account. I have never been in the library but always admired the elegnt building. Lawrence Gardens are certainly a national treasure.

  2. Owais Mughal says:
    July 29th, 2006 9:26 pm

    Raza Sahib, this was beautifully written and very knowledgable too. Next time in Lahore, I’ll definitely try to take a walk in Jinnah Gardens.

  3. sabizak says:
    July 29th, 2006 9:39 pm

    i adore lawrence gardens. It has an unmatched subtle splendor to it. Serene and truly lovely.

  4. Khalid_s says:
    July 29th, 2006 10:01 pm

    Nice post. But the club sandwich story may need more digging. When were the British forces camped there? Accoridng to this website, the story of the invention of the Club Sandwich is very different:

  5. Roshan Malik says:
    July 30th, 2006 12:30 am

    Its a literary essay on Lawrence gardens covering almost all its aspects. In addition to vultures, one finds large number of bats hanging on the trees. Some are bigger than a crow. In the dusk, one can see them flying in the neighboring localities.

  6. razarumi says:
    August 2nd, 2006 12:18 pm

    All readers:
    Many thanks for liking the piece. I am happy that my post was appreciated in the spirit that I wrote it. Owais Sb should definitely take a walk and visit the little mounds now turned into hills. In spring the place is full of flowers and natural shrubs that smile under the shadow of primordial trees.
    On club sandwich I welcome the additonal references from Mr Khalid_s. I based my storyline on the Indo-Pak sources. However, the site referred to mentions the invention around late 19th century whereas the ‘club’ culture was thriving in India much before. In any case, I stand informed and perhaps corrected.
    And, to Roshan Malik and Sabizak: thanks for relating to my beloved gardens!
    Raza Rumi

  7. Farrukh says:
    August 12th, 2006 5:12 pm

    I am so sorry I missed this when it was first posted. Boy o boy. I have walked every corner of Lawrence garden… day and night.

  8. Qayum Baig says:
    November 25th, 2006 1:40 pm

    thanks for this insight into Lawrence Gardens. They will always remain Lawrence Gardens to me and not Jinnah gardens. Lahore is losing its historical identity and we the people of Lahore are allowing it to happen. many names of places, roads etc are being change to something ludicrous, eg ‘The Mall’ now has some mad long name! We respect the people who conributed to Pakistan but not by destroying Lahore’s identity! People have to accept that Lahore did exist before 1947 and should keep all its original street and district names, e.g Krishna nagar, St Nagar etc, future generations will know how important these areas were and what communities were around before. We have destroyed Mandirs, and other temples again the identity is fast disappearing!

  9. Yahya says:
    November 25th, 2006 1:54 pm

    Talking of changing names how is this one; ‘Davis Road’ now being called ‘Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Agha Khan Soim Road’ (soim as in third). Some sense of humour. Try saying it in one breath.

  10. Qayum Baig says:
    November 25th, 2006 4:57 pm

    [quote comment="12142"]Talking of changing names how is this one; ‘Davis Road’ now being called ‘Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Agha Khan Soim Road’ (soim as in third). Some sense of humour. Try saying it in one breath.[/quote]
    How stupid is that!!!! Pakistanis are the best at making things complicated. Again Lahoris should standup against this rubbish. It like the people of Akalghar did not take on the new name of Islamghar in Kashmir.

  11. Paealinik says:
    June 3rd, 2007 11:12 am

    Greetings! Very interesting site! Visit these sites, you know about much interesting!

  12. August 16th, 2007 12:08 am

    i cannot express my feelings for Pakistan specially bagh e jinnah Lahore.
    i want to thank for all this work.
    i miss Pakistan.

  13. Adonis says:
    August 16th, 2007 3:52 am

    On the issue of names, I was always amused by how my grandfather’s generation used to talk about ‘lawrence garden’ while the young generation always called it ‘bagh-i-jinah’. Similarly I remember old folks mentioned ‘montgomery and lyallpur’. Now a days few people know what these were and instead everyone says ‘sahiwal and faisalabad’.

    The point is that this disliking of new names is perhaps a generational thing, sort of trying to cling with one’s past.

  14. iceCube says:
    August 16th, 2007 3:54 am

    I especially loved the opening,, “Lawrence Gardens, baptised the Bagh-i-Jinnah”.

    I was watching this documentary about Muslim Spain the other day and they were saying the spanish have tried very hard to re-write history,, to erase the ‘unwanted’ bits from people’s memory,, I don’t know,, aren’t we on the same track?

  15. SYED FAISAL ALI says:
    May 10th, 2008 3:06 am


  16. SYED FAISAL ALI says:
    May 10th, 2008 3:07 am


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