Negligence buries Gulabi Bagh Gateway under dust
By Mariam Qureshi
LAHORE: If one travels down the road leading to the Shalimar Gardens, on the left side one catches the sight of a magnificent building that is supposed to be the entrance into the once beautiful Mughal Garden. Yet, the gateway built to lure people to witness the delights of the nature, now leads to a barren land. Behind this building is an ominous looking dilapidated tomb in the barren and uncared for land, which is being encroached upon by humans. Both the tomb and the entrance emanate a pitiful aura of neglect.
The entrance, or rather the gateway, is better known as the Gulabi Bagh Gateway. It was the gateway leading to the rosewater Garden of Zaibunisa who was the wet nurse of Shah Jahan. As inscriptions on the gate narrate, Mirza Sultan Beg, who was Shah Jahan’s husband, built it in 1655 AD.
The gate, although now in a dilapidated condition, still depicts the genius of the craftsmen who constructed it. The picturesque gateway is remarkable for the profusion and excellence of its coloured pottery and enameled frescos in glazed tiles.
A few feet away north from the Gulabi Bagh entrance is the Tomb of Zaibunisa - better known as the Tomb of Dai Anga. This tomb was built in 1671 and Muhammad Saleh, who was a famous calligraphist of his time, wrote the beautiful calligraphy all around its octagonal dome.
The mausoleum has a large dome in the centre and four towers. The tomb is surrounded by eight rooms, which have been ravaged with time. Although proportions of the dome and the tower are somewhat awkward, the tomb encompasses the most beautiful surviving floral wall paintings found in Lahore. In the main chamber, there are two tombs - one is that of Zaibunisa herself and the other of Shah Jahan’s daughter.
Both these structures, which seem like comrades through the wear and tear of nature and human neglect, are now hardly visited by any tourists. Both these historical structures clearly do not hold the importance the sites, such as the Lahore Fort or the Shalimar, do. A few retired old men of the mohalla are seen gathering in a shade, playing cards in an otherwise isolated area. The Iron Gate with a perpetual lock on it is another deterrent for visitors.
One of the locals, who frequently sits outside the mausoleum, Mian Mohammad Bashir, says, “No one visits the area, not even government officials who are in charge of it. There is only a watchman hired by the government. Occasionally, the women of the mohalla come here to clean the tombs and adorn them with flowers.” He told Daily Times that since one of the arches of the entrance was about to collapse he covered it with modern cement that has completely marred the originality of the gateway. According to the Conservation Act of 1975, a buffer area of 200 feet is supposed to be built around the archeological sites, but it is said that former president Ziaul Haq himself violated this law by letting a watchman build his residence there.
Although Mahmood Alvi, a conservator who sits at the Shalimar Gardens head office, says the case against encroachers has proved that the locals have not built their residence illegally on the land. Khalid Maqbool said, “The only effort carried out by the government is providing Rs 10,000 to carry out a research as to why the building is decaying so rapidly.”
But even for these, the money has not been dispersed to buy chemicals to conduct the research. Other unsuccessful efforts included a proposal sent to the government to convert the area into a more tourist-friendly place, but the government was reluctant to provide the funds.
Archeology Department Director Saleem-ul-Haq said, “We are helpless because our major problem is the funds. There are 150 monuments in Punjab, which come under the Protection Act and the government only provides us with Rs 1.5 million to maintain these sites. How are we expected to give results with such a meager amount?” he asked. “People today are more interested in new buildings and as someone aptly put it, ‘development projects are the cannibals of culture’. Thus, more money is being spent on main boulevards and plazas than on the past treasures.”
He said a committee of workers was being set up to open the basement of the Dai Anga tomb, which has been blocked for centuries. One particular department cannot be blamed for the deterioration of these cultural treasures. The public and the government have to realise the worth of these structures before they become sheer documented memento of the past.