By Adeel Saeed
Associated Press of Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Oct 18 (APP): Known as the city of roses, gardens and fragrance in history, Peshawar is fast losing its glory due to manifold increase in population and urbanization.
Almost all the historians and rulers have described Peshawar in their memoirs as the ‘City of Gardens and Roses’, but the historic gardens have either vanished or reduced to nominal with the passage of time.
Mughal Ruler, Zaheer-ud-Din Babar in his book Tuzk-e-Babari wrote that in 1519 when he passed through Bagram (old name of Peshawar), the city was known for its beautiful gardens and colourful flowers.
Monstuart Elphinstone, the first British who visited Peshawar in 1809 as Attach in Afghan cabinet, was quoted in book ‘The Pathans’ by Sir Olf Caro that he was greatly surprised with the scenic beauty of Peshawar.
Even the famous Chinese pilgrim and historian, Shin Fa Hian and Hiuen Tsang, who travelled in this area 400 BC had mentioned gardens and some trees including the great Banyan (Bargad) tree at the present site of Shah Ji Ki Dheri in their books, informed Ehsan Ali Curator NWFP Archaeology department.
According to Hiuen Tsang, Ehsan continued, the branches of the Banyan tree were thick and the shade beneath, sombre and deep. The famous stupas built by Kanishka to the south of the Bargad tree have also disappeared.
Another historic tree dating back to the Kanishka period was cut down recently in Ander Shehr. The Chowk Yadgar building was demolished for widening of the road.
Some of the gardens mentioned in Peshawar District Gazetteer published in 1933 now do not exist. One such example is ‘Old Panj Tiraths’ where building of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce stands today. Some signs of Old Panj Tiraths are still visible at presently Chacha Younas Park or Family Park.
According to ‘Peshawar Historic City of the Frontier, written by prominent historian and archaeologist Dr. Ahmad Hassan Dani, as the name indicates, there are five holy bathing places or ‘tirthas’, shaded by some sacred ancient Bargad trees. The site was a place of great veneration to Hindu community.
According to another book ‘Gardens of Peshawar’ written recently by a local journalist, Imran Rasheed, there were about 28 gardens in Peshawar named by different rulers of the area.
Some of the gardens still exist, but majority of them have vanished with the passage of time.
Imran Rasheed’s book gives complete details about gardens, parks and green pastures of Peshawar and reasons for their destruction. He also blamed Sikh rulers who ruled Peshawar from 1823 to 1849 for destruction of Peshawar gardens.
The Sikhs ruthlessly destroyed gardens of Peshawar which were later revived by British rulers, he writes in his book.
“The gardens were not only used by Peshawarites for recreational activities, but were also the place of literary and cultural gatherings where poets from across NWFP gathered and open-air Mushairas were held,”commented Aftab Ahmad office bearer of Gandhara Hindko Board working for promotion and preservation of Hindko language and Hindkowan culture
The Gandhara Board, he continued, is arranging grand open-air gathering in different parks as part of its regular activity with the objective of reviving the old practice, Aftab added.
Dr. Adil Zareef, Executive Director Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN), an NGO working for conservation of nature, stresses for active lobbying by civil societies for preservation of existing gardens.
Peshawar, he said, had been the cradle of civilizations and a centre for trade for the past 2000 years. Now its dwellers have lost the old beautiful city, creating a huge social and cultural vacuum.
He said stress should be laid on preservation of existing gardens including Wazir Bagh, Shahi Bagh, Dabgari garden, Jinnah Park, Khalid Bin Walid Park, Kushal Bagh and others.
District Nazim Peshawar, Haji Ghulam Ali said that apart from rapid increase in population, influx of Afghan refugees destroyed Peshawar gardens. He said arrival of millions of Afghan refugees caused unprecedented urbanization in the city.
He informed that district government is focusing on reviving of the lost heritage of Peshawar city. He said he has also requested the archaeologists and environmentalists for guidance in this regard.
The district government is presently working on restoration of old gates and historic city wall, he said and added that district government is restoring the main green belt of Peshawar along G.T road and would soon reopen the historic Shakhi Chasma for Peshawarites.