The World Monuments Fund has completed a four-year conservation project at two historic Mughal gardens in Agra, India, that had been threatened by pollution, traffic congestion and other urban ills.
The sites – Mehtab Bagh and the Garden of the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah – along the Yamuna riverfront in Agra, were newly inaugurated by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the Archaeological Survey of India in a ceremony at I’timad-ud-Daulah last week.
The Yamuna riverfront in Agra was once enclosed by high-walled gardens, mansions, and pavilions that served as sanctuaries for royalty and nobility from the city’s heat and dust. Later, some became funerary gardens, venerating Agra’s deceased. Today, only a few of the original 44 gardens survive intact. Others have been significantly altered and eroded over time.
Raising awareness and visibility of the gardens that are often overshadowed by their more famous neighbour, the Taj Mahal, was an important objective of the conservation.
Crucial to the conservation project was the introduction of a management system to restore the flow of water into the gardens. This stretch of the Yamuna River, once replenished by the melting snows of the Himalayas, had become depleted and contaminated.
The stretch of the Yamuna river which passes through Agra is one of the most polluted waterways in the world, and so the water management system for the gardens posed challenges for the restoration project.
The WMF said all available water sources were tested at the outset of the project. The results showed that water from the Yamuna River was inadequate in both quality and quantity and that the groundwater was high in total dissolved solids, making it unusable without treatment. The sewer line that ran outside the site was also found to have inadequate capacity, especially for improved visitor services, so it was determined that a water treatment plant would be necessary.
Planners sought to find a solution that would neither draw from the limited water resources available to the people of Agra nor discharge any affluent that would further pollute the Yamuna and the environment at large. Ultimately a hydraulics engineer designed a highly sophisticated system in which groundwater drawn from the site itself is treated, allowing it to be used for irrigation.
In an effort to restore the gardens to their authentic form, to re-activate their water features, and enhance visitor experience, the WMF also carried out extensive research to identify original plant species and reestablish a grid for planting.
A new visitor centre is expected to open at I’timad-ud-Daulah this year. The enhanced visitor services will offer local residents and tourists an opportunity to learn more about the history of the magnificent gardens.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea