By: Ganesh Saili
If you were to walk down the forty-five degree incline below Wynberg School, you will wonder why the owners of homes in the Bala Hisar area were obsessed with oak trees? Take for instance Oakless, home to His Highness Rajbir Singh, the Maharajah of Jind, famed for its Greyhounds; or Seven Oaks owned by the Powell family or Oaklands perched above the gates of what used to be Bobby-Sahib-ka-hotel. Swing a left below Antler’s Cottage, once happy home to Ram Singh Yadav, a retired Kotwal of Mussoorie.
Another left on the fork below Ralston Manor, and you would have had your first view of the Tivoli Gardens, owned by Lionel Douglas Hearsey, carved out of Maryville estate in 1882. In its heydays, it was ‘at once a favourite resort of the Masuri public’, named after the resort near Rome, famed for its scenic views and splendid gardens. Arnigadh as the locals called it, was one of the most unfortunate garden sites in all India. Old records have it that the land was a part of Chamasari village, where, the Government decided to create a botanical garden. In those halcyon days, land was acquired by constantly badgering or cajoling the local villagers or title holders to transfer these to the new arrivals. It forced Mr F. J. Shore, the Political Agent of Dehradun to gallantly defend the locals. He forbade such dubious transactions whereby some got hold of the head zamindar of the village, inducing him to sign a sale deed under the influence of liquor. But this sad tale has the residents reluctant to leave their holdings and clinging on to the site to be forcefully ejected bag and baggage at the height of a snow-storm.
Perhaps one, or neither of these stories is correct, but the fact remains that the site appears to be cursed. Firstly it proved unsuitable as a Botanical Garden and the powers-that-be later moved the scheme to the opposite end of the station to create Company Bagh. Down the years, many experimenters tried their luck but to no avail. Though the soil was excellent and there was sufficient water, nothing has ever succeeded here. Thrown open to the public in the summer of 1882 and saw a large footfall. Off the bridle path, along a shady road was a dancing pavilion (that in all the old maps is marked as a nautchghar) and had a dining saloon with kitchen attached. Fruit trees lined the road leading to Mossy Falls and Hearsey Falls. Painstakingly, very gradually, a bit at a time, a once barren waste, was converted into a beautiful garden, filled with flowers, elaborate pavilions, lover’s bowers, swings for the ladies and children; sweetly scented creepers like honey-suckle and wisteria; bushes of jasmine and frangipani, along with the usual roses, and other exotica that made it look like a place straight out of the Arabian Nights, with moonlight garden parties where folks huddled around a bonfire listening to the bagpipes as the moon climbed over Pari Tibba or the Hill of Fairies to paint the assemblage in silver.
On its lower slopes were tennis and badminton courts, bounded by trees in bloom. The road led to the stream with its numerous waterfalls including Mossy Fall and Hearsey Falls. Along the banks were summer houses and pretty nooks for picnics, like the Fairy’s Glen. The path by the stream was kept in good order, so that the elderly and portly chaperones could be carried in palanquins. Of course, Cupid’s Bower was only accessible to those who discovered that the ‘course of true love never did run smooth.’
With structures made of iron and glass, it suffered serious damage in the Kangra Earthquake of 4th April 1905 and faded away, soon to be forgotten. By 1936, Charles Wilson writing under the pseudonym of the Rambler tells us: ‘The garden is in ruins and had returned to jungle.’ One cannot help but wonder that though photography had reached India by the late 1880s, no one has ever chanced upon a picture of our Tivoli Gardens. At least I haven’t.
Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.