Saturday, July 6, 2002

The multi-hued crowning glory of Shimla
Neena Arora

A view of the front lawns
A view of the front lawns

THE century-old Viceregal Lodge in Shimla built during the viceroyship of Lord Dufferin is among the most impressive buildings built by the British in India. It was the official residence of the Viceroy of India. Earl of Dufferin, Marquis of Lansdowne, the Earl of Elgin and Lord Curzon were among those who lived in this building.

After Independence, the building was renamed Rashtrapati Nivas. The then President of India, Dr Servapalli Radhakrishnan, graciously handed over the entire complex and building to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in 1964, to further the cause of learning. It still houses the prestigious institute in a location which is ideally suited for scholarly pursuit and contemplation.

The entire estate of Viceregal Lodge is spread over an area of more than 110 acres and out of this, lawns and gardens around the building cover around 25 acres. The entire complex has been declared a heritage zone and is being maintained as it was left by the British.


More than this historical building, it is the ethereal beauty of its colourful gardens that is a feast for the eyes. Its gardens are among the best laid out gardens at a similar altitude in the world. Its well-manicured green lawns are surrounded by a riot of colourful flowers.

What makes the garden unique is its systematic and well-planned layout. The layout of the garden as it existed during the Raj has not been altered. The entire garden is divided into three parts. The main garden in the front of the main building stretches up to a rose garden which has more than 100 varieties of roses. This was built by Lord Curzon. The front portion, which includes an arch and a porch, is covered with plants, creepers and shrubs of exotic as well as Himalayan species. The purple and white flowers growing on creepers like wisteria and pale yellow and white scented flowers of rosabankcian at the front arch seem to welcome visitors. Climatis, tecoma and honeysickle further add to the beauty of the place. The front lawns also boast of a rare ‘tulip tree’ and a bird-bath nearby which attracts hundreds of singing birds, especially in the mornings and at sunset.

The greenhouse in the nursery of the Viceregal Lodge.
The greenhouse in the nursery of the Viceregal Lodge.

The flower beds are covered with colourful flowering plants like hydrengea, paeonia and different varieties of lily, daisy, daffodil, pansy, marigold, primula, poppy, sunflower, cosmos, calendula, zantedeschia, buddelia, fuchsia, chimonanthus, jasminun and schizostlylis. Since each of these plants blooms at a different time, the garden remains in full bloom throughout the year.

The back garden of the main building is built in steps, and here grows an ancient oak tree which, in fact, is older than the building itself. The place also has two beautiful chinar trees. The only other chinar tree in Shimla grows on the Ridge. Since the Viceregal Lodge was originally a residential complex, apart from ornamental trees and shrubs, fruit trees and vegetable plants were also grown here. Some old apple trees planted at that time are still growing and also bear fruit. Now, some other fruit trees have been grown. Numerous indoor potted plants and eye-catching fresh flower arrangements adorn the beauty of the Burma-teak interiors.

Though Shimla faces acute water shortage especially during summer but due to the arrangements for harvesting rain water that were made more than 100 years ago and are still in working condition, there is enough water in the lodge.

The water, which goes to five underground tanks with a capacity of 12-lakh gallons, is used for gardening purposes.

Its nursery with its glasshouse, built in 1912, has more than 250 varieties of exotic and indigenous plants having ornamental beauty and medicinal value, such as Chinese lantern, ladies purse, orchids, schizanthis, juniper, red poppy, geraniums, pansies, maple (Japanese) in different sizes, shapes and colours. Different varieties of ferns, ivies, foliage, indoor and outdoor plants can also be seen here. Recently, two poly green houses have been added to preserve rare species and efforts are being made to conserve Himalayan flora and other endangered species by preserving their germ plasm.

Some rare and exotic species which were planted during the British period, now receive special protection and conservation. Some of the rare and exotic species available here are ginko biloba (maidenhair tree), ager palmatum (Japanese maple), wisteria, magnolia facicata, morus alba (white mulberry) and camellia Japanica. Apart from this, the documentation of these plants and their genetic resources is also in progress. This will be useful for the botanists, researchers and environmentalists. Another good news for plant lovers is that now the IIAS nursery plans to sell select potted plants, and saplings to the public. In order to protect the garden from the menace of monkeys and trespassers, new fencing has been fixed. These days the Archaeological Survey of India is involved in restoring the old grandeur of the entire complex, including the gardens.

The credit for this goes to the tireless efforts of a horticulture officer and his dedicated team of gardeners.

If the Viceregal Lodge is the jewel in the crown of Shimla, its sprawling lawns and gardens are indeed its crowning glory.