THE GARDEN IN MAIRA KACHORI
Arbab Noor Muhammad is a man of many interests. I knew he is a politician, a landowner, and a horseracing aficionado. I have now learned that he is also an artist, as only an artist could have created so much beauty, out of so little.
Sometime ago, I had asked Arbab Sahib's lovely daughter Nuzhat to show me her father's famous garden. Recently she took me and Haroun, my three-year-old grandson, to Maira Kachori, Arbab Noor Muhammad's village. Haroun promptly fell asleep in the car, and I was free to enjoy the drive.
Taking the G.T Road route, we turned off the main road near Chamkani. Driving past Phandu, River Bara and the Zindai Khwar, we finally turned into a narrow, winding, poplar-lined, kacha road. We were finally at Arbab Sahib's farm in Maira Kachori, six or seven miles out of Peshawar.
When Arbab Noor Muhammad had inherited the lands, they were just thatů. a 'maira', or barren wilderness. Arbab Sahib then set about removing the dead, saline soil from the three acres garden. After adding tons of rich loam, it finally began to take shape. Now four full time gardeners and any number of labourers make sure it stays that way.
A large, beautifully carved gate told us we were at the end of our journey. Having rebuilt the old house as a pied-a-terre, Arbab Noor Muhammad had preserved its rustic character. With a look of timelessness the cottage is built on a rise that gently slopes down, melting into the garden. Prized potted Geraniums, Petunias and Carnations adorn the veranda.
When I walked through the gates the sight that met me literally took my breath away. Gasping with pleasure, I stopped for a moment. needing time to absorb it all. There was nothing artificial or contrived about the scene before me. The garden was large, giving the impression of freedom and open spaces. Although the dazzling colours expressed the riotous richness of nature, yet they were also soothing and inviting. I can understand why the garden is Arbab Sahib's pride and joy. He has been developing it since 1946, which makes 1996 its golden jubilee year!
Arbab Sahib took me on a guided tour around the garden, all the time complaining about the copious March rains that had ruined most of his best blooms. Everything looked perfect to me.
It was a little late for the Freesias; massed together near the veranda, the white, blue, yellow, and burgundy Freesias were already going to seed. The large clumps of Narcissus, clustered around the trees, had also had their day.
It was too early for the roses and the hibiscus. The rose garden will not be in full bloom for another fortnight, and the hibiscus was just beginning to sprout leaves after the long cold winter. Tucked away near the hibiscus and bamboo, hidden by an abundantly flowering bougainvillea, an Urial peeped curiously at us from his pen.
Arbab Sahib recently planted a grove of pine trees near the cottage. A double-shaded bougainvillea adds colour to the arrangement. Behind the pine-grove is an aviary housing his cranes, turkeys and peacocks. Nearby flowerpots were being prepared by industrious gardeners for Arbab Sahib's equally beautiful house in Nathiagali.
The stables that house Arbab Noor Muhammad's famous racehorses lay behind the garden. The paddocks were almost empty as most of them were in Lahore. The brood mares were stabled further away.
After the Lord of the Manor had proudly shown me around his garden, we sat under the Chinar tree. A couple of peacocks entertained us by dancing in the background. I sat back, happily soaking in a sweeping view of the garden. The alternating colours in the generous flower-beds, the gentle splashing of the fish in the fern encrusted pond, and the ever-present, lilting bird-song, what more could anyone want?
Yet, I did feel there was something. The tiny pond did not do justice to the size of the garden. I would have put in a waterfall, a meandering stream and a couple of humped bridges to finish off the water theme. But then, I am a Cancerian with an avowed weakness for water!
While saying goodbye and thanking him for allowing me to share the beauty he had created, I could see the pride in Arbab Noor Muhammad's eyes; I wonder if he saw the envy in mine!
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