To reach Lawrence Gardens (Bagh-e-Jinnah), if you decide to walk east from Charing Cross, you will enjoy one of the most pleasant walks in Lahore, for if anywhere, here is the road segment that provides you with the garden city feel for which Lahore is famous. Along the same side of the road as the Masonic Lodge, and opposite the Avari Hotel, which replaced the once-famous Nedous Hotel, is situated the Zoo or Chiriya Ghar, as it is popularly known. One of the finest zoos of the country and spread over a large area, it is worth a visit. On one side of the road is the expanse of Bagh-e-Jinnah (earlier Lawrence Gardens) and a little further, on the other the sprawling estate of the Governor's House.
The Lawrence Gardens were established in 1862 and were originally named after Sir John Lawrence, late 19th century British Viceroy to India. The gardens were organized in an area covering 112 acres. The vow of the East India Company was that it would bring 80,000 saplings of 600 different species from every corner of the world, where in those days, the sun never set. After collecting money from the sale of Badami Bagh, the Soldier's Bazaar at Anarkali and from a grant by the "Company Bahadur”, the land was purchased in the year 1860.
A top gardener from Kew Gardens in London was brought to Lahore and he began to train the local gardeners and set about laying "the most beautiful gardens in the Punjab and Upper India". The Government College, Lahore, took over a major portion of the place to set up a botanical garden. The very first tree was planted by the beautiful young daughter of the commissioner of Lahore, Mr. Forsyth, on a crisp January morning in 1862. She was later to become Mrs. George Parker, who built the first house on the Racecourse Road. She died in Lahore and is buried at the cemetery on Jail Road. The garden was fed water from the Lahore canal. The three main gates were called Victoria Gate (on The Mall), Rivaz Gate (on Lawrence Road), and Montgomery Gate (on Racecourse Road). Today they remain nameless.
In the middle of the Lawrence Gardens were built the Lawrence and Montgomery Halls, designed by the chief engineer, Mr. G. Stone, and built in 1861-1866. It was here that the Lahore Gymkhana Club was housed. But the pride of place in the entire garden must surely go to the cricket ground. The expert from Kew Gardens did a splendid job, for he laid out a turf the equal of which has not been found in the country. So true is the flatness, almost as if one could play a game of billiard on it. The pitch is another story. One legend has it that the entire mud was brought over from Worcester, and for one whole year it was cured and rolled and "not a lice was allowed to crawl on it". The result has been an exceptionally true wicket, with a "true bounce".
To suit the beautiful trees that surround the ground and the lush green turf, is the exquisite pavilion, made from British oak. The first major match played here was in 1911 between the British Army and a World XI. The World XI comprised players from Gloucestershire and Lancashire, while the army team was drawn from the 87th Punjabis, 17th Lancasters, 15th Sikhs and the King's Regiment. The World XI team won by 61 runs. The match had its desired effect and a strong team led by D. R. Jardine played here in the 1930s. Apart from the cricket ground, the gardens also house a ladies club, two libraries, tennis clubs, and botanical gardens.
*Photo courtesy of Syed Yasir Usman.