Shalimar Garden: A Destination Guide.

Shalimar garden
Shalimar Garden Faiz Bakhsh Overview

Shalimar or Shalamar garden is a 400-year-old Mughal-era garden in Lahore. Shalamar means abode of peace. Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1642 on an area of 40 acres.

As Mughals were very close to nature they built the gardens in the subcontinent. The purpose of the gardens was not only to beautify the area but it served multiple purposes. The same is the case with Shalimar garden. The purposes of the garden were.

  • Relaxation: After a tiring journey of day, spending an evening and night or few days in the garden would relax their tiredness and the royal family and their members would still live in comfort when they travel to and from different places..
  • State Affairs Camp Office: Since traveling was tiresome and slow, the buildings and sections built in certain areas were reserved for conducting the state affairs served as the camp office of the emperor.
  • Landmark: Such gardens were also built as a landmark to celeberate their conquests.

Historical Background:

Shalimar Garden or Shalamar are the inspiration of Shalamar Gardens. Yes, one can imagine, how the construction of a garden is inspired by its own self. But the fact is that Shah Jahan’s Shalimar garden of Lahore was inspired by his father Jahangir’s Shalamar garden in Kashmir.

Kashmir’s Shalamar Garden was built by Jahangir. It has three terraces and a natural river of Jehlum irrigating its gardens. Jahangir chose the site of Kashmir’s Shalamar garden in 1620 and involved his son Shah Jahan in constructing a dam to irrigate the garden.

Despite mesmerizing beauty and importance of Kashmir in the Mughal empire, running state affairs or keeping it as the permanent capital of the Mughal empire was not feasible. Fatehpur-Sikri was the initial capital and in 1590 Lahore (present-day Pakistan) was made awarded the status of capital of the Mughal Empire.

Shah Jahan was deeply inspired by the garden built by his father Jahangir. He built similar gardens throughout his lifetime.

Idea and Initiation of Shah Nahar:

Shah Nahar was connected to Shalimar Gardens to power the fountains -Shalimar garden
Shah Nahar was connected to Shalimar Gardens to power the fountains

Ali Mardan Khan, Governor of both Kashmir and Lahore proposed constructing a canal on River Ravi in 1639. The plan proposed to draw a canal descended from the hills into plains ultimately taking it to Lahore. This canal was called Shah Nahar (Royal Canal or King’s Canal).

Shah Jahan accepted the proposal and provided him the funds of Rs 100,000 which was the estimated cost at that time by the experts.

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The canal was constructed where it entered the plains in the village Rajpur, near Nurpur, in the Subah (Province/State) of Lahore. From Rajpur to Lahore the canal covered a distance of 48.5 Jarib Kos (approx 150 km).

However, due to the lack of water flow as per the proposed plan, the canal required further work. Shah Jahan disbursed an additional 50,000 to make the canal functional. The additional funds and work still did not solve the water flow issues.

The task was then assigned to Mulla Alaul Mulk Tuni who was a master in the art of water level. With an additional cost of 50,000 and in the year 1643 the canal was fully functional with an abundant water supply and flow reaching Lahore.

The canal was so useful in the coming years that irrigated Punjab and made it more fertile. It was functional till mid 19th century.

Construction of Shalimar Garden:

The construction of the garden started on 12th June 1641. Khalilullah Khan was consigned to construct the garden commissioned by Shah Jahan. This garden is situated on the main Grand Trunk road, the road which used to connect Lahore and Delhi.

It took 18 months time frame and a cost of 600,000 to complete this garden. The layout of the garden was similar to that of Kashmir’s Shalamar Garden, Hence this was named Shalamar Bagh as well. Chahar Bagh (4 gardens in a quadrangle) is a common pattern we see in Mughal architecture.

The canal was made with a motive to connect its endpoint with the upper terrace of the Shalimar Garden to power hundreds of fountains in the Shalimar garden. At that time the fountains used to work without hydraulics. It was such technically constructed that water from the canal was stored in containers and later the steps involved created pressures to make the fountains flow. The fountains have been recently converted to hydraulics.

In the plain land of expanded Lahore city, in 1642 Emperor Shah Jahan inspired by the gardens of Kashmir, built a garden complex near the old city of Lahore, The Shalimar Gardens.

A multi-level terraced garden imitating Kashmir’s naturally sloping landscape that symbolizes earthly utopia was built to please the royal guests.

Comprising of three terraces, it covers an area of 16 hectares. Divided by walkways and water channels into classical Persian Chahar Bagh style. The three terraces are:

  • Bagh e Farah Bakhsh (Top Terrace)
  • Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh (Middle Terrace)
  • Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh ( Lower Terrace)

Bagh e Farah Bakhsh of Shalimar Garden:

Bagh e Farah Bakhsh the terrace reserved for Emperors Harem.- Shalimar garden
Bagh e Farah Bakhsh the terrace reserved for Emperors Harem.

The water would enter the Shalimar garden complex from the south into the central channel of the uppermost terrace into the decorated pool in the center, further flowing east, west, and north, dividing the terrace into four square lawns. This terrace has 102 fountains.

The quadrants of the terrace are planted with plants, trees, shrubs, and flower beds. With canals adorned with a fountain. This terrace of the garden was reserved for the Emperor’s Harem and is known as Bagh e Farah Bakhsh meaning bestower of delight.

It has several private quarters. Such as King’s resting place or aramgaah. Brick walkways along the water channel were raised to enjoy the view of the lawns.

Another appendix to the gardens is the rest house for the army general constructed in the upper terrace during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab.

French Army General Rest House- Shalimar garden
French Army General Rest House

Positioned in between upper and middle terraces built in white marble is the Summer Pavilion. Designed to enjoy the cooling effect of the surrounding fountains and the view of the middle terrace.

Summer Pavilion connecting upper terrace of Bagh e Farah Bakhsh and central terrace of Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh
Summer Pavilion connecting upper terrace of Bagh e Farah Bakhsh and central terrace of Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh

Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh of Shalamar Bagh:

Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh the central terrace served as the royal court
Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh the central terrace served as the royal court

This area of the Shalimar garden was reserved as Emperor’s Garden. This area has the most intricate waterworks amongst any garden constructed during the Mughal era.

The Central area is known as Mehtabi
The Central area is known as Mehtabi

This pool has 152 fountains installed with a marble platform called Mehtabi right in the heart of it attached with the causeways on the sides. At the foot of the cascade is the marble throne called Shah Nasheen, The King’s seat. On the sides of the pool made of red sandstone are two more pavilions, that lead down to the side gardens of the middle terrace.

The throne made of marble was the Shah Nasheen meaning Kings Seat.
The throne made of marble was the Shah Nasheen meaning Kings Seat.

On the opposite side of the King’s throne across the pool are two white marble pavilions with a spectacular Sawan Bhadun in the middle. Water pouring down from the pool, is surrounded by carved marble niches from three sides known as Cheeni Khana was made to place flowers at daytime and lamps at night materializing the intricate play of fire and water in an architectural feature.

The water flowing through cascades with lanterns behind created a mesmerizing view at night. It had a very welcoming and enchanting view. An artificial rain environment was produced with a waterfall and the lanterns behind the waterfall produced an enchanted ambiance.

Cheeni Khana from Sawan Bhadu Pavilion
Cheeni Khana from Sawan Bhadu Pavilion

Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh of Shalimar Garden:

Cheeni Khana connects the lowest terrace Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh and Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh
Cheeni Khana connects the lowest terrace Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh and Bagh e Faiz Bakhsh

The fourth side of the Cheeni Khana has an open arched corridor exposing its beauty to the third and lowest terrace of Shalimar garden, Hayat Bakhsh meaning bestower of life.

Chahar Bagh style gardens in the Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh
Chahar Bagh style gardens in the Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh

The fruitful trees were brought in from, Kandahar and Kabul. This terrace has 153 fountains. The dense trees in the garden and running water and fountains kept the garden cooler than the surrounding areas.

Shalimar garden has the most intricate waterworks amongst the Mughal Gardens.
Shalimar garden has the most intricate waterworks amongst the Mughal Gardens.

Made for noblemen and occasionally public lower terrace was mirror layout of the upper terrace. The lowest terrace was the entry point to the garden.

We see that in Mughal era construction, two elements were prominent. Water element and Open air space element like Baradari’s (12 door pavilions). These two were focused and prominent as this was a hot area during summer. So building Baradari’s and passing water throughout the construction which used to cool down the temperature.

UNESCO World Heritage Site:

In 1981, Shalimar garden was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site along with Lahore Fort. In accordance with the international principles and standards set by UNESCO, dept of archaeology Punjab has been working extensively to conserve the garden and its building in its original form.


Amongst the Mughal-era Construction, this garden complex is the 3rd most visited place in Pakistan. As a tourism attraction point, this garden has been preserved at its utmost level and the preservation and restoration works are still ongoing.

The perimeter wall is decorated with recesses and external pillars and six hexagonal towers locally known as Burj.

Burj of the Shalimar Bagh
Burj of the Shalimar Bagh

Shah Jahan also constructed Shahi Hammams the Royal Bath complex in the gardens. Nagar Khana was an audience hall where the emperor used to meet his public.

Shahi Hammam (Royal Bath)
Shahi Hammam (Royal Bath)

After Shah Jahan, the garden was neglected and the precious stones were looted from the garden structures.

With an aura of the Persian Chahar Bagh concept that combines technological innovation in hydraulics with aesthetic planting principles and symbolism of symmetry and vista, Shalimar Bagh is the encapsulation of the Mughal Architecture genius.

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