Park yourself here

Parks are not mere lung spaces but are actually big draws for tourists who stroll through the green alleys to get a local flavour of the city, writes Janaki Murali

Parks may not always be promoted as tourist attractions, yet they are the best way to experience the local flavour of the city you are travelling to. 

London's pride

One of the best examples of a Grade I park is Hyde Park, which sits plonk in the middle of central London. Hyde Park covers an area of 350 acres and is divided by two lakes, the Serpentine and the Long Water lakes.

On one of our visits to London, I stayed at a hotel opposite the Hyde Park. It was a bitterly cold winter, but walk in Hyde Park, I had to. The grass was greener than I had ever seen, I could spy horse riders at a distance and there were ducks swimming in the lake. I was so wowed by my walks in Hyde Park that I nearly missed my ride to the airport on my last day out!

Hyde Park boasts of hosting many free rock concerts including Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Queen. It has a waterside café and then of course, the famous Speakers’ corner, where several debates and protests are held.

Benchasiri in Bangkok

Another park I was fascinated by was the Benchasiri Park in Bangkok. Set in 11 acres, the Benchasiri Park on Sukhumvit Road is also referred to as the Queen’s Park, because it was opened in 1992, to commemorate Queen Sirikit’s 60th birthday. What is fascinating here is a collection of contemporary sculptures, the most remarkable being a giant coin with an image of the queen. Once again, my hotel was opposite the park and I enjoyed walking here and watching local Thais playing table tennis or basketball in the mornings, or eating their packed lunch on a park bench in the afternoons.

Bengaluru's lung spaces

As famous and beautiful as the international parks, are many parks in India, but I would like to talk about three in our very own state of Karnataka. Take the breath taking 60 acres Brindavan Gardens on the Krishnaraja Sagar dam at Seringapatam. Modelled on the Shalimar Gardens of Kashmir, Brindavan has several fountains and is always a riot of colours and looks stunning in the evening when illuminated.

But what has stayed in my mind is the dancing musical fountain, which I had taken my children to, when they were still small. It was so crowded with tourists, that we had a tough time holding on to the kids. But the effort was really worth it, dancing gracefully to classical music and psychedelic lights, the dancing fountain was captivating.
Coming back to our backyard, what never ceases to amaze me is the 100-year-old, 100 acres Cubbon Park, or Sri Chamarajendra Park in Bengaluru. The Cubbon Park was established in 1870 by John Meade and even called Meade’s Park, before it became the iconic Cubbon Park. This park cuts through the city and can be accessed from MG Road, Kasturba Rooad, Hudson Circle, or Ambedkar Vidhi. The metro line has a Cubbon Park stop with two exits - at Vidhana Soudha and High Court. Cubbon Park has several historical institutions inside it, the Attara Kacheri, or eight cornered High Court buildings, the City Central Library, the Century Club, the KSLTA or tennis pavilion and the Jawahar Bal Bhavan. There used to be a toy train which used to run from the Bal Bhavan across the park, wonder why it was stopped. However, Bal Bhavan continues to be a major
attraction for children.

Then there’s the museum complex, with the enchanting Government Museum at the centre, the Venkatappa Art Gallery and the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum flanking it. The Press Club is also inside Cubbon Park, where, as a journalist, I have enjoyed many a lunch and dinner, in the cool lawn surrounded by gulmohar trees, discussing either the day’s beat or the day’s politics.

Cubbon Park is seeped in history with some intricately carved statues, including that of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, Chamarajendra
Wodeyar, Major General Mark Cubbon, K Seshadri Iyer and Mahatma Gandhi. Often, candle light vigils and protests are held at the Mahatma Gandhi statue. Then there is the 100-year-old bandstand where I have listened to many classical concerts on misty Sunday mornings. There are many quiet pathways in Cubbon Park, where it’s extremely pleasant to walk in the mornings, but I always loved to explore the cool bamboo grove crackling in the breeze.

However, my own personal favourite among Bengaluru parks is the 240 acres Lalbagh. This iconic 1760 botanical garden goes back to Hyder Ali and is internationally renowned for thousands of its plant species gathered from around the world.

The allure

Lalbagh can be accessed from four gates, the North gate is the main gate leading to Subbiah Circle and the West Gate leads to Basavanagudi, the South gate leads to Jayanagar and the East gate leads to Double Road. This park is a very popular destination among walkers and joggers and at any given time in the morning it has some 1000-1500 people. So much so, often even the widest of widest pathways seems crowded. I have seen the many moods of Lalbagh over the years, and every time the park surprises me. It’s either the ancient tree fossil, or the endangered silk cotton tree, the bandstand, the Kempegowda tower on top of the hill, the majestic statue of Chamaraja Wodeyar or the beautiful 1889 Glass House, designed on the lines of the Crystal Palace of England. Twice a year, flower shows are held here on Republic Day and Independence Day featuring a central theme.

Not to forget, the Lalbagh Lake and the Lotus Pond, where several migratory birds can be found. I have spotted herons, pelicans, the majestic eagles and several ducks. And of course, hundreds and hundreds of pigeons. A new attraction at the Lotus Pond is a gushing waterfall.

So, don’t forget to include a park on your next travel destination.

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