Landscape architecture, garden design, planting design and management - Rowland Byass

Lost Gardens Seminar

04/12/2012

Last week the Prince's Foundation for Building Community hosted an afternoon seminar on the Lost Gardens of Khajuraho. I gave a lecture on the Gardens, their history and the project to restore them, to an audience of research fellows - largely architects and planners specialising in heritage and urbanism - at the Foundation. Afterwards, I facilitated a workshop in which we discussed the key drivers in the history of the Gardens and the project to restore them.

I asked the participants, split into two groups, to think about the Gardens through three questions:

 1. What are the key issues relating to Rajnagar and the gardens, both
(i) in their past history and development and
(ii) in their present status?

2. What other cultural landscapes could be compared with the gardens and their context? What comparable and contrasting issues do these suggest?

3. How should the gardens and Rajnagar develop in the future? How can they be developed in a way that rescues them from decay, preserves their essential character and benefits local people?

Although they weren't previously familiar with the subject, their answers revealed some interesting ways of thinking about the past and future development of this cultural landscape. One group emphasised the contrast between internal and external drivers of the development of the Gardens, seeing them as essentially 'artificial' entities driven by the peripatetic royal progress of the Chhaturpur maharajahs. This threw into question attempts to restore the Gardens as a way of capitalising on the tourist money flowing through Khajuraho. Are attempts to put the Gardens on the 'sustainable tourist' map misconceived, since global tourism is itself an essentially unsustainable system?

The other group looked at the Gardens more symbolically, emphasising water and topography in their formation. They talked about the vision of life that the Gardens represent and its wholeness. These Gardens mix the sacred and the profane, pleasure and utility, life and death. There is a certain symmetry in the vegetative and human cycles of life that have taken place in these enclosed spaces: from seed, to flower, to fruit and seed again. In the same way, both the start and the end of human life have been seen here, ending in cremation, with the product - ash - an organic fertiliser.

This was a really fruitful afternoon, throwing up some good ideas and potential for future research and practice. While I would take some issue with a definition of sustainability predicated on the village as the economic unit, I think that there is a certain continuity in the temples and Gardens of Khajuraho as sites for itinerant visitors for more than a thousand years: pilgrims, maharajahs, and now Japanese, Chinese and Western tourists. I also think that the workshop participants put their finger on the essence of these places in their analysis of the vision of the essential wholeness of life that their usage represents.

Dumfries House in Scotland was suggested as a parallel project to the Lost Gardens. This country house and its grounds, including a walled garden, has been restored with the aim of regeneration through tourism, traditional craft skills and sustainable businesses. The creation of several businesses and activities associated with Dumfries house has tried to spread the economic benefits of heritage restoration and tourism, just as the restoration of the Lost Gardens aims to. Training and apprenticeships in traditional crafts, the cultivation of high value produce like organic vegetables for sale to tourist hotels or organic cosmetic products, and even wine making were all suggested as possible avenues for achieving the aims of the Lost Gardens project.

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