Homesick British put colonial stamp on India’s gardens

Homesick British put colonial stamp on India’s gardens

NEW DELHI - India's monument to love, the Taj Mahal, was once even more romantic, cloaked behind towering foliage and only shyly revealing its contours as the visitor approached - until a British viceroy removed the mystery.

Lord Curzon, an enthusiastic gardener and Britain's viceroy to India from 1899 to 1905, "imposed an imperial stamp" on what has become the nation's most famous monument, says US historian Eugenia Herbert.

Curzon "effectively clear-felled" fragrant trees, shrubs and other plants to open up views of the Taj, says Herbert, author of "Flora's Empire" - a detailed history of British gardens in colonial India.

Today the Taj, which draws millions of tourists a year, is surrounded by neat rectangles of manicured lawn.

"The gardens would have had to be trimmed back but those who saw them before spoke of how the greenery gradually revealed the mystery" of the Taj's stunning facade, Herbert told AFP in an interview.

Herbert's book was published recently to rave reviews in India with news magazine India Today calling it a "scholarly tour de force". The viceroy was not alone in putting his stamp on the Indian landscape, and a horticultural legacy remains more than sixty years since the end of British rule.

Homesick colonials left their imprint on India's parks and gardens, many of which are still full of tidy, green lawns, trimmed hedges and flowerbeds with British blooms.

The British left "a lasting horticultural mark on India - much as India did on them", writes Herbert, whose book was compiled from letters and diaries of British colonialists and official archives.

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