Park With A Glorious Past

Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
Despite the numerous tourist attractions that have sprung up in Mumbai over the last few years, like Esselworld and Fantasyland, people feel they must pay at least one visit to one of the oldest gardens in Mumbai.

More so children and those visiting the city. Jijamata Udyan, formerly called Victoria Gardens, offers what no other park in Mumbai does. It houses the citys famous zoo and an aviary with some rare bird species, which is what makes it a great favourite with children. The Victoria & Albert Museum situated in its precincts also attracts a lot of visitors.

Jijamata Udyan covers a wide area of more than 30 acres of land at Byculla in central Mumbai. The complex took about 10 years to be set up, and was declared open to the public in 1872. At that time, the garden was half the size it is now; 15 acres were added later. The gardens are rather well laid out and reasonably maintained with patches of flowers set amidst a winding walking track.

The park has a few noteworthy sights for locals and tourists who are interested in architecture, namely an arched screen and an ornamental gate. In fact, the huge stone elephant, which stands guard at its entrance, apparently dates back a couple of centuries. It was brought to Mumbai from the Elephanta Island.

The sprawling garden complex also houses the citys Victoria & Albert Museum and a museum building constructed in the Greco-Roman style.

Of course, this museum does not quite make the grade of the more famous Prince of Wales Museum where the citys schoolchildren are taken for educational tours. Still, a few artefacts and some details of the city are worth a look.

So it is that families hailing from all strata of society can be found lounging around the park on any day, but naturally more so on weekends and during school vacations. The Jijamata Udyan zoo, of course, fascinates children. But another segment of the populace has been campaigning for its closure given the unsatisfactory conditions in which the animals are housed.

Zoo authorities do say they are doing their best to build moats and upgrade the animal enclosures, but until more is seen to be done, the park is not likely to regain the pride of place it once occupied.