Empress Gardens is one of the oldest surviving gardens in Pune. It is located near Ghorpuri (Ghorpadi), Prince of Wales Drive (in proximity to the Pune Race course road and Pune Solapur road junction).
It was once the property of Sardar Vithalrao Purandare , a nobleman in the Maratha Peshwas court. It was managed by one General Finjer of the British East India Company army.
Later (in 1845) its charge came under Major General Sir Charles Napier, commander of the British army assigned to the Bombay presidency.
The Garden being in the vicinity of the army cantonment area , it was frequented by soldiers of the British army. Thus it earned the name the’ Soldiers Garden’. The Garden then came to be known as the ‘Garden of Dr Don’.
After Queen Victoria was declared the Empress of India (1877), these gardens were rechristened after her as the ‘Empress Gardens’.
In 1892, the Bombay Presidency transferred the charge of these gardens to the Agri Horticultural Society of Western India (AHSWI), who are managing these gardens ever since.
The total garden is spread over thirty nine acres of land.
It encompasses a beautiful botanical garden displaying varied floral specimens including some very rare species of trees and plants.
The garden has an amazing variety of mango,tamarind,banyan and oak trees some of which come across at least a hundreds of year old.
There is one fallen tree trunk (Araucaria cookii specimen found in South America) on display , supposedly the tallest (110ft height x 9ft girth) in Pune. It was planted around 150 years ago.
Some of the species available at the Empress gardens are Brownea grandiceps, Butea monosperma, Baikiaea Insignis, Callistemon citrinus ‘Bottle brush’, Brownea areza, Cassia fistula, Cananga odorta,Cassia lancastri, Delonix regia,Napoleona imperialis, Saraca Thaipingenis.
Some of the shrubs available are Acalypha godsefiana, Acalypha hispida,Abutilon hybrid ‘Variegatum’, Alternathera versicolor, Allamanda schotii, Dattura suaveolen.
Some of the flower species are Ixora chinensis, Gardenia jasminoides,Magnolia mutabilis, Mussaenda erythrophylla ‘Rosea’, Sarcocephalus cordatus, Vinca rosea.
As one enters the park, towards the immediate right there is this beautiful British styled bungalow with a small garden around it.
Facing the bungalow is the ‘Nana Nani’ park. The entry to the park is available only for the elderly above the age of sixty. The park has a jogging track with a special aisle for the paraplegics. There is also a library with a small gymkhana where senior citizens enjoy a game of carom, playing cards or chess.
Furthermore, there is also a paved road diametrically opposite to the bungalow. A water stream flows in a canal provided right in the midst of the road .
There are several benches arranged on the pavement and some very attractive looking Japanese type bridges built over the stream.There used to be two huge clay elephants flanking the road, besides a small zoo. But they no longer exist.
There is also a nursery where plants, flowers, herbs are cultivated for sale. The nursery has its own greenhouse available.
Alongside the nursery is an attractive looking gazebo surrounded by a small flower garden.The nursery also has its own greenhouse.
Across the paved road is a childrens play park complete with slides, swings, carousels,framed bridges,ropeways,see saws etc.
There is a huge water fountain across the childrens park with a seating arrangement around it. Very appropriate for all the lovebirds that flock here.
There are also pony cart rides available for the kids, besides a refreshment cafe for their parents.
Thus the Empress gardens prove to be an excellent recreational spot for the children, the young and the old alike. It also attracts several botany students because of the study site that it provides.
The Empress gardens is a very important landmark of Pune besides being its prized heritage site.
Text and Photographs : Abhijit Rajadhyaksha