Revamped Bahadur Shah Park brings fresh air relief to concrete jungle

Morning walkers and those looking for an evening stroll - take a deep breath and unwind in Bahadur Shah Park.

Old Dhaka residents have long demanded a facelift, and their calls fell on deaf ears. That’s until last year when authorities moved to give the grasses a pitch-perfect upgrade.

Sitting at a short walking distance from the Sadarghat area, the historical park is a morning or afternoon walk haunt for scores of people every day.

Farzana, a resident of the area who identified herself by a single name, is one of those who spend time walking breathing in the fresh air of the park since being diagnosed with diabetes nearly four years ago.

Before the pandemic began, Farzana had used to walk around the park for two hours after dropping Farah Zabeen at St Thomas School every day.

The coronavirus outbreak, however, brought some changes to her routine. Now as the schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, she walks for around one and a half hours or two in the afternoon.

“[I used to come here] even before the renovation of the park when it was not too convenient for walking. Now the place has become beautiful,” she said.

Yet, she added, had the authorities widened the park, more people would have been able to walk together.

A health-conscious businessman from Gendaria, Nazim Haque has been taking a walk or jog sporting a tracksuit in the afternoon for the past eight years.

Although he was pleased with the work, Nazim said it was a bit troublesome for him to take the walk when the park was enclosed for a year during the renovation.

DSCC heeded Old Dhaka residents' calls for the modernisation of the Bahadur Shah Park by giving the area a complete makeover. Oct 19, 2020. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

The outbreak had also put a halt on his daily jogging after it was reopened to the public on Mar 11 just when the first coronavirus cases were detected in Bangladesh. The country went into a 66-day lockdown by the end of that month.

“The renovation work has refurbished the park. It feels good. It deserves much praise,” he said.

Dhaka South City Corporation began executing the overhauling plan in March last year under a development project to repair damaged structures through contracts with Jeet International and Proma International.

The park now features a newly built 740-metre oval walkway, public toilets, benches, greeneries and gardens, an amphitheatre gallery. The Sepoy Mutiny memorial also underwent facelift. These are accompanied by four feet deep drain to let out the rainwater with pebbles ornamenting the floors.

The whole area has been equipped with bright lights to facilitate people’s access at any hour of the day and night.

FAULTS REMAIN

It cost the authorities around Tk 55 million to revamp an area of nearly 140.54 decimals of the park, according to Munshi Mohammad Abul Hashem, DSCC’s supervising engineer of civil circle.

There was no complication in the renovation work, he said and added, “Everything went according to the plan.”

However, a granite monument built in memory of Khwaja Hafizullah, the eldest son of Dhaka’s Nawab Sir Khwaja Ahsanullah, stands unrepaired.

An amphitheatre gallery was built in Bahadur Shah Park during the renovation work. Oct 19, 2020. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Hashem said they did not repair the monument to keep it as it is. The inscription on the memorial would soon be renewed with clear black epitaphs, he said.

Two utility poles of Dhaka Power Distribution Company still stand at the edge of the park, hampering the beauty.

The DPDC has told the city corporation that it will soon remove the poles after repeated reminder in the past five months, Hashem said.

Although many residents expressed satisfaction, the city corporation’s work appeared “rushed” and “unclear” to Taimur Islam, the chief executive of Urban Study Group or USG.

“It is not clear what was ultimately gained. It appears as if the former mayor rushed the project to show some work before the end of his term,” Taimur said.

“There are some specific international rules to preserve memorials. It is not possible to suddenly do something to change any of them,” he said.

It was necessary to refurbish the area surrounding the park as part of the renovation project as well, he said.

“The monument inside St. Thomas Church and Kabi Nazrul College cannot be seen from the park because of a four-storeyed building,” Taimur said.

The improvements made to Bahadur Shah Park include filling up empty spots in the ground with pebbles. Oct 19, 2020. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

FROM ANTA GHAR TO BAHADUR SHAH PARK

Before the construction of the park, the Armenians founded a club, Anta Ghar, at the place where it stands now to play different indoor games like tennis, badminton, billiards, and much more.

In 1857, during the Sepoy Mutiny against colonial rulers, the failed mutineers were killed by hanging from different trees of the place.

After Queen Victoria of the British Empire took over the Indian subcontinent, the commissioner of Dhaka Division read out an announcement naming it Victoria Park in 1858.

In 1957, it was renamed after the last Mughal emperor - Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar, known as Bahadur Shah II, to mark the centenary of the Sepoy Mutiny. A memorial was also built.

Hafiz Md Saifullah, a man in his 80s from Old Dhaka’s Postogola area, shared his fond memories with bdnews24.com.

“We still know it as Victoria Park. I used to hang out with my friends here from the Kabi Nazrul College once. We would saunter into the park. I no longer go there now. The place had a different look at that time. The population of Dhaka has risen since then. We have more vehicles now. Everything has changed.”

Walkways in the Bahadur Shah Park have been widened to allow more people to walk together. Oct 19, 2020. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

“I’ve heard that renovation work concluded in March. But I haven’t been there for a long time,” he said.

Seven roads lead to the park which is surrounded by key government establishments, several schools, colleges and Jagannath University, making it one of the important points of Dhaka.

St. Thomas church and a water tank, which is Dhaka’s first, lie at the north of the park. Kazi Nazrul Government College, one of the oldest colleges of the city, and Islamia High School stand at the north-east corner. Government Muslim School, another old institution, is located at the east of the park while Jagannath University is on its south-east end. Dhaka Judges’ Court sits at the north-west corner.

Bangla Bazar, Islampur, and Shakhari Bazar are situated close by as well.