The creation and subsequent maintenance of national parks has a huge impact on the cities and lives of its inhabitants. National parks play a fundamental role as the core/nucleus of city life by inspiring and educating the public to protect the environment. Ayub National Park, historically known as Topi Rakh (located on Jhelum Road, Rawalpindi), is one of the largest parks in Pakistan, spanning across 300 acres of land and rightfully known as the ‘lungs’ of the twin cities. It is indeed beneficial for the entire community to breathe fresh air, which is essential to our health and well-being. The park also carries historical significance as it was inaugurated by the then President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, in 1959 and subsequently named after him.
Ayub National Park is managed under the Army Heritage Foundation (AHF) that was established in 1999 as a self-financing organization. AHF manages the park through its specialized departments that oversee the functioning and upkeep of multiple aspects of the park. The park offers educational, cultural and recreational activities as well as other facilities, including a zoo, amusement park (Jungle World), guest room complex (Jungle Barracks and Resorts), Ayub Park Museum, Vintage Vehicle Park, Miracle Garden and multiple sports facilities. It is a family-oriented park that provides a healthy atmosphere to the public and recreation especially for the youth that includes playgrounds, boating, sports fields, an outdoor gym and a ninja warrior obstacle course.
There is a multi-use trail across the park that provides a safe and scenic leisurely walk through the botanical gardens and the vintage vehicle park, an open air museum that includes a diverse collection of military tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and aircraft from the Indo-Pak wars of 1948, 1965 and 1971. The vintage vehicle park is the only place in the twin cities where historical tanks and military vehicles can be seen in large numbers. It affords visitors with an educational and explorative experience.
Located at a short distance from the botanical gardens is the newly developed flower-based Miracle Garden inspired by the iconic Dubai Miracle Garden. The Miracle Garden sprawls across an area of nearly 100,000 sq feet, decorated with multiple varieties of 250,000 flowers in 75 different shades. Around 300 plants, including trees, have also been planted in the surrounding areas. The layout of the Miracle Garden spans across three main sections. Each section contains unique 3D floral designs in multiple shapes, colorful pathways/walkways, and water fountains. Some elements of the first section include pelican lane, flower pyramids, ladybird and giant snails. The highlight of the second section is the Baradari1 – a historic pavilion which was built in 1959 and inaugurated by then President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The third section presents a picturesque landscape adorned with a floral car, a windmill and a garden giant among other installations. It also offers a breathtaking view of the lake in the surrounding serene environment. The visitors’ experience is not only limited to the floral decor. A unique feature of the Miracle Garden is that it transforms into a glowing garden at night, lavishly decorated with multiple lights aesthetically installed at the entire length of the park. The ‘glow’ that is radiated casts a spell of fairy-tale like environment.
Jungle World and Zoo is the park’s largest and one of the main attractions that provides a spectacular assortment of amusement park rides ranging from high speed thrill rides to entertaining rides that cater for all age groups. Dodgems cars, spinning teacups, giant wheel and haunted house are some of the few popular rides found in Jungle World. However, the family experience is not only limited to the amusement park rides. A zoo also forms part of the Jungle World, which is home to a range of animals of various species and types from carnivores, and herbivores to birds. The list of animals includes tigers, lions, pumas, wolves, zebras, deer, monkeys and around 40 species of birds.
Extensive work has been carried out for the improvement of animal enclosures to meet the needs of animals and their natural habitat. These animals receive exceptional care from expert veterinary staff and animal keepers. Animal welfare has been a significant factor in the recent development of the zoo area, which has become a place of refuge for these animals. Part of this development work has been to educate the community about the challenges faced by the wildlife and initiatives people can take to care for and help animals in the wild and their homes.
AHF’s educational endeavors are further expanded into the form of a museum. The Ayub Park Museum tells the story of Pakistan in two parts: pre- and post-Independence 1947. It displays the history of the Muslim empires and dynasties in South Asia (particularly Pakistan), beginning from 8th century till the 19th century, as well as the military history and heritage of Pakistan Army since 1947 with a gallery dedicated to its sacrifices, achievements and role in UN peacekeeping. The museum has a diverse and large collection of historical objects and displays spanning across its two halls and outdoor spaces that surround the museum. Currently, the museum is overseeing expansion into a third hall, known as the ‘Pakistan Gallery’, which is soon to be inaugurated this year. The launch of ‘Pakistan Gallery’ is in preparation for and celebration of 75 years of independence. The gallery is planned to educate the visitors about Pakistan, its people, history, culture and heritage.
Ayub National Park is a significant part of the urban infrastructure of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as it is not only a place for physical/recreational activities but also a space for people to gather, learn and socialize. Across the park, visitors can find various types of trees, fruit plants, climbers, palms and shrubs ranging from peepal, chinar, neem, pine, magnolia, sterculia, weeping willow, grape fruit, plum, peach, apricot, apple, mango and olive. Nurturing the plants and trees is not an easy task as it requires an enormous quantity of water and suitable climatic conditions along with skill, passion and a dedicated workforce that maintains the park. This is supported efficiently by the park’s horticulture department. AHF is committed to creating a greener and healthier park environment and has embarked on a goal of planting over 150,000 trees by the end of 2022. The plantation drive has been planned through a 3-tiered methodology: plantation in vacant or de-forested areas, substantiation of existing plantation/forested areas, and removal of unwanted plantation. AHF is also carrying out monsoon tree plantation with an average of 330 trees being planted per day to reach a target of 40,000 trees for 2021. Furthermore, work has begun on a Miyawaki Forest2, a mini-forest to restore natural vegetation, aid climate and support the cause for a greener Pakistan. The Miyawaki forest is also intended to play a role in improving the city and future of its citizens.
Ayub National Park will go a long way to enhance the community’s vitality and strengthen the environmental quality through the active engagement of local residents, particularly the budding generations. It’s a known fact that gardens and green recreational spaces can be a vibrant alternative learning opportunity for many urban families and their children. Cities are dynamic places and green spaces offer an array of benefits including public engagement in creating new places for nature, human-nature interactions and a sense of pride in one’s city as a green entity. The park and its areas would therefore inspire and help our youth to develop a sense of awareness towards the environment, provide an opportunity for education about the importance of reducing the impact of climate change and develop a general love for flowers, plants and trees.
The writer has specialized in the field of museums from the UK and is a curator at the Army Heritage Foundation (AHF).
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1. Baradari is a type of square-shaped pavilion with twelve doors designed to allow free flow of air during hot summers. Historically, baradaris were mostly built during the fall of the Mughal Empire by the provincial governors (subahdars) or nizams.
2. Miyawaki Forest (Miyawaki Method) is based on the work of a Japanese Botanist, Akira Miyawaki, who specialized in the study of seeds and natural forests. Developed around the 1970s, the Miyawaki method involves planting young indigenous species close together to quickly regenerate forests on degraded land.
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