At the 500-year-old Bagh-e-Babur, the grand garden designed by the founder of the Mughal dynasty and also the site of his final resting place, there is fluttering at the till. A man buying a ticket has just learned that men and women must enter the garden through separate gates.
After some questions and telling the ticket seller it’s a “garbage rule”, the family separates – women on the right, men on the left. They cannot reunite in the garden either. The 11-hectare terraced garden has been divided into separate sections for men and women with green cloth and ropes following a Taliban decree from the Ministry of Vice and Virtue.
The rule came into effect within three months of: the Taliban takeover in August last year, an official at the UNESCO-listed garden said. Since the park was restored in the first decade of this century, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the 16th-century garden where Babur is buried every year.
For the residents of Kabul, the garden, with its chinar and walnut trees and flowerbeds, is one of the few open spaces in the city, a green oasis that has provided a sense of calm and comfort through the violence, turmoil and uncertainty that constantly beaten their country.
But even months after the rule was introduced, many members of the public still seem unaware of the restriction and are surprised to hear about it when they arrive.
Also this Friday, when families arrived with picnic baskets, groups of women with small children in tow poured into the women’s section.
The sudden sight of so many women come together as a keen realization of their near-total absence from the streets of Kabul, with restrictions promulgated and enforced by the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, now preventing them from working, studying or participating. to national life in a meaningful way. other than as housewives.
Here in the park, the women spread sheets to sit on the lawn. Without fearing that the Taliban would control them in this room, some even slipped their headscarves off. They took selfies, snacked from small picnic plates and chatted as children played around them.
Babur’s tomb and the Shahjahan-built mosque next to it are on the male side. Husbands and fathers separated from their families leaned on the lawns or under the chinar trees. Young children brought trays of food from the women’s side to them.
Dozens of Taliban also roamed the men’s side of the garden on the holiday before the first anniversary of their victory, enjoying the view of Kabul from the top terraces of the garden, while the more seniors sat around in sunken discussions on the terraces, but not before laying down their weapons at the gate.
Park officials said the number of visitors to the park had fallen dramatically in the past year. The Friday rush hour, he said, was not as much as it used to be before the regime change, he said.
“Some people get angry and even leave when they hear about the separate entrances. They come to spend time together, not separately,” said an official, adding that it had hit revenues and led to a series of cost-cutting measures, including cutting staff. It all had consequences for the maintenance of the garden, an official confided.
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The high visibility of the Taliban in the park, especially on Friday, also affected visitor numbers, the official said. However, they are not allowed to carry their weapons in the park. The official said any Taliban entering the park must deposit their arms at the gate.
Bagh-e-Babur was virtually destroyed during the civil war that broke out between different groups of mujahideen in the 1990s.
In 2001, after US forces ousted the Taliban from Kabul, the Aga Khan Trust began restoring the garden, including planting trees. Mohammed Shaheer, the late Indian landscape designer who was a consultant in the restoration of Humayun’s Tomb and Sundar Nursery in Delhi, was instrumental in the restoration of the Bagh-e-Babur.