India is a vast country offering a tremendous variety in urban life, with different cities and towns having their unique public places that have developed over the last many years. Accordingly, William Robson, in his famous book, ‘The Great Cities of the World’, lists the numerous functions of the cities. Although many of these activities require urban open spaces, for this article, we will define urban public places as parks, playgrounds, gardens, monuments, riverbanks, and beaches meant for recreational and tourism activities. Listed below are a few examples of unique urban spaces in India that have significant cultural as well as social importance:
1. Ambedkar Memorial Park, Lucknow
Ambedkar Memorial Park, formally known as Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal, is a public park and memorial spread across 107 acres in Lucknow. It was constructed by Mayawati, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, during her administration as a dedication to B. R. Ambedkar. The park honors the lives and memories of those who have devoted their lives to humanity, equality, and social justice. The place has several structures such as the Ambedkar Stupa, the Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sangrahalay, the Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Gallery, the Pratibimb Sthal, and the Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial Drashya Sthal, which add to the beauty of the park.
2. Buddha Smriti Park, Patna
Buddha Smriti Park, also known as Buddha Memorial Park, is an urban park spread over 22-acres, located in Patna. Designed by Vikram Lall and developed by the Bihar Government, it commemorates the 2554th birth anniversary of the Buddha. The park has emerged as a modern center of excellence for understanding the life and teachings of Buddha and comprises Patliputra Karuna Stupa, a meditation center, a library, a museum, and a Park of Memories. Of all these, Patliputra Karuna Stupa is the most dominant structure in the Smriti Park and is a must-visit destination for people of all faiths and religions.
3. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
The Jantar Mantar, situated in Jaipur, is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century. It is an illustration of the astronomical talents and cosmological ideas of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period. The place incorporates several architectural and instrumental innovations designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye. It includes a set of 20 fixed, grand examples in masonry of known instruments but which, in many cases, have specific features of their own. The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur is the most important, most widespread, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories.
4. Maidan, Kolkata
Located in Kolkata, the Maidan, also known as the Brigade Parade Ground, is a historical and cultural center of the city, as well as a center of leisure and entertainment. Being the largest urban park in Kolkata, it stretches from the Raj Bhavan building in the north to the National Library in the south and from the Hooghly River in the west to the Victoria Memorial in the east. The park, dotted with statues and architectural works, the most notable being the Victoria Memorial, incorporates numerous playgrounds, including the famous cricketing venue Eden Gardens, several football stadiums, and the Kolkata Race Course.
5. National War Memorial, Delhi
Built by the Government of India, the National War Memorial, located near India Gate, New Delhi, is a monument built to honor the Indian Armed Forces. The memorial, developed around the existing chhatri near India Gate, is spread over 40 acres of land, with various structures in the complex, including the Amar Chakra, Veerta Chakra, an exhibit with bronze murals portraying the battles of Gangasagar, Longewala, Tithwal, Rizangla, and Operation Meghdoot and Trident, the Tyag Chakra and the Rakshak Chakra. A National War Museum, proposed in the Princess Park area, connected to the memorial through an underground tunnel, would also be a part of the complex soon.
6. Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad
Located in Hyderabad and spread over 1666 acres, Ramoji Film City is an integrated film studio complex. It is the brainchild of Telugu film producer Ramoji Rao, who set it up in 1996, wanting to build a studio comparable to the ones in Hollywood. Art director Nitish Roy has designed the complex, retaining the natural topography of the land, which consisted of jungles and mountainous terrain, leading to it being called a city within a city. The film city is a popular tourism and entertainment center, containing natural and artificial attractions, including an amusement park, two hotels, 47 sound stages, and several permanent sets.
7. Rock Garden, Chandigarh
The Rock Garden, also known as the Nek Chand’s Rock Garden after its founder Nek Chand, located in Chandigarh, is a sculpture garden spread over an area of forty acres (160,000 sq.m.). The fact that it has been entirely built out of industrial and home waste and discarded items makes the garden unique and worth visiting. It comprises sculptures made using bottles, glasses, bangles, tiles, ceramic pots, sinks, and electrical waste, along with architectural features, such as plazas, courtyards, archways, and a stone amphitheater. The garden is also rich in lush and complex landscaping and includes waterfalls and flowing streams.
8. Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which was previously known as Borivali National Park, is one of Mumbai’s greatest gifts. It is a fully-fledged national park located almost within the city limits, and it is among one of the biggest and most visited nature reserves in the country. The park is also home to a variety of plants and animals, including tigers and leopards. Apart from its pristine natural beauty, the park is famous for being home to several other attractions as well, such as a toy train and the Kanheri Caves, a set of Buddhist cave temples dating back to the first century BC.
9. The Garden of Five Senses, Delhi
The Garden of Five Senses, located near the Mehrauli heritage area in Delhi, is a park spread over 20 acres, designed by architect Pradeep Sachdeva. Partly built over rocky terrain, it has several themed areas, including a part on the lines of Mughal Gardens, plus water lily pools, bamboo courts, herb gardens, as well as a solar energy park. Inaugurated in February 2003, the garden offers a unique experience, stimulating our five senses with its beauty and attractions, giving us a chance to touch, smell, hear, and see our natural surroundings. It also has several commercial food and craft outlets, serving as one of the prominent cultural venues of the capital.
10. The Toilet Garden, Ahmedabad
The Toilet Garden, located in Ahmedabad, is part of the Sanitation Institute and is a café that creates awareness about sanitation and hygiene. It was established by Ishwardada Patel, whose aim was to promote sanitation across India, where around 40% of the population still does not have access to clean toilets. Designed using toilets as seats with the backdrop of greenery and cemented floors, the café opens twice a week and can house up to 30 people at a time. The Toilet Garden also has an open auditorium for performances, mainly for events organized by Sabarmati Ashram or Safai Vidyalaya, with its walls covered with quotes and anecdotes related to sanitation.