The Mughal Garden is Shangri La’s microcosm of the royal gardens found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Located off the entry courtyard and oriented along the property’s dominant east-west axis, it features a plain white façade with an arched entrance similar to the adjacent entrance leading into the foyer of the main house. During her 1935 honeymoon travels in India, Doris Duke (1912–93) was exposed to the expansive and sumptuous gardens of the high Mughal period, particularly those built in the cities of Agra, Delhi and Lahore during the reigns of the “great” Mughal emperors Akbar (r. 1556–1605), Jahangir (r. 1605–27), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58). These gardens typically included small marble pavilions with cusped arches and inlaid floral surfaces; brickwork pathways with geometric designs; long water channels with lotus-shaped fountain heads; marble water cascades with niches known as chinikhana (Persian: porcelain house); and geometric planting beds (parterres) with scented trees and colorful flowers.
Early on in Shangri La’s history, c. 1938–41, the Mughal Garden was known as the “allée.” In this original incarnation, it featured several elements standard to Mughal gardens—water channel with lotus-style fountain heads, chinikhana cascade, large four-lobed pool (west end)—which Duke would have seen during her 1935 travels in India. Two decades later, after a visit to Shalimar Gardens (1637) in Lahore, Pakistan, Duke resolved to transform the allée into a more fully realized microcosm of a Mughal garden. Toward this end, she requested drawings and photographs of the brickwork pathways in Shalimar Gardens from the site’s superintendent of archaeology. These designs then guided the creation of similar brickwork pathways at Shangri La (48.513), which were installed down the length of the water channel and also crisscrossed in the center, thereby suggesting the four-part scheme (chahar bagh, Persian: four gardens) common to Mughal gardens. On either side of the pathway, parterres in alternating shapes were constructed in white stone and planted with cyprus trees, citrus, caladium, and poinsettia. In a 1966 article for Vogue magazine, the now complete garden was described as a “miniature version of the famous Mogul gardens at Lahore.”