A royal garden for many

Peggy [Next to mum] and family at fountain in Istana Garden

IF the trees in Istana Garden could speak, what tales would they tell?  Generations of royalty, foreign dignitaries, tourists, courting couples, students, families and exercise buffs have passed through the garden. This picturesque public playground also holds some of my fondest memories.

As my two sisters searched through dad's old photo albums to find photos to prepare a video presentation for our parents' 50th wedding anniversary, we realised the Istana Garden was the backdrop to many of the photographs. 

Mum & Dad on the steps of Grand Palace in Istana Garden
Just as my parents did over half a century ago, courting couples still can't resist the Istana Garden's rolling hillocks and panoramic view of the Johor Straits which provides a romantic setting for an evening stroll. 

And just as my parents did, newly-weds and visitors still pose for pictures on the steps of the imposing Grand Palace.

Mum 'standing' on her aunt's hand in this trick photo!

Photography was my dad's hobby and the beautifully-landscaped garden served as an inspiration. I was tickled to find a photo of my mum standing on her aunt's palm taken there. 

There are also many pictures of us in the Japanese Garden, at the lily pond with its fountain, in the playground and standing next to the towering canna plants.  These photographs reflect how popular Istana Garden was as a place for our family outings and picnics.

Extended family outing at Istana Garden after visiting Lido Beach
My uncles, aunts, cousins, grandma and her siblings, and even my great-grandmother came from Johor Baru and Singapore for a picnic here. 

My mum and aunts would cook chicken curry and bring it to Lido Beach as this was where we would start our picnic.  We would dunk chunks of bread in the lovely curry and savour every mouthful after hours of playing in the sun and sand.  After food, the whole entourage would trek up to Istana Garden for more fun.

Fast-forward to my secondary school days. The Istana Garden was a favourite haunt for me and my friends as we would spend hours there before heading home. We spent many happy teenage hours sitting in the shades discovering and coping with the joys and woes of growing up. 

Even a trip to the library would see us take an invigorating walk to Istana Garden after completing research projects and studies.  After spending hours talking, we would walk back to town and make a mandatory stop in Jalan Ibrahim for a refreshing break of ice kacang and fresh fruits at Ee H'ng, a provision shop with a café that was also a prominent landmark.  At any time, the cafe would be bursting with students who grew up with its fabulous thirst quenchers.

Peggy [2nd from Left] with Ranger friends
at the Jamboree - Thai camp
One of my best memories of Istana Garden was when Johor Baru hosted the Third Malaysia Scouts Jamboree on its sprawling grounds.  As Land Rangers, my friends and I enjoyed the interaction and camaraderie with Scouts from various states as well as from Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand.  It was then that I got hooked on men in uniforms because the Thai boys impressed me with their exemplary discipline. 

As flag-bearers, my two friends and I led the Rangers' contingent, marching smartly through town during a street parade before the jamboree ended. 

Even with the passage of time, the beautifully-manicured Istana Garden continues to captivate its visitors and remains as the place for many to woo their loved ones.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 25 February 2009

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