[Updated on 2 June, 2022. This post was first published on 4 April, 2022. I went back to Sunder Nursery for a night heritage walk led by Sair E Hind in May. This updated post includes images of Sunder Nursery at night.]
Red Fort. Check. Humayun’s Tomb. Check. Qutab Minar. Check. A walk through Chandni Chowk. Check … and one gets deluded into believing that Aah, one has seen it all, done it all in Delhi.
Could one be further from the truth?
Delhi’s loveliest secret, hidden from prying tourist hordes, is Dilliwale’s [Delhiites] favourite place to have an uninterrupted yoga session, a picnic with close family and friends, or an organic brunch at a weekend farmers’ market. All in the company of blooming flowers, hundred-year-old wise trees from around the world, and exquisite Mughal-era UNESCO-listed monuments.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But isn’t that what lovely, best kept secrets look like.
Known by the name Sunder Nursery, but way more than just a nursery, it has an eclectic history to add to its charms.
Way back in the early-Mughal period, this area was a cemetery called Azim Bagh or Great Garden. But not the spooky kinds, don’t fret. Along with Humayun’s Tomb next door, the 16th Century tombs in Sunder Nursery were part of an ensemble of walled garden tombs of the rich and powerful. Six of them still stand in the nursery and, since 2016, are a part of the Humayun Tomb UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Named charmingly, though not exactly accurately, over the ensuing centuries they are the Sunder Burj, Sunderwala Mahal, Lakkarwala Burj, Bada Batashewala Mahal, Chota Batashewala Mahal and the Unknown Mughal Tomb. Of the six, only Bada Batashewala Mahal’s occupant is known. It belongs to Mughal Emperor Akbar’s son-in-law, Mirza Muzaffar Husain [1603 AD].
Though Sunderwala Mahal is relatively plain on the inside and the Chota Batashewala Mahal has partially collapsed, the remaining four are intact and splendidly adorned. They reminded me of large jewellery boxes with their stunning incised plaster work, paintings in mineral colours, and Koranic verses in Kufic calligraphic script.
Stars in the celestial heavens incised into the ceiling of Sunder Burj.
When the colonial rulers decided to move their capital in British India from Calcutta to Delhi, a key part of the new city was to be its trees. Yes, you read right. Trees. Whilst buildings and roadways were all a good thing, what’s a city without its green lungs to give that much needed shade and oxygen. Trees were, thus, brought from all over the British empire to test if they could survive and thrive in Delhi’s soil and weather, before lining its streets and urban green spaces.
What better place to carry out these laboratory exercises in flora, than the stretches of land surrounding the, by now, forgotten and crumbling tombs. An arboretum was created in 1913 and luckily for us, these wonderful, exotic species of trees are still here.
In the subsequent years, Delhi saw much turbulence and pain, followed with joy and hope. The arboretum and tombs became a refugee camp for five long years for part of the millions of Hindus who came from the other side of the border in 1947. My parents too had made the move, but they stayed in another camp. Once these refugees left to start new lives in different pockets of the city, the tombs and trees were forgotten again.
Till 2008. That’s when the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Delhi’s Central Public Works Department decided to give it a new lease of life as part of the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative. The 10-year restoration project, using original material, techniques, and tools based on extensive research, wove the area’s 500 years of history together, and merged it with the now, for the now. Sunder Nursery, in its new avatar, opened to the public in February 2018.
Walking trail through the Biodiversity Zone.
Nine monuments, 4,500 trees, 54 varieties of flowers, 20 acres of nursery beds, 80 bird species, and 40 butterfly species call the 90-acre Sunder Nursery their home. There is also a 30-acre Biodiversity Zone inside, replete with rivulets and lotuses, which recreates microcosms of Delhi’s natural habitat through 92 trees and plants unique to the city. A showcase of what Delhi’s landscape looked like prior to its current, forever-under-construction-mode and concrete!
Do go through the images below. Clicking on any image will enlarge it and display a caption. You may use the arrow keys to navigate through the set. What my words lack in, maybe these photos will be able to convey.
In closing, Dear Traveller, if you have not already discovered Delhi’s best kept secret, please make your way to it, namely, the Sunder Nursery. Before it is a secret no more. ❤
PS. Sunder Nursery stays open till 10 pm in summer. This is what it looks like at night!
And that’s us walkers on the night walk. I am the one third from left. 🙂
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- Tickets: Rs. 50 for Indians; Rs. 200 for foreigners.
- Timings: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm [April to September]; 7:00 am – 6:00 pm [October to March]. In summers, the park continues to stay open till 10:00 pm for concerts and night viewing.
- I explored Sunder Nursery through a morning heritage walk led by Pooja Varma for INTACH Delhi and a night heritage walk led by Sair E Hind.
- Every weekend The Earth Collective organizes a Farmers Market in Sunder Nursery from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.