Sunder Nursery is Delhi’s own ‘Central Park’ with lush greenery, manicured lawns, lakes and rivulets and heritage structures strewn over the 90 acre park. It is Delhi’s first arboretum with over 4500 trees with almost 300 tree species – with some being the lone species in India! The park also has more than 54 species of flowers, 80 species of birds and 40 butterfly species and 30 acre of bio-diversity zone with centuries’ old lofty trees.
Located adjacent to the Humayun’s Tomb the two can be explored on a combined visit like we did. The Sunder Nursery has been on our wish list for long and our excitement was palpable when we (my son and I) enter this beautiful sprawling complex of heritage structures and gardens spread over 90 acres. My husband had many meetings lined up so couldn’t join in. He however, on a subsequent visit to Delhi did mange to explore the park and capture numerous birds and monuments in his camera. This travelogue includes the experiences of both the visits to Sunder Nursery.
History of Sunder Nursery
The Sunder Nursery was originally built by the Mughals in the 16th century and was then called the Azim Bagh or ‘Great Garden’. It has also been the final resting place for several Sufi saints. Later in early 20th century the British experimented with various species of trees and plants and constructed an artificial lake. Unfortunately, over time it was abandoned, over grown with vegetation with all its heritage monuments crumbled and delipidated .
It was in 2007, The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) came together and began landscaping the gardens and restoration of the heritage monuments inside the park. Since 2018, the park has been thrown open to the public and is now called the ‘Central Park’ of Delhi. The transformation of Sunder Nursery is a classic case study of a highly successful model of Public-Private-Partnership (PPP). Since its opening Sunder Nursery has been bestowed several awards including the Award for Excellence at the 2020 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation and made it to the list of Time Magazine’s ‘World’s 100 Greatest Places to Visit in 2018.’
As we enter the park we set our sights on a 500 meter long water canal with numerous lotus-shaped water fountains. On the pathway are Mughal flower shaped geometrical patterns and trees and flowering plants line the pathway. We feel like royals walking down the pathway and can’t stop admiring the beauty all around us. This area is also called the Central Vista.
The Sunder Burj meaning ‘Beautiful Tower’ is the first monument we see. It is from this monument that Sunder Nursery gets its name. Restoration of the ceiling and the Quranic inscriptions has given the monument a new lease of life. Its impressive decorative star-shaped internal ceiling, prior to restoration had suffered heavy damage due to water seepage and poor quality repairs.
We walk further and see families picnicking on the lawns. Birthday celebrations are underway as the security guards request the family pick up all the rubbish littered. It is crucial to preserve the gardens after all that meticulous landscaping has been done.
The Lakkarwala Burj is the next monument we see. Built on a raised platform, it overlooks the rose gardens. More than 30 varieties of roses have been cultivated here. We see a lake close by with fountains creating a serene, peaceful environment. There are latticework pavilions on the edges of the lake. Suddenly I am reminded of Leeds Castle Park on our trip to the UK.
Azimganj Serai – The Caravan Serai
We walk further and see a platform where families are clicking pics and having a good time. On the rear of the platform, we spot what looks like fortress walls. The walls belong to Azimganj Serai, a caravanserai for travellers, artisans and traders in ancient times. It is believed that this Serai once had about 108 rooms and a large courtyard. You need to go outside Sunder Nursery to see it. We are content for now, seeing just its walls making a note to revisit it on our subsequent visits.
The sun is setting, and it is getting dark. We have been exploring Delhi since morning and are tired. We head to a café for some refreshments, but it’s closing time. The Fabcafe near the Serai is also a great place to relax with with a lakeside view, watch birds, read a book and have some lip-smacking snacks and a cup of hot beverage. The cafe has a simplistic yet chic decor and the seating area has comfy chairs. The roof adorned with gorgeous straw-woven lanterns gives a rustic look to the place and blends well with the surroundings.
We bid goodbye to the park and make a note of all the monuments and enclosures which we couldn’t manage to see. My husband on a subsequent visit 3-4 months later did manage to see Sunder Nursery and here is a brief account of all that he witnessed. To avoid repetition will on discuss the additional monuments and birds he saw.
All Set to Explore the Ecological Paradise on another visit
My husband, Rafiq, finally managed to set foot on this biodiversity heritage park in March 2022 which he had been wanting to do for long. As he set off early morning to explore Sunder Nursery he was reminded of the summer of April 7th, 2015 when he had volunteered for the visit of His Highness The Aga Khan, the Chairman of AKDN to lay the foundation stone of the Sunder Nursery along-with the Union Minister for Culture Dr. Mahesh Sharma. He was also fortunate to to get acquainted with the man instrumental in reviving Sunder Nursery and its heritage monuments; Ratish Nanda ~ CEO for AKTC. Never did my husband visualize then how the park would get transformed into an ecological paradise after a decade-long conservation exercise.
Since it was opened for public in 2018 for some reasons or the other Rafiq had missed visiting Sunder Nursery even though he frequented Delhi either for work or as as holiday stopover for North India destinations. During his recent visit to Delhi, he finally managed to set aside two hours in early morning to visit the Nursery armed with his DSLR camera. Being a trained ornithologist and bird lover he wanted to capture the avian beauties in his lens.
Exactly at 7 am, he was at the gate, excited to witness the transformation of the Nursery from his earlier visit in 2015. There were two reasons for this early morning visit. Firstly, he wanted to be back in time for an office meeting at 10 am. Secondly he wanted to capture the birds in early morning golden light. Because of time constraints, he was keen to optimize his time and visit the significant parts of Sunder Nursery. The attached landscape map turned out to be very handy.
With over 20 heritage structures at the Nursery, he decided to begin with the Sunderwala Mahal which is within the first 50 meters from the entrance gate, to the left of the park. This 16th Century Mughal mausoleum is a square structure comprising of an underground crypt surrounded by eight chambers representing eight-spaces of Quranic Paradise.
Lotus Pond and Garden Amphitheatre
The Lotus Pond along-with Garden Amphitheatre and the Flower Valley is one of the prominent venues for various art and cultural events. Due to proximity to the Park’s entrance zone it forms a perfect backdrop to art installations and provides a visual delight to all the visitors coming to Sunder Nursery.
As he walked further, to his left on the tall trees, were at least ten large sized Black Kites that were basking in the early morning sunlight. Throughout the park he could hear hear Brown-headed Barbets calls of “Kutroo..kutroo..kutroo” as they hopped from one branch to another. He also got few close -up shots of the Red-wattled Lapwings. Their alarm calls sound like “Did-he-do-it?” The Rose-ringed Parakeets, Large Grey Babblers and an Eurasian Collared-Dove happily posed as they enjoyed the morning sunrise.
Adjacent to Lakkarwala Burj is the Central Vista a beautiful 500-meter-longwater canal which reminded Rafiq of the water canal leading up to the Taj Mahal canal at Agra. Since this is a large water body, he could spot several birds there including White-throated Kingfisher, Common Mayna, Spot-billed Ducks, Indian Grey Hornbill, Large Grey Babblers, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Purple Sunbirds to name a few.
The Azimganj area also led him to one of the most dense trails of Sunder Nursery. This place turned out to be a great place for bird spotting. He managed to spot peahens sauntering around and a black kite perched on a tree.
Pride of Peacocks
He could spot several peacocks on the walls, in the entire complex and even on monuments. If you want to see the national bird of India in all its glory then do head to the Sunder Nursery. Apart from peacocks, he spotted a dozen Yellow-footed Green-Pigeons, Black Drongos, Coppersmith Barbets and other birds too.
Adjacent to the peacock habitat is the Bateshewala Complex. This 11 acre funerary complex has three Mughal period tombs, known as the Bara Batashewala Mahal, the Chota Batashewala Mahal, an unidentified Mughal tomb and arched compound wall enclosures. The Bara Batashewala Mahal, is a funerary structure where the son-in-law of Akbar has been laid to rest. The Mughal tomb is a tall structure and is located in the eastern part of the Battashewala Complex.
Need to do another trip to Sunder Nursery
In a matter of two hours Rafiq had managed to see the historical monuments and capture the unique biodiversity of Sunder Park. My son and I had visited it earlier in Nov 2021 but couldn’t see it in its entirety. There are other heritage structures inside the Sunder Nursery like Sunderwala Mahal, Mirza Muzaffar Hussain’s Tomb which we couldn’t visit and plan to cover them on our next trip along with the surrounding Nizamuddin Basti. The entire conservation plan is to connect Humayun’s Tomb with Sunder Nursery and the surroundings to create a single large entity! And perhaps have a chat on chai with Ritish Nanda the project director of AKTC, India, and the force behind the restoration of the Heritage Park and monuments. And of course, I want to a plan picnic with family at the Sunder Nursery and admire the numerous flora and fauna at leisure.
Getting There and Things to do at Sunder Nursery
- Nearest Airport: Delhi. Sunder Nursery is situated in the Nizamuddin area, opposite Humayun’s Tomb.
- Nearest Metro: Lajpat Nagar Metro Station (Pink line and violet line)
Timings: 7am – 7pm.
- Tickets: Rs 50/- for Adult Indians, Rs. 25/-for children 5-12 years, and free for kids below 5 years.
- Official Website: https://www.sundernursery.org/home.php
- Tip: As you enter the Sunder Nursery the Batashewala Complex is to your right and the Sunder Burj to your left. You can start your excursion depending on what you choose to see first.
- Things to do: Buy indoor and outdoor potted plants, have a picnic, photograph the flora and fauna, check out the historical excursions, biodiversity safaris, and weekend market.