Sunder Nursery

Ratish Nanda

CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture India

Sunder Nursery

Nizamuddin, National Zoological Park Nizamuddin West New Delhi, Delhi 110013 India

2020 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation / Award of Excellence


Sunder Nursery – Delhi’s Heritage Park





From the 14th century onwards, the Nizamuddin area has seen a profusion of building activity. Serais, Tombs, Baolis, mosques, lofty gateways and garden pavilions have all been built along the River Yamuna. In the 16th century, the Grand Trunk road was built through the area, which encompassed several enclosed garden tombs, including that of Emperor Humayun. By the 19th century, the area stretching from Purana Qila at its northern edge and Barahpulla at its southern edge – the first Mughal city of Delhi – was being used for agriculture.
It was in the early 20th century, during the building of the capitol complex of New Delhi, that Sunder Nursery was established north of Humayun’s Tomb. It was created to propagate saplings for New Delhi’s avenues and experiment with plants brought from other parts of the British Empire.

Following a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Central Public Works Department, the Archaeological Survey of India and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) commenced conservation and landscape works at Sunder Nursery. The 90 acre (36 hectare) nursery is now a city park with distinct heritage, ecological and nursery zones.


Landscape architect Prof M. Shaheer designed this new city park along a central axial spine around which gardens and landscapes were arranged. Ranging from formal gardens to informal settings for families to enjoy picnics, the landscaping of the park offers a variety of recreational and cultural venues. Water features, ponds and lakes are part of the masterplan, which includes nursery beds, a flower showcase, arboretum, rose garden and orchards. To create the urban oasis, the masterplan derived inspiration from the traditional Indian concept of congruency between nature, garden and utility and coupled it with environmental conservation.

The grand central vista, which is over 500 meters long, follows the path of the 16th century Grand Trunk Road, connecting the entrance zone of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site with the 16th century Azimganj Serai to the north. The Mughal-inspired gardens along the central vista employ monolithic marble fountains and flowing water set amidst geometric flower beds and raised sandstone pathways. Forming the heart of the city park, it is here that visitors are expected to congregate. A large maidan is available for winter picnics. The lake at the northern edge of the central vista is a refuge for Delhi’s citizens with walks, seating and pavilions along the edges.


Tile conservation



Sunder Nursery now serves as Delhi’s first arboretum with almost 300 tree species, the largest number in any of Delhi’s parks. A contiguous stretch of dense green cover across Sunder Nursery continues on to the adjoining National Zoological Park and the Batashewala Complex, providing a protected bird habitat for the ground nesting national bird, the peacock.

Over the last decade, hundreds of truckloads of construction rubble were removed and 20,000 saplings planted, drawing 80 species of birds to the site. Many more are expected now that the water bodies are full. Sixty species of butterflies have already made the park their home.
To attract the 500,000 school children who visit the adjoining Humayun’s Tomb annually and serve as an educational resource on Delhi’s ecology, a 20-acre micro-habitat zone showcases plants of the ridge, riverine, and marshy landscapes that were once found in Delhi.



Sunder Nursery group of monuments required urgent conservation to ensure long term preservation of these structures –many of which were in a state of partial collapse. From the onset of the project, conservation works have aimed to establish a model conservation process, including demonstrating the Historic Urban Landscape Approach.

Conservation was preceded by systematic and scientific documentation as well as archival research and detailed condition mapping. Conservation works have been carried out in accordance with a peer reviewed and ASI approved Conservation Plan and supervised by an inter-disciplinary team and implemented by master craftsmen using traditional tools, materials and building craft techniques.

National Conservation Policy, international charters such as the Burra Charter and Nara Charter for Authenticity as well as UNESCO Operation Guidelines defined the conservation policy for the project. Authenticity of material, form and design, was ensured by employing craftsmen as part of the team and including them in every stage of the conservation effort. In undertaking the Sunder Nursery development, AKTC also aimed to demonstrate the validity of the public-private partnership approach to conservation of national heritage –being the first instance of any private agency implementing conservation works on any of India’s national monuments.



In order to ensure the integrity and significance of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage site was retained, a major goal of the project was also to seek a Minor Boundary Modification with inclusion of the major 16th century garden-tombs within the world heritage property. This needed to be preceded by improving the state of conservation of these structures.

Finally, as with all AKTC projects worldwide, the 2007 MoU included an agreement to take required steps to ensure sustainability of the project outcomes. Thus,sustainability of the development and in meeting SDG goals by improving the Quality of Life for local communities has been a project goal from the onset. This is also required to emphasise the model project by demonstrating that heritage monuments are also economic assets.


Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative

The creation of the 90 acre Sunder city park is part of a larger urban development initiative wherein the Aga Khan Development Network has implemented conservation of 50 monuments across the 300 acres of project area, including the Humayun’s Tomb. The conservation effort is now being culminated in the creation of a state-of-art site museum at the World Heritage Site.

The environmental and conservation efforts are coupled with a major socio-economic effort aimed at improving the quality of life for the residents of Nizamuddin basti through building and providing education, health, sanitation infrastructure. Providing vocational training, creating economic opportunities and carrying out urban improvements by landscaping neighbourhood parks and providing street furniture.


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