How to Find Calm and Culture in Delhi's Version of Central Park
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This heritage park is an oasis of peace and calm in bustling Delhi.
By Maroosha Muzaffar
As soon as you enter Sunder Nursery, your pace automatically slows as you see a vast expanse of lush green, well-manicured lawns ahead. Walk a little farther and the pink bougainvillea trees greet you along with the amaltas (golden shower trees) and silky oaks. It’s summertime in Delhi and this magnificent 90-acre heritage park, with its riot of color, serves peace to a weary mind.
This nursery, which also houses several UNESCO-declared monuments, was neglected for almost 100 years before it was meticulously renovated and turned into a heritage park. Opened to the public last year, after 11 years of restoration efforts by thousands of hands, the Sunder Nursery Heritage Park is now touted as a mini version of New York’s Central Park: a transformative oasis of calm and green — and inclusivity — in the heart of bustling Delhi.
With striking sandstone pathways, vibrant flower beds and fountains, Sunder Nursery immediately captures your attention. But visitors will be quickly distracted by Sunder Burj, a small, dome-shaped tower near the southwest park entrance. Inside (visitors can enter most of the structures in the park) the ceilings are carved with intricate star designs reminiscent of Persian wooden ceilings, and Arabic verses are etched into the marble surfaces. Stand in the middle of the Burj and turn in a circle: You’ll get a different view of the park from each of the four arched exits.
Sunder Nursery — previously known as Azim Bagh (meaning “great garden”) and established in 1913 by the British — is home to five other Mughal-era buildings, which have also been restored. A sixth, the stunning Lakkarwala Burj, is at the end of a line of tall trees with bright yellow blossoms and stands on an 8-foot-high platform. Step inside one of the four arched openings to see Arabic verses from the Quran inscribed inside the walls and delicate lattice stone screens. Then wander the park’s ecological and nursery grounds containing around 300 varieties of trees and 45 rare plants — a haven for butterflies and around 80 species of birds. There’s also a lake and an amphitheater.
[Sunder Nursery] is slowly becoming that democratic space where all differences eventually disappear.
Ratish Nanda, conservation architect
The move to rejuvenate the park began in 2007, bringing together a public-private partnership between three parties: the Archaeological Survey of India, the municipal corporation of Delhi and the Aga Khan Development network (a nonprofit agency). The project’s aim was to preserve and rehabilitate landmark buildings in Nizamuddin, the South Delhi neighborhood where Sunder Nursery is located, and to improve living standards for inhabitants of the area.
The monuments and landscape were carefully restored using old photographs and by artisans from Uzbekistan and thousands of workers using traditional materials. At least 20,000 saplings were planted too.
Inside the park, you’ll see people from all walks of life. When I visited recently, I saw a hijab-wearing woman taking a stroll by herself, and a man in a formal suit walking in another part of the nursery. “[Parks] are bridges that connect people,” says Ratish Nanda, a conservation architect closely associated with the park renovation. “[Sunder Nursery] is slowly becoming that democratic space where all differences eventually disappear.”
Next up, the park is looking to become more of a cultural hub, Nanda explains, “just like Central Park,” with music, food, culture and festivals. However it will likely take another year or so to get there, he adds. The Aga Khan Foundation is planning to build a museum between Sunder Nursery and Humayun’s Tomb, another UNESCO heritage site that houses the tomb of the second Mughal emperor of Delhi.
And on election day in Delhi (May 12), entry will be free for those who voted. “Your finger mark will serve as your entry ticket,” says Nanda.
On any weekend, Sunder Nursery sees hundreds of visitors wandering its tranquil pathways. It’s definitely quieter in the summer when temperatures soar during the day. But at any time of year, it is a space of lush greenness and peace. It’s also a delightful escape to the past, where historical buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory. A fragrant and peaceful pause at the center of the city.
Go There: Sunder Nursery
- Location: Hazrat Nizamuddin, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi
- Hours: 7 am to 7 pm daily. Admission for locals: 35 rupees ($0.51). Admission for non-locals: 100 rupees ($1.43).
- Nearby: Make time to visit the Nizamuddin’s dargah, a shrine where Sufi saint Nizamuddin Chishti is buried. There are also mausoleums for Mughal princess Jehan Ara and Sufi poet Amir Khusro.
- Pro Tip: Nizamuddin West has many delicious food options. Be sure to have some kebabs.
- Maroosha Muzaffar, OZY AuthorContact Maroosha Muzaffar