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Sundar Nursery: Delhi’s Leisure Garden and a Mughal Sarai

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

The weather in Delhi is very harsh, all through the year, but there are days during these harsh weather spells when the wind is soothing and the sun is just perfect, and one would want to laze around in open gardens with a cup of tea or coffee as per preference. It is because of these days, that picnics are very popular amongst everyone in Delhi. One of the most popular picnic spots has been the Rajpath, the historic road with gardens on both of its sides, with India Gate at one end and the Rashtrapati Bhawan at the other. The space gave common people an insight into the centre of governance and made them feel close to buildings from where their nation is operated.

Eventually, Rajpath fell out of fashion and Prime Minister Modi’s fascist plans are changing the landscape of the area, restricting access of common people to the historic Kingsway (original name of Rajpath). Close to Rajpath, is also what we know as Lodi Garden, infamous amongst politicians for morning walks. The expansive garden built by the Lodi Sultans is also a famous picnic spot amongst people of Delhi and people visiting Delhi. The Lodi Garden is still a very famous spot and is loved by people for a casual stroll, but a lot changed after the pandemic hit, and suddenly all of Delhi is in Sunder Nursery now.

The immense popularity of Sunder Nursery can be traced very easily and it has a lot to do with the pandemic and even the mentality of “exclusivity”. Sunder Nursery has been around, even before the pandemic but it was after the virus hit, that people started thinking about social distancing and having no contact with others. Lodi garden is a big area, but in front of the 90-acre Sunder Nursery, the beautiful garden looks congested. One could take their mask off easily in the Nursery and still be at a considerable distance from other people. Another factor that we can take into consideration is that the Sunder Nursery is a ticketed venue unlike Lodi Garden, which is accessible to all.

The ticket included with the parking charges at Sunder Nursery exceed hundred rupees, and hence this feeling of exclusivity was created amongst people who visited the nursery. Soon enough, people who had a lot of influence also started visiting and started creating a buzz about the nursery. Brunch magazine columnist, Seema Goswami even wrote about the nursery, which did a lot for the footfall. Sunder Nursery also collaborated with the ‘Earth Collective’, and they together put up a farmers market every weekend at the nursery, which helped bring in even more crowd. Sunder Nursery was soon on everyone’s Instagram feed and more people wanted to visit now.

Today the Sunder Nursery is a heritage park and a leisure garden for many, only because of the work done by the Aga Khan Trust, but it was originally a ‘Sarai’ built by a Mughal army general, named ‘Azim Khan’. The nursery was originally known as ‘Sarai Mughaliya’; the name Sundar comes from the close by area called Sundar Nagar, after which the nursery has now been named. Within the Sarai, are six, 16th-century monuments; all of which are UNESCO heritage sites. Lakkarwala Burj, Sunder Burj, Sunderwala Mahal, Mirza Muzaffar Hussain’s tomb (also known as Bare Batashewala), Chota Batashewala, and an unknown Mughal Tomb are the main 6 monuments, and accompanying them are an 18th Century Garden pavilion, two grave platforms, a collapsed domed tomb, the boundary wall of the Azimganj Serai, a lotus pond, a sunken Amphitheatre, Mughal-era wells, a bonsai house, rivulets, and extensive flora and fauna. Before the Aga Khan Trust started with the conservation, this Sarai was almost in ruins, as during the 20th century people started living in monuments. In 1919, when these people were evacuated from the Purana Qila, they all went to Sarai Mughaliya and started living in these monuments and started practising agriculture. In 2007, the Aga Khan Trust started with the restoration program, and hence we now have what is the furnished Sundar Nursery.

The Sunder Nursery is Delhi’s first arboretum (botanical garden of trees). With 300 different varieties of trees, 30 varieties of butterflies, and 80 bird species, the Sunder Nursery is also an ecological abode. It also carries immense historical value, with one of the greatest Sarai passing through it, which unfortunately does not exist today except for its walls (walls of Azimganj serai). The serai would have served travellers, pilgrims, merchants, and craftsmen during the Mughal era, who would often pass by the city. We also see the attention to detail at the nursery, as during the restoration, artisans from Uzbekistan were called in, to teach the local artisans tile work. The karigars were trained by these artisans to work intricately on Mughal monuments. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture used archival photos, from which they were able to get an idea of the original state of these monuments. The Delhi quartzite stone and lime mortar were used in the restoration of these monuments, which have emerged as a delightful addition to the list of green spaces in Delhi.

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