On some days the haze that settles low across Delhi, blurs even the outlines of the city’s iconic monuments. The familiar shape of India Gate, for instance, with its etched sandstone bricks, is hardly visible in the grey-brown smog.
Delhi-ites seem despondent about pollution and lack of action in their city, with Green Clean Delhi signs along main roads painting an inaccurate picture of the quality of air here.
But in the jumbled hub of central old Delhi, the newest addition to the cities’ green, clean inspired movement, the Sunder Nursery, has quickly drawn attention.
Sunder translates as ‘beautiful’ in Hindi - though the name derives from the Sunder Burj tomb located in the grounds. Coupled with 16th century Mughal architecture, the grounds - also known as the Delhi Heritage Gardens - are a spacious and refreshing reprieve to neighbouring Nizamuddin and the oft poor air quality.
After restorations commenced in 2007, the nursery reopened to the public as a heritage park in February last year. And with its first anniversary here, the sprawling gardens are now home to over 300 tree varieties and have become Delhi's first Arboretum.
It was during British rule that the nursery came to be, so as a tribute to its natural bio-diversity, the designation stuck. In fact, what took shape as a heritage project to restore the tombs and prayer halls of the Mughal Empire has become Delhi’s own Hyde Park - of sorts.
Complete with Persian inspired waterways, a small central lake and kids play area, the walk through the gardens is a surprising journey through Delhi’s past and its future. Without expansive green belts and open gardens and nurseries, (yes, you can buy plants here too), increasing development in Delhi will keep on choking the city. So sanctuaries like this make a difference.
The Mughals were the first to blend symmetrical waterways into their garden designs. The tomb that heralds the running water was built in the 16th century with an interior hand painted in soft terracotta and sandstone.
Moments away is the fragrant rose garden, with patches of rose varieties gifted from visiting ambassadors. There’s also a sunken lotus pond, marble arch and willows that bend lightly into the lake. It’s about as far away from central Delhi as you can imagine and as close to the story of Delhi as you can get.
Adjacent to the Heritage Gardens is Delhi’s sixth city, where Fort Pirana Qila stands proudly alongside Humayan’s Tomb, affectionately known as the other Taj Mahal. It even shares a stone wall with Delhi Zoo, which is itself over 175 acres of wilderness.
As the gardens near their first anniversary, at the end of winter in India, the advent of spring will be a most picturesque time to visit.
All images Bhanu Uttam
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