Professor Mohammad Shaheer was a Delhi based landscape architect with a practice that started in 1976. He passed away in 2015. Dr. Shaheer was educated at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi (Architecture 1970, Urban Design 1972) and the University of Sheffield (Landscape Architecture, Ford Foundation Fellow 1972-74). He worked for two years in Northern Ireland before returning to India, where he spent the next 26 years teaching landscape architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. His practice concentrated primarily on large-scale public projects and conservation work and he was one of the most respected landscape architects in the country.
During the latter half of his academic career he was head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture. Amongst his projects, his work at Sanskriti Kendra, Delhi, is well known; also interesting are the projects for the restoration of the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi (2001) and the restoration of the Baghe-Babur in Kabul (2006). One of Dr. Shaheer's final projects was the garden at Sunder Nursery in Delhi. He was a member in the committee of Delhi Urban Arts Commission. He was also the initiator and co-editor of a popular textbook Landscape Architecture in India: A Reader, published in 2013.
From the 14th century onwards, the
Nizamuddin area has seen a profusion of building activity. Serai’s, Tombs, Baoli’s,
mosques, lofty gateways, garden pavilions have been built along the River
Yamuna. In the 16th century the Grand Trunk road was built through
here as were several enclosed garden tombs, including that of Emperor Humayun. The
area stretching from Purana Qila as its northern edge and Barahpulla as its
southern edge – the first Mughal city of Delhi – was taken over for agriculture
by the 19th century.
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 – to propagate saplings for New Delhi’s
avenues and experiment with plants brought from other parts of the British
Following a 2007 MoU with the Central Public
Works Department, Archaeological Survey of India, South Delhi Municipal
Corporation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture commenced conservation and
landscape works at Sunder Nursery to create a 90 acre city park with distinct
heritage, ecological and nursery zones and required facilities.
Mohamad Shaheer, the landscape architect, designed
this new city park along a central axial spine around which gardens and
landscapes are arranged. From formal gardens to informal settings for families
to enjoy picnics, the park will offer a variety of recreational and cultural
venues. Water features, ponds and lakes are part of the master-plan, which
includes nursery beds, a flower showcase, arboretum, rose garden and orchards.
The masterplan aimed at achieving a truly urban scale, deriving inspiration
from the traditional Indian concept of congruency between nature, garden and
utility coupled with environmental conservation.
The grand central vista, over 500 m long, follows
the path of the 16th century Grand Trunk Road and connects the
entrance zone of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site with the 16th
century Azimganj Serai in the north. The gardens along the central vista,
inspired by Mughal traditions, 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
and a large maidan is available for
winter picnics. The lake at the northern edge of the central vista will be a
refuge for Delhi’s citizens with walks, seating and pavilions along the edges.
Landscape works at Sunder Nursery have been
supported by the Norwegian Agency of Foreign Affairs.
Sunder Nursery now serves as Delhi’s first
arboretum with AAA tree species, the largest for any Delhi 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.
With 20,000 saplings planted here over the past
decade, in lieu of the 400 truckloads of construction rubble removed from here,
80 species of birds have already returned to Sunder Nursery with many more
expected now that the water bodies are full. 60 species of butterflies have
also already made this park their home.
To serve as an educational resource on Delhi’s
ecology and attract the 500,000 school children who visit the adjoining
Humayun’s Tomb annually, a 20 acre micro-habitat zone created here showcases
plants of the ridge, riverine, marshy landscapes that were once found in Delhi.
Conservation of the 15 monuments that stand upon
the 90-acre Sunder Nursery- Batashewala Complex have undergone careful
conservation together with Humayun’s Tomb. This required persistent efforts to
free the 12-acres Batashewala Complex from encroachments.
The conservation works have drawn attention to
this being a unique ensemble of 16th century garden tombs. In 2016,
of these, UNESCO extended World Heritage designation to twelve structures
conserved by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture including six standing within the
Sunder Nursery – Lakkar Wala Burj, Sunder Burj, Sunderwala Mahal, Mirza
Muzzafar Hussain’s Tomb, Chotta Batashewala and the Unknown Mughal’s tomb.
AKTC has also sought the designation of the
Purana Qila – Humayun’s Tomb zone as an archaeological park. Together with the
Humayun’s Tomb and Sunder Nursery, the archaeological park would include the
Millennium Park, the National Zoological Park and the Purana Qila – thus over
600 acres in extent. It is hoped that in future visitor access would be
possible across these sites, thereby truly creating a ‘central park’ for Delhi.
The Sunder Nursery site has served as a plant
nursery for 100 years now. 20-acres of Sunder Nursery remain in active nursery
use of the Central Public Works Department. Spread across the northern and
western edge of the nursery, this would be the largest such facility in central
Delhi. Nursery facilities such as mist chambers are now being provided. A
‘garden house’ to showcase tropical and desert flora is also planned.
A specially built facility allows the display of
Sunder Nursery’s rich bonsai collection of over 400 plants. It will be an
endeavour to further expand this collection to include missing species.
As with the rest of 70-acres, the nursery beds have
an irrigation system and electricity network.
The facilities wing of the Humayun’s Tomb
Interpretation Centre is presently under construction in the Sunder Nursery and
will include lecture rooms, film screenings, food kiosks, souvenir shop and
multi-purpose halls for training programmes envisaged as part of the project. A sunken amphitheatre with the monuments in its
background has been created to hold cultural evenings and festivals celebrating
the local musical traditions. Though access to Sunder Nursery and Humayun’s
Tomb is limited on account of a narrow 16th century road leading to
the river, 300 parking spaces have been created both within and on the edges of