India - Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme
Aga Khan Development Network

Urban Renewal in Delhi India: The Humayun’s Tomb - Sunder Nursery - Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Project

The gardens of Humayun's tomb after restoration.Located in the heart of New Delhi, the Nizamuddin heritage precinct comprises the areas of Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, Sunder Nursery and the World Heritage Site of Humayun's Tomb.

Humayun's Tomb Conservation Links (September 2013)

The Humayun’s Tomb - Sunder Nursery - Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Project, in the heart of Delhi, India, combines a cultural heritage project with socioeconomic initiatives. The overall objective of the project is to improve the quality of life for people in the area while creating an important new green space for the people of Delhi and beyond.

Located in heart of New Delhi, the Nizamuddin heritage precinct comprises the areas of Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, Sunder Nursery and the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb. Named after the revered saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, who lived here in the early fourteenth century, the area has witnessed centuries of tomb building as it has been, and still is, considered auspicious to be buried near a saint’s grave.

Following the successfully restoration of the Humayun’s Tomb gardens in 2004, the Urban Renewal project commenced with the signature of a Public-Private Partnership memorandum of understanding on 11 July 2007. The non-profit partnership includes the Archaeological Survey of India, the Central Public Works Department, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The project will unify the three zones into an urban conservation area of considerable breadth and cultural significance while improving the quality of life for resident population.

The project integrates conservation, socioeconomic development and urban and environmental development objectives in consultation with local communities and relevant stakeholders.  Since its inception, the project has attracted additional partners and received co-funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Ford Foundation, World Monuments Fund, Sir Ratan Tata Trust, the Embassy of the United States, J.M. Kaplan Fund, amongst others.

For more information, please see the independent Nizamuddin Renewal site.

Heritage Conservation

Humayun’s Tomb Complex
Conservation works now being undertaken on the mausoleum of the Mughal emperor and associated buildings are based on exhaustive archival research and the highest standards of documentation. The plan is being implemented by master craftsmen using traditional tools, craft techniques and building materials. Significant conservation works that have been undertaken include the careful removal of over one million kilos of twentieth century concrete from the roof and major repairs to the dome. Restoration of the stone paving on the lower plinth required the manual lifting of 12,000 square meters of stone blocks, most weighing over 1000 kilos. Regular training programmes and workshops for conservation professionals and craftsmen from across India are being held.                            

Sunder Nursery Monuments
The 70-acre Sunder Nursery stands on the Mughal-era Grand Trunk Road.  It is home to several monuments of national importance. As with the Humayun’s Tomb conservation, works were preceded by the preparation of a detailed Conservation Plan. Principal works undertaken include ongoing conservation of the unique sixteenth century Sundarwala Mahal to reconstruct recently collapsed portions and the restoration of the unprotected eighteenth century Mughal-era garden pavilion. Sundarwala Burj, Lakkarwala Burj and Azimganj Serai also require conservation works, which are now planned.

The conservation of monuments and the rehabilitation of open spaces in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti includes the reconstruction of a fourteenth century baoli (step-well).The conservation of monuments and the rehabilitation of open spaces in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti includes the reconstruction of a fourteenth century baoli (step-well).Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
The conservation of monuments and the rehabilitation of open spaces in the Basti aim to restore its intrinsic cultural, historical and spiritual significance. Conservation works commenced following the partial collapse of the fourteenth century baoli (step-well). Conservation works benefited from the use of state-of-art technology, including Ground Penetrating Radar Survey, High Definition 3D laser scans and geotechnical assessments. The collapsed portions were rebuilt as per the original construction techniques.  Prior to conservation works, a dwelling unit over the collapsed portion needed to be dismantled and alternate accommodation built for the family. In keeping with the requests of the local community, seven centuries of accumulations were manually removed from the baoli.

At the eastern edge of the Basti stand two important tombs: the unique and striking Mughal tomb known as Chaunsath Khamba and the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, South Asia’s most renowned poet.  Together, they form one of the largest open spaces in the Basti. Landscape works at Ghalib’s tomb have enhanced the historic character and restored dignity to his resting place. The serene and tranquil courtyard, separated from the street by stone lattice screens, will now serve as an ideal locale for mushairas.

AKTC's Urban Renewal project includes education and health care initiatives in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.AKTC's Urban Renewal project includes education and health care initiatives in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.Socioeconomic Initiatives

At Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, the project combines conservation with a major socioeconomic development effort that is implemented through a community-centred, collaborative approach.  The objective is to improve environmental conditions and strengthen essential urban services with interventions in core areas of education, health and sanitation. All programmes commenced following a quality of life assessment study.

Initiatives in education follow a life cycle approach: the early childhood care and development programme aims to facilitate the holistic development of children and facilitate their transition to school. The major effort towards primary education improvement has included a refurbishment of the MCD Primary school, introducing arts education, greater parent interaction and improved school management. Significant learning support is being provided to senior students. Life Skills education is offered to all project beneficiaries. The Vocational Training programmes for young people include a career development centre (NIIT Institute of Technology) and the teaching of the English language (British Council) as a skill needed for employment.

The health interventions in the Basti include upgrading the MCD Polyclinic to ensure better diagnosis and treatment, reduce referrals and build the capacity of a community health outreach team for preventive health care. A Pathology Laboratory has been set up; over 11,500 tests have been conducted on 3675 patients. The initiative has included additional specialist consultations in gynaecology, ENT and Eye care.

Urban Improvements
In 2009, a physical mapping/survey of the Basti was undertaken to document the area with the intention of planning sensitive urban improvements. The survey has led to the preparation of street improvement plans which will be implemented by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The parks along the western edge of the basti will be landscaped to fulfil the needs expressed by the resident community.  There will be earmarked parks for women, children, cricket, community functions and weddings. The newly built public toilets - a key intervention for urban renewal in the basti - have improved access to hygienic sanitation for the residents.  They are now community managed.

Cultural Revival Initiative
The “living culture” of the area is a unique blend of secular and inter-faith elements that encompass performing arts, classical music, poetry and traditional crafts. Steps are being taken to revive and revitalize these components by making them viable in a contemporary milieu. This is also where Amir Khusrau started Qawwali music traditions in the thirteenth century.  His legacy is being highlighted at festivals, discussions and through recordings. Efforts are also underway to build awareness of the value of the monuments through activities like theatre, craft workshops and heritage walks. Women tutored in the traditional craft of paper cutting now augment family incomes with sales of their products.

Environmental Development:  Sunder Nursery

The project aims to enhance and showcase the ecological and built heritage of the 70-acre Sunder Nursery. A nursery was originally established here in the 1912 when the imperial Delhi complex was being planned for propagating and testing tree species from across India and overseas. An important aim for the development would be to creatively combine monuments, forest and nursery functions within one interactive experience. The landscape master plan aims to create a major landscape space of truly urban scale, deriving inspiration from the traditional Indian concept of congruency between nature, garden and utility coupled with environmental conservation.  The nursery will also provide a major new green space for public recreation.

An arboretum exhibiting the flora of the Delhi region is a central objective of the landscape plan. This would recreate various micro-habitat zones of the national capital region, showing the richness and versatility of the native or naturalised flora; these include kohi (hill), khadar (riverine), bangar (alluvial) and dabar (marshy) zones, which are all representative of Delhi’s fast disappearing biodiversity.
Aligned with the large entrance plaza of Humayun’s tomb, Sunder Nursery will feature a spectacular pedestrian Central Axis conceived in three parts, as a progression of formally arranged gardens around the heritage structures and merging at its end with the proposed arboretum and water gardens. The park will also feature mist chambers and dedicated public spaces for flower shows, exhibitions and cultural events.

Restoration of the Gardens of Humayun's Tomb (completed 2004)

Walkways after restoration.Main water channel and pool after restoration.Main water channel and pool after restoration.The city of Delhi holds some of the most important sites and monuments from the Mughal period - among them Humayun’s Tomb and Gardens, now part of a densely built residential district of the Indian capital. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Indian independance, AKTC decided to sponsor the restoration of Humayun’s Tomb Gardens - a four-part paradise garden (chahâr-bâgh), where the gardens are divided into quarters by raised causeways. The quadrants are divided, in turn, into eight plots, each with walkways. At the intersection of these walkways are octagonal or rectangular pools. They represent the earliest existing example of the Mughal garden tomb and an important public open space.

This first privately funded restoration of a World Heritage Site in India was completed in March 2003 through the joint efforts of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), under the aegis of the National Culture Fund. The objective of the project was to restore the gardens, pathways, fountains and water channels surrounding Humayun’s Tomb according to the original plans of the builders. The preservation of historic elements required archival and archaeological research, as well as close attention to the living and renewable landscape elements. Site works encompassed a variety of disciplines, including archaeological excavation, the application of conservation science and hydraulic engineering.

The restoration project included the following main elements: reinstating the walkways and conserving the edging stones, repair, extension and reactivation of the irrigation system, establishing water sources for the water channels and irrigation system, including a pump station for a water-recycling system, conserving, repairing and rebuilding the water channel system, re-leveling the planted zones and revitalising them with species and arrangements that conform to the customs and patterns of Mughal sources.These activities were backed up with support for research that informs the conservation and restoration process, contributes to the development of educational materials for use in schools of architecture, conservation and heritage management, as well as for visitors to the Tomb. As part of the implementation process, a Management Plan was established to ensure proper long-term maintenance.

The completed restoration of Humayun’s Tomb Gardens returns a significant amount of enhanced green space to the city and the surrounding community, with its constituent parts returned to their historically authentic format. The project is expected to increase interest in and visitation to the Tomb, the Gardens and the associated visitor facilities (including parking), which together form a large complex next to a major urban highway in Delhi. In serving the local residents of Nizamuddin district as a community green area on one level, and the population of Greater Delhi as well as tourists on another level, Humayun’s Tomb and Gardens has rekindled interest in the rich history of Mughal rule.