Indian artist and secret gardener dies aged 90

Indian visitors in the Rock Garden, built by self-taught Indian artist Nek Chand Saini over the course of 18 years, in Chandigarh. (AFP)

Nek Chand, an Indian artist who toiled in secret for nearly two decades to create a sculpture garden that later became a top tourist attraction, died Friday aged 90.

Chand died in hospital in the northern city of Chandigarh after suffering a heart attack, his son Anuj Saini told AFP by phone.

His works are on display in museums around the world, but he is best known for creating the Chandigarh Rock Garden - a 20-acre (eight-hectare) garden filled with sculptures made from the rubble of the city's construction.

Chand, who had no formal education and worked as a road inspector in the new city, secretly cleared large areas of forest, transforming the landscape with his sculptures.

"I started building this garden as a hobby" in the 1950s, he said in a rare interview with AFP in December.

"I had many ideas, I was thinking all the time... I saw beauty and art in what people said was junk."

His project was finally discovered in 1976, when it was formally inaugurated, and it now draws thousands of visitors a day.

"He passed away a little after midnight. He had been in hospital for the past few days due to ill health," said Saini.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes, saying Chand would "always be remembered for his artistic genius".

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