Chandigarh: A Travelogue

Chandigarh is the capital of two prominent north Indian states – Punjab and Haryana, besides being a Union Territory. It is one of the extremely few planned cities in the country and is also known as the City Beautiful. Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru had very progressive ideas for national development and, on becoming the first Prime Minister, wanted to build a city that would serve as a symbol of modern India in appearance and infrastructure.The French architect Le Corbusier was engaged to design the city and it would be hard to disagree that he came up with a masterpiece.

For somebody coming here for the first time, the contrast with most of the rest of the country cannot be missed and hits you immediately as you enter the city – good, wide roads with pavements and street lights, in some cases, adjoined with green lawns, trees and cycling tracks. That the landscape has not changed drastically even after well over half a century shows how foresightfully it was planned and that planning has helped preserve the character of the city. Even though it was futuristic in planning, this is not a city of skyscrapers. In fact, you will hardly see any building higher than three stories.

The modern architecture of the city seamlessly blends with the natural scenic beauty around Sukhna Lake. An irresistible possibility like lazily drifting on a pedal boat watching the quacking ducks swim by can be made a reality any day. Many “healthy” and well endowed Punjabis eagerly tread the very well maintained walkway around the lake with a determined look about them to burn as many calories as possible everyday. If you do not find that amusing, a look at their diet will certainly make you chuckle, or maybe drool. They not only love to eat, but also love to forcefully feed guests, and their dining habits are characterized by a complete inability to refrain themselves from devouring parathas dripping with butter and dal topped with a thick layer of ghee, sometimes in the lake cafeteria itself.

Next door is the famous Rock Garden, spread over several acres, home to several hand made structures in the shapes of animals and humans. It may not be surprising to pass through a door and suddenly find yourself in a courtyard with an assembly of rows of elephants, horses and monkeys. As you pass through different enclosures, enjoying the waterfalls and caves in between, a sudden revelation blows your mind. The entire complex has been made from waste material! On closer inspection, the different shapes reveal broken cups, glasses, bangles, electrical switches, tyres, bathroom fittings that they are made up of and you are forced to admire the ingenuity of Nek Chand, the creator of Rock Garden.

Driving in Chandigarh is a gratifying experience with great roads and virtually no traffic jams. Another unique feature of the city is its well groomed roundabouts at nearly every intersection of main roads that look like beautifully landscaped and manicured little groves. The city is peppered with many other parks with colourful flowers including the Rose Garden, that boasts of over 17,000 plants including 1600 varieties of rose that can be viewed in full bloom during the annual two day Rose Festival in the month of February. The Sector 17 shopping complex is the main commercial center even though all sectors have their own market areas. It remains crowded in the day due to its banks and offices, both government and private, and in the evening is visited by youngsters and families, especially on weekends, thanks to a battery of showrooms, restaurants and a spacious area to stroll under the sky.

For all its sophistication, Chandigarh still does not have a very active airport, with just a handful of flights from Jammu, Delhi and Mumbai only, and the best ways to reach are by ground. However, the road and train connectivity is excellent. NH22, that connects the city to Delhi is one of the very best in the country and so tempting to drive on, that many cover the ~250km stretch in just three hours, which is marginally less than the super fast Shatabdi Express. A luxury Volvo will take about an hour more. You may want to consider carrying appropriate clothes depending on which time of the year you are planning to visit. The weather can be quite unforgiving with the annual temperature fluctuating from over 45 deg C in May/June to a chilling 1 deg C in December/January.

There are other places to visit nearby like Kasauli and Simla, but Chandigarh itself will not be easy to forget long after you leave.

Nakul Dhawan

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