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Chandigarh

This is the first post in what I intend to be a series of posts describing my travel experiences to various places.

My parents and I left for Chandigarh, from Delhi, by the Shatabdi Express. The journey wasn’t much to write home about except for the most premium passenger train in India being delayed at the start by almost 30 minutes and then Maa meeting one of her old classmates, after 34 years, at Ambala Cantt. (God bless FB! I’m sure Maa agrees 🙂 )

Chandigarh was supposed to be super cold but it seems the weather Gods were in a benevolent mood that day. Having reached in the afternoon, we had a few hours before darkness and cold took over the city. As always my father had a very carefully chalked out plan (yes for the last 22 years he has painstakingly spent months before the annual trip trying to get everything down perfect to the last detail and fit in that extra temple/museum/garden in the last remaining shred of free time) which included among its priority list the famous Rock Garden, Sukhna Lake and the Capitol Complex. Since the Capitol Complex had an administrative procedure for admission permission, we left that for the next day and concentrated on the other two.

The Rock Garden in Chandigarh is a one of its kind one. The name is actually a hark back to its origins. A man called Nek Chand began the garden as a private backyard project. Working in the government office in the daytime, he engaged in his hobby at night primarily collecting rocks and stones that looked like animals. This progressed into collecting refuse such as broken cutlery, electrical equipment, household items, etc. and then assembling them into shapes of animals and humans. By the time the authorities came to notice it, the Garden had acquired proportions that made it a borderline illegal structure. But in a progressive move the Government instead of raising it to the ground, gave Nek Chand an allowance to work full time on his creation and hire helpers as well.

Rock Garden, Chandigarh

Rock Garden, Chandigarh

Today the garden has metamorphosed into a huge affair with multiple exhibit areas. Solidified cement is reused to make the walls of a fort while broken bangles are used to make human figurines.

Sukhna Lake is the main water source for the city and is as such famous for only one reason – its one of the few man-made lakes in the country. Overall, the lake wasn’t very special with the usual mix of boating, pop corn and candy floss that you would find on probably every commercialised lake in the country.

The Capitol Complex is one of the major tourist attractions of the city. It boasts of having some of the best works of the city’s architect Le Corbusier. In my humble opinion, the chap was in love with his steel rule and pulled it out at the slightest hint. Every single building designed by him is essentially a collection of straight lines. Heck even the city is divided into perfectly quadrilateral sectors (oxymoron!) So all of them look like each other and a newbie in the city has as much chance of not losing his way as Wolverhampton have of winning the EPL this year.

Anyway moving on, the Capitol Complex comprises of three major buildings – the Legislative Assembly, the Secretariat and the High Court. The buildings serve the state governments of both Punjab and Haryana. As is obvious one can’t have willy nilly people trooping into these official buildings and so the administration has put in a measure to control access – tourists need a tourist pass to visit them.

The procedure begins with acquiring a request for grant of permission from the tourist liaison office. Now interestingly, the said office has no outpost anywhere near the Capitol Complex. Instead one must go to their tiny office nestled inside the ISBT in Sector 22. The staff, fortunately, are very helpful since evidently it is a daily affair for them and obtaining the request letter is a fairly painless process. Two copies of this letter are issued – one for the Secretariat and one for the High Court. The Capitol Complex is an auto ride away from the ISBT but you would have to walk a fair distance inside since the buildings are far apart and autos aren’t allowed past the entry gate.

At the High Court, one is required to actually enter the building to gain permission to enter it. Strange eh! Again the process is time consuming but otherwise pretty straight-forward and painless. Access thus gained allows you to photograph the view from the building’s terrace. It must be said that the panoramic view of the city and surrounding areas sure is nice. The chief attraction, however, lies behind the building. This is Le Corbusier’s Hand.

Le Corbusier's Hand, Chandigarh

Le Corbusier's Hand, Chandigarh

The “Hand” is basically mounted on a long pole and swivels around it depending on the direction of the wind (I had to go running off to unkempt areas just to get the picture at the proper angle). The symbol has been adopted as the official symbol of the city and can be seen prominently displayed on logos of the city’s various government bodies.

The Secretariat building has a visitors’ reception desk built outside the gates where on producing the request letter, the visitors are granted a photo pass to the building. Visitors are instructed to report to the CRPF control room at the entrance of the building. Here “Oscar Papa” (call code of the control room) would call down a “commander” from one of the patrol companies (“Julliet 8” for instance; so the call was actually “Oscar Papa to Julliet 8”). The “commander” is a young soldier with a firearm whose objective is to take you on a guided tour to the terrace-balcony of the building and bring you back, allowing you to take photographs at appropriate places and scrutinising every tiny movement you make. In the absence of a queuing system, visitors are quickly hustled into an elevator to the 10th floor. The terrace provides a panoramic view of the Capitol Complex that is dominated by the Legislative Assembly with the High Court in the background.

Legislative Assembly, Chandigarh

Legislative Assembly, Chandigarh

The more interesting view is on the other side though, where one can see one village that belongs to Punjab, one that belongs to Haryana as well as some land which is part of Chandigarh.

The later part of the day was reserved to experience the City of Gardens (not the Garden City please note!). Which, at the outset, let me say was frankly disappointing. Topiary Park was an apology to topiary as most structures had hardly any plants on them. Rose Garden had roses growing haphazardly. The only noteworthy garden was the Terrace Garden that was pretty well maintained.

Pansy in Terrace Garden, Chandigarh

Pansy in Terrace Garden, Chandigarh

Chandigarh overall was disappointing when it came to the city itself. While extremely neat and tidy, it was actually a task to find a rubbish bin in public areas often forcing considerate visitors to carry sweet wrappers in their pockets till they returned to their hotel rooms. The most charming quality of the city, in my opinion, is however the political situation. In a country where states are fighting amongst themselves over land and river alike, two states are amicably sharing a Union Territory as their official State Capital with neither staking claim to it or causing any inconvenience to the other. The other states of the country could do well to take a leaf out of the books of these two states and learn how to co-exist peacefully.

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Categories: Travel & Food
  1. 18 January 2011 at 21:05 IST

    Hmmm, when was this trip, may I ask? Wouldn’t I have loved to connect with you guys had I known you were passing Delhi?

    We have lived in Chandigarh for 4 years and loved every moment there. You could have visited the Cactus garden in Panchkula which is a little outside the city. It is very good. Sukhna lake is sadly dying though.

    • 19 January 2011 at 01:05 IST

      The trip was in December 2010. We also covered Amritsar, which incidentally is the topic of the next post. We were in Delhi for a couple of days but it was more touch and go then anything. Hardly spent time in Delhi as such.
      Really wanted to visit the Cactus Garden but we were in Chandigarh for less than 48 hours so couldn’t fit in the visit to Panchkula. Though I must say all other gardens except for Terrace Garden that we did visit were disappointing to say the least.

    • Pratibha Singh
      26 April 2011 at 08:04 IST

      I would not have wanted to go to the cactus garden. Have seen a good cactus collection. This one-man collection brought together from various parts of the world belonged to my father in law. His was the best n the largest in Pune.

  2. delhizen
    17 February 2011 at 15:51 IST

    Peace between the people of two states because they share a capital? You know how painful it is for the students in Chd? If Punjab Govt has a holiday the college came under Haryana. If Haryana Govt. declared a holiday we were under Punjab and if both declared a holiday, it came under UT Admin… 😦

    But I love it…! Its peaceful and nearly pollution free! I had written a post on it too, in case you would like to read

    http://wp.me/pyzGT-4W

    • 17 February 2011 at 15:56 IST

      I can understand the tremendous trouble the situation would have caused you as a student… after all we are all entitled to those “Govt. Holidays” aren’t we? 😉
      Anyway, the post has been written purely from a tourist’s point of view… Definitely people who live in the place have a very different take on things.

      • delhizen
        17 February 2011 at 17:01 IST

        yeah when I lived there I didn’t like it as much as I like it now 😉

        and because yr about page doesn’t have a comment section I am writing a feedback on your blog here ‘ update with new posts more often’!!!

        • 17 February 2011 at 17:15 IST

          I know I need to update the blog more often but the day job doesn’t allow enough time… plus I am also investing time in trying to experiment with photography so…

  1. 3 March 2011 at 19:35 IST

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