Chandigarh is an anomaly and proud! Its short history is one of innovation and creativity, standing out from the expectations of an Indian city. Relax, learn, wonder and eat your way around this cosmopolitan delight.
Chandigarh is a city of pride, for its prosperity and modernity in comparison to other Indian cities. It is the state capital of both Punjab and Haryana and has a unique history. In 1947, Partition placed Lahore, Punjab’s main city, in the territory of Pakistan. In need of a capital city for Punjab, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister, saw an opportunity for his dream town to be built. His founding principles of the new city were to be ‘symbolic of freedom of India unfettered by the traditions of the past… an expression of the nation’s faith in the future.’ Chandigarh then came to be a product of Nerhu’s vision.
Chandigarh’s design went to the controversial Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Corbusier planned a city of order and ease. Sweeping boulevards, huge grand civic buildings, peaceful lakes and lush green spaces. The city is separated into self-contained sectors, which Le Corbusier imagined as organs of a living organism. In his vision, the Capital Complex in the north is the “head”, the shopping area in sector 17 the “heart”, the green open spaces “lungs” and the highly organised network of roads act as the “circulatory system.” This innovative dream for a city makes Chandigarh an enthralling place to visit.
A breath of fresh air best describes the feeling of visiting Chandigarh during a trip exploring India. Compare it to other Indian cities, it’s often deemed cleaner, safer and greener and the locals take honour in this and are eager to share it with you. Its past may not delve as deep, but it still has an abundance on offer. Boasted to be the second most-visited tourist spot in India, (after the Taj Mahal), is Chandigarh’s Rock Garden.The Nek Chand Rock Garden is another product of one man’s fantasy. In 1957, Nek Chand embarked on a dream of turning waste into beauty and began building sculptures out of anything and everything he could find. The rock garden would eventually house over 2,000 statues and cover an incredible 25-acres. Chand began his work in secrecy, outside his full time job as a roads inspector, he worked stealthily in a forest clearing on his garden fantasy. When it was discovered many years later, it was under mass threat due to him illegally building on city land. Popularity and intrigue saved him. Enough support gathered and Chand was given a salary to direct the project of the rock park full time.
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Chand began increasing the size of his statues, and employed many labourers to help him. This park, or waste wonderland, is formed of broken crockery, glass bangles, bottles, bicycles, tubes, cooking pots, smashed up bathrooms and anything else you could imagine. Sadly, at the age of 90, Nek Chand passed away but his visionary transformations of waste to beauty live on in his memory. Chand became a national treasure, featuring on a postage stamp in 1982 and being invited to travel the world and exhibit his creativity. Delve into his astonishing mind and wander the Rock Garden, spotting monkeys, queens, elephants, camels, mosaic chambers, waterfalls, and amphitheatre and even a model Punjabi village. It’s a surreal experience of the potential of the creative mind of one spectacular man.
A UNESCO heritage site, the Capital Complex in Sector 1 is next on the list. Located in the heart of the city, the Capitol Complex is Le Corbusier’s finest work and is the seat of the government of the States of Punjab and Haryana. It comprises of three important buildings: the Secretariat, the High Court and the Legislative Assembly, each separated by grand piazzas. The backdrop of the Shivalik hills adds to the atmosphere and serenity of the setting. A tour is necessary if you wish to see the Capitol Complex, and can be organised at the tourist office for free. The tour explores the High Court museum and showcases original Le Corbusier sketches as well as a signed copy of the Indian constitution. In the centre of the complex stands The Open Hand, a giant metallic sculpture representing the city’s principle of ‘open to give, open to receive.’
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Characterised by tranquil green spaces, Chandigarh has endless opportunities for chilling out. Sukhna lake is an artificial lake purpose built for the relaxation of the city residents. It has ornamental gardens, a fairground, a beautiful promenade, paddle boats, and it makes a for a peaceful setting to watch the Indian sunset. Alternatively, head to Leisure Valley, an 8km long park comprising of a series of theme gardens. It’s home to Asia’s largest rose garden as well as other fragrant botanical gardens and even a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Following a day in the park, try and bag tickets to one of the cricket matches at PCA Mohali and experience the sport Indian’s do best.
Shopping at Sector 17 holds a high place on the Chandigarh things to do. If each sector is defined by its own unique character, the Sector 17’s is splashing the cash. The market holds a blend of top stores to little boutiques, and from big labels to handicraft items. A little less atmospheric, but does the job if a day shopping is what you’re after, you could also visit the Elante Mall. The second largest shopping mall in North India, the Elante covers over 20 acres and houses every shop imaginable across its four floors. It screams modern India.
Indian cuisine does not require and introduction. The spices and flavours inspire world-wide cooking and a trip to India must centre on filling your belly. The main food in Chandigarh is the Punjabi cuisine which is spicy and uses lots of oil or ghee. Another main feature of Punjabi cuisine is the extensive use of butter, cream and cheese, as well as the additional lassi to accompany a meal. Popular delicacies inclue the Sarson ka Saag (curry with mustard leaves), the Palak Paneer, Chicken tikka dishes and many rotis and naans. Don’t forget to shift between street-eats and high-end restaurants and try new foods! One of the best places to eat in Chandigarh is the Night Food Street in Sector 14- satisfy your mid-night munchies there.
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Chandigarh is a city of uniqueness. What are your higlights? Let us know in the comments below.
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