This time I take you to the first well-planned city of India, Chandigarh. Fondly known as the ‘City Beautiful’, Chandigarh is the manifestation of a dream that Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru envisaged and Le Corbusier executed.
As the capital of states of Punjab and Haryana, and the Union Territory of Chandigarh, it is reported to be the cleanest in India. The birth of this modern, youngest and vibrant city was an act of anguish and drama that took place at the time of partition of India and Pakistan. Lahore, the historical capital of Punjab was ceded to Pakistan and Chandigarh was conceived to be a symbol of India's freedom.
Chandigarh is located near the foothills of the shivalik range of the Himalayas in northwest India. It covers an area of approximately 44.5 sq m and shares its borders with the states of Haryana and Punjab.
My trip to Chandigarh, to begin with was a short one and yet many places had to be explored within a given time frame. However, despite the time constraints, I did manage to go out into the city and get an eyeful of Chandigarh.
My journey began with me boarding a direct flight to Chandigarh that took 2 hours and 15 minutes to be precise. A travel trip becomes a little easy when you have a few friends staying in the city you’re paying a visit. Staying over at a friend’s place helps you explore the city more conveniently as hunting around for the city attractions is not really required.
The time of May isn’t exactly the kind of month you would love to walk around the streets of North India. With the sun being directly overhead, shooting can get a little difficult in such scorching heat. Although driving on the roads of Mumbai where crossing perhaps a kilometer would mean reaching your destination in 10 minutes, Chandigarh promises the same in not more than 2 minutes!
On arriving in the city, I was quite keen on exploring the city along with a friend, by going through the list of the tourist itinerary that I had already prepared. Hence, we headed straight for the Rock Garden, which is a sculpture garden formed by Nek Chand, who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957 by clearing a little patch of jungle. The drive from the airport to the rock garden crosses an overall picturesque scene thanks to the scenic beauty of Chandigarh. There is not much variation in the scenery throughout the city, as most of Chandigarh is covered with beautiful trees on either side of the roads.
The Rock Garden is spread over an area of forty-acres and is completely built of industrial and home waste and discarded items. I was astonished to see so many stunning carvings out of waste materials and it was hard to believe how something so beautiful could come of things which we just throw in the trash. On our way around the garden, our guide, Parminder pointed out that Nek Chand’s work was illegal but he was able to hide it for eighteen years before it was discovered by authorities in 1975. By this time, it had grown into a 12-acre complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals. The Rock Garden is a popular tourist destination in Chandigarh and it was evident from the amount of crowd that I saw there.
The most striking thing about the city is the expanse of resplendent blue sky with the mountains in the backdrop. When you are approaching the city, you would see the jagged skyline of the Shivalik Hills looming large over the city and the faint image of an old temple dedicated to Goddess Chandi (15 km from Chandigarh) from which the city got its name.
Another tourist attraction that I came across was the Sukhna Lake. Located on Sector 1, the Sukhna Lake is an artificial reservoir. A popular place to hang out, one can expect to find residents of the city jogging or strolling along the banks. This 3 km long lake incidentally has Asia's longest water channel for rowing and yachting. With the boating options available during the day time, we decided to ride one ourselves during sunset, and indeed it was a pleasant ride.
The next day, I headed towards the famous market in sector 17. Known as the heart of the City Beautiful, Sector-17 provides you with huge selection for clothes, shoes, electronics, sports goods, books and anything an avid shopper seeks. Sector 17 is also a major centre for government offices and banks. Sector 17 is an ideal place to shop for someone who wishes to get a taste of the Punjabi culture.
After some good amount of shopping, I decided to get my breath back by having a typical Punjabi lunch at the Student Centre of Punjab University. One of the notable places to have lunch, the student centre, as the name suggests, is a famous hangout place for the young Chandigarh crowd.
Although Chandigarh is divided into 47 self-contained sectors, the sectors are built in such a way that the sum total of opposite sectors is divisible by 13. Chandigarh is also a very secure city. With the lowest crime rates in the country you can feel safe at any hour. Today, the city is home to more than 900,000 people living in harmonious conditions that are considered to be the best in the country.
Alongside the tourist attractions and the lush greenery, Chandigarh is also known for its prestigious institutes namely the Punjabi University, PEC University of Technology and PGIMER. Formely known as Punjab Engineering College, PEC University of Technology has seen notable alumni like Kalpana Chawla.
Before heading back for my flight to Mumbai, I stopped by at a local market in Sector 22 to pick up a few souvenirs. There I saw small shops selling wooden structures, clothings and various punjabi artifacts.
For a small city, this place swells with tourists all year round. A travel enthusiast will not regret paying a visit to Chandigarh at least once. Chandigarh blends in the rural and the urban parts of Punjab well enough to be called a developed city. However, I did enjoy pushing my car seat back and watching those canopies overlapping above me. I would love to head back in the near future to taste those Punjabi ‘Rajma Chawal’ again.