The first planned city of India, Chandigarh is a kaleidoscope of culture, art and architecture
One of the distinct things that I remember in my history book as a student was how the city of Chandigarh was described. Though I have little memory of anything else, this stayed in my mind – 'the most well-planned town of India.' Decades later when I finally made my way to the city, I found out why it wears that tag with a rare aplomb that needs to be appreciated.
The City Beautiful
One of the most organised cities in India, Chandigarh is a fine example of urban planning and modern architecture that has rightfully earned it the moniker 'The City Beautiful'. Credit of course for this is to French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who is known as a pioneer of modern architecture. And to know more, your first pit stop must be at the Pierre Jeanneret Museum. Pierre Jeanneret incidentally was the cousin of Le Corbusier who ensured that the latter's plans for the city could be converted to reality. The duo in fact worked closely together to ensure that the city is what it is today, and his residence of a decade has now been converted into a museum. An ode to the creative genius of Jeanneret, this house is a lesson in sustainable living and usage of local materials like clay lattice bricks, pebbles, exposed bricks and latticed work. There are living, dining and kitchen spaces on the lower level and a verandah and bedroom in the upper level. The design of the home allows natural light into every room and overlooks the garden as well.
One of the best natural sights in the city is at the Sukhna Lake, which is best visited for a stunning sunrise and is home to several migratory birds like cranes and Siberian ducks. The lake has boating facilities and on the other end is a long walking and jogging track that is patronised by locals and tourists alike. There are many benches on the opposite end of the lake as well and several information boards that explain the local topography as well the resident birds, aquatic vegetation and winter visitors. The tree lined avenue is strewn with colourful flowers and makes for several Instagram worthy images. You can also explore the city on a hop-on hop-off bus which will let you see the organised city and its different sectors. Chandigarh is incredibly green, and you will see its many trees like neem, amla, mango, flame of the forest and khair. Incidentally, before the city was planned it was a group of villages interspersed with farmlands and patches of woodlands.
Architect Le Corbusier, who designed the city has organised it the sectors which are in decreasing order of importance. Sector 1 is naturally the most important and happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. This is where there are Government buildings and houses the Secretariat, Palace of Assembly, High Court, Open Hand Monument, Geometric Hill and Tower of Shadows. The Open Hand Monument is the emblem of Chandigarh's Government as well and is indicative of an open attitude that the city has in terms of peace, prosperity and unity. Each of the structures is an architectural marvel and reflects the genius of Corbusier. A must see in Chandigarh is the Rock Garden, which has been designed by Nek Chand, a self-taught artist, who has ensured that he has put his passion for recycling and upcycling to good use. Collecting leftover stones, bangles, pebbles and mosaics of varied shapes and sizes that have been converted into sculptures and the place is set amidst manmade waterfalls and trees.
Off the beaten track
If you are looking to do something different, it is best to head outside the city for a rural experience. If you are here in winter, especially January, the fields are blooming with yellow mustard flowers and makes for a wonderful sight. This is where you can see sugarcane farms and how jaggery is made as well as sample some fresh sugar cane juice. The taste of warm and fresh jaggery is something unique and a must try as well. There are also several farms where you can try an authentic Punjabi meal in the form of a traditional thaali that will give you a good insight into the local cuisine. Chandigarh is a city that is true to its name is a city that is beautiful in the real sense of the word.