Chandigarh is a unique city in India, not only is it metropolitan, meaning that it is governed not by the state of Punjab in which is sits, but by the central government. It is one of the wealthiest cities in the subcontinent and home to one of the lowest crime rates in the country. The streets are clean, wide and lined with trees. Traffic is controlled and every couple of hundred metres is a kids park. But it’s no accident that the city is so structured.
Dreaming of a perfect city after independence, the architectural skills of a bloke called Le Corbusier was employed to design, from scratch the perfect, modern city.
He was given complete freedom to exercise his vision and expectations were high. Le Corbusier liked green and straight lines. And as a result Chandigarh is basically a massive square split into smaller squares (like a grid) each square is called a sector and each sector given a number. Within each sector is a park, shops, businesses and homes. It’s basically the ultimate prefabricated city and wouldn’t look out of place in the US.
Due to being massive the streets are quite chilled out, and due to the high standard of living there isn’t much bother in terms of being accosted for business. But the city isn’t tourist oriented, few tourists make it to Chandigarh and so hotels are expensive by Indian standards and it’s near impossible to get an auto. Well, unless you wanna pay through the ear for one.
Fixed Auto prices are 12 rupees for the first km and the 6 rupees for every km thereafter. Good luck. We wanted to go 3km and so being tourists expected to be quoted about 30 rupees, which I’d have paid. I almost passed out when I was told 200 rupees. A whopping 20 times more than it should have been. I soon realised it wasn’t a one off and every auto was quoting us ridiculous prices. The thing is, they would rather not have a customer than give you a fair price and so getting an auto in Chandigarh was ruled out. However, flying around you will see oversized autos, usually with other people inside. Hop in and its a flat rate 10 rupees wherever you want to go. The problem is, we noticed few spoke English and so would just bezz off mid conversation because they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
However, buses in Chandiagrh are an absolute dream, due to the grid like nature of the city and the flat fee of 5 rupees per journey (10 rupees on air con bus) if you have a map you can quickly navigate the city using interchanging journeys and junctions.
Chandigarh is home to one of the most bizarre tourist attractions in the country. Home to the world famous ‘rock garden’ Nek Chand, an Indian cum Pakistani cum Indian road inspector got a bit pissed off at all the rubbish that littered the newly developed Chandigarh back in the fifties.
He decided it would be a great idea to illegally collect the rubbish and make stuff out of it. When he got busted about 15 years after he had started the government decide to demolish his work. He pleaded with them to have a heart, and after seeing how awesome it looked the decided it was worth keeping and actually ended up paying him to develop his work further. Half a century later is a fascinating vision of one mans dream, determination and hard graft. A mere 20 rupees for adults and 5 for kids it cost about 30 pence total to get in, yet covering some 23 acres it is as good a value for money you will get in the whole of India.
It is completely bizarre and looks to me like Nek dropped some acid, and then went to work. It is a mixture between crazy, unbelievable and “he must have been off his face” so old is much of the stuff it has turned to rock, but its a maze of awesomeness and proof that if you dream you can achieve. Attracting around 100,000 visitors per year it is testament to one mans dream and has made Nek Chand highly regarded within the city and globally.
The temperature was in the high forties with about 90% humidity and so the cool mountain air had gone. We decided to walk much of the city and so made our way to the supposed world famous Chandigarh lake. Excited about taking some boats out to the centre and then getting some sleep whilst the kids did a bit of fishing I was up for it. The walk took around 20 minutes and when we got there it really did not surprise me to see the lake dried up. Seriously, India cannot even do a lake, in the middle of monsoon properly. Pissed off with yet another ‘India claim’ that turned out to be bull shit we headed to a mall in Sector 8 some 3 miles away. Of course the mall was just a shop and so we hit the bus station exhausted with the humidity.
I have intentionally split Chandigarh into two parts, we are coming to the end of our time in India and so in wrapping up this entry I put a few questions to the kids:
Me: What do you like most about India…
Charlie – The craziness of it, no one cares and its funny to be a part of it all. Some Indian people are so funny, and I love how people argue and then just walk away like nothing happened. Its funny too just standing around waiting for a bus and a camel will just walk past smiling thinking it is slick.
Abi – I love the Temples and some of the amazing places we have seen. I think its great that you can just do what you want and go where ever you want to go.
My reply – The diversity, culture, food, climate, scenery and the people. I love the genteel nature of the Indian people, and the fact that despite how the English pillaged the country we are welcomed everywhere with open arms, people cannot do enough for us. India to me feels like home and I love the warmth of the people. Also, the sense of national pride is something to behold. Indian’s don’t love being Indian because they swept the floor at the Olympics, or because they once ruled the world. They love being Indian because it’s who they are.
Me: What do you dislike about India the most…
Charlie – Scams.
Abi – When people get on the horn and no one is in front of them. It doesn’t make sense and when drivers just drive in front of you like you don’t exist.
My reply – The fact that no one in India has any consideration whatsoever for anyone else. i.e People deciding 3am is the perfect time to fix the loudest engine on earth to someone deciding he loves his horn at 4am. In many ways its the amazing thing about India, such self independence and the fact you can literally do want you want in an almost lawless way. But it grates after about a minute in the country.
Me: What is your favourite experience in India this year, other than paragliding:
Charlie – Hiring the motorbike and going up the mountains.
Abi – Same as Charlie.
My Reply – I knew Charlie would paraglide, but for me seeing Abi face her fears and paraglide was an amazing feeling. She was petrified of heights and decided to face it head on. I was immensely proud. But, if it isn’t paragliding then it would have to be walking to Old Manali after no sleep for about 48 hours. The walk of about 5km all up hill, in darkness and rain, playing X Factor was so intimate it gives me goose pimples even now. I am lucky enough to have travelled to more places than most people dream of. But the times spent against adversity with the kids, the hard times where we just get on with it – Those are the times I remember.
Me: What is your worst experience of India this year…
Charlie – The 9 hour power cut in Allahabad without a doubt, waiting in that train station was awful.
Abi – The bus up the mountain to Mcleod Ganj when it was monsoon and the bus was full of people, the windows were shut and it was proper hot.
My reply – The journey across the Northern Plains was three days of hard travelling, and as experienced a traveller as I am it really took every ounce of enthusiasm I could muster. It was India at it’s hardest and was as a direct result of my poor planning.
Me: Would you come to India again…
Charlie – Yes
Abi – Yes, can we?
My reply – In a heartbeat.