CHANDIGARH, LE CORBUSIER AND THE ROCK GARDEN OF NEK CHAND.

CHANDIGARH

Chandigarh (250 kilometers from New Delhi) is the capital of two states — Haryana and the Punjab and is India's celebrated planned city. Designed by the famed, Swiss-born, French architect Le Corbusier, it was established by Nehru as a replacement for the former capital of the Punjab, Lahore, which was partitioned to Pakistan. It is named after the Hindu goddess Chandi Devi, who is honored with a white-domed temple on a hill northeast of the city, on the edge of the Shivalik Hills.

Located near the hills of Himachal Pardesh, Chandigarh sprawls over 114 square kilometers and is home to about 1 million people and is divided into 47 sectors with neatly laid out roads, parks, building, boulevards and streets lined rows of trees and shrubs. Chandigarh was the center of the Green Revolution and in recent years has tried to reinvent itself as the “technology hub of northern India.” The city has put out glossy brochures and offered tax breaks to lure investors. It was the site of outbreaks of violence between Sikhs and the Indian army in the 1980s and 90s.

Chandigarh is known for its large sweeping avenues, the serene Sukhna Lake, sprawling parks, spectacular contemporary buildings, charming tree-lined boulevards, beautifully landscaped gardens and the famous Rock Garden. Envisioned and designed in the 1950s by Le Corbusier, the major buildings of the city are marvels of modern design. The city is neatly divided into sectors, each a self-contained pocket with local markets, schools, parks and other infrastructural facilities. Chandigarh is a young, prosperous, vibrant and extremely pedestrian-friendly. Most visitors to the city begin by exploring Sector 17 for its shops and restaurants and Sector 22 for its hotels. Located at the foothills of the majestic Shivalik range and the Himalayas, the city has a pleasant climate. The region is famous because of the fossil remains of a wide variety of aquatic and amphibian life that have been found there. Millions of years ago the region was submerged under a large lake and marshes.

Getting There: By Air: Around 317 kilometers away is the Jolly Grant Airport near Dehradun. Flights from several major Indian cities land here. By Road: Excellent well-maintained highways connect Chandigarh to all nearby places. There are several state-run buses as well as luxury coaches to and from nearby cities. By Train: Chandigarh has a terminus of the Northern Railway connecting it with all the important cities in the country.

Le Corbusier’s Buildings: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. According to UNESCO: “Chosen from the work of Le Corbusier, the 17 sites comprising this transnational serial property are spread over seven countries and are a testimonial to the invention of a new architectural language that made a break with the past. They were built over a period of a half-century, in the course of what Le Corbusier described as “patient research”. The Complexe du Capitole in Chandigarh (India), the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (Japan), the House of Dr Curutchet in La Plata (Argentina) and the Unité d’habitation in Marseille (France) reflect the solutions that the Modern Movement sought to apply during the 20th century to the challenges of inventing new architectural techniques to respond to the needs of society. These masterpieces of creative genius also attest to the internationalization of architectural practice across the planet. [Source: UNESCO]

“Chosen from the work of architect Le Corbusier that survives in eleven countries on four continents, the sites in seven countries on three continents, implemented over a period of half a century, for the first time in the history of architecture attest to the internationalization of architectural practice across the entire planet. The seventeen sites together represent an outstanding response to some of the fundamental issues of architecture and society in the 20th century. All were innovative in the way they reflect new concepts, all had a significant influence over wide geographical areas, and together they disseminated ideas of the Modern Movement throughout the world. Despite its diversity, the Modern Movement was a major and essential socio-cultural and historical entity of the 20th century, which has to a large degree remained the basis of the architectural culture of the 21st century. From the 1910s to the 1960s, the Modern Movement, in meeting the challenges of contemporary society, aimed to instigate a unique forum of ideas at a world level, invent a new architectural language, modernize architectural techniques and meet the social and human needs of modern man. The series provides an outstanding response to all these challenges.

“Some of the component sites immediately assumed an iconic status and had world-wide influence. These include the Villa Savoye, as an icon for the Modern Movement; Unité d’habitation in Marseille as a major prototype of a new housing model based on a balance between the individual and the collective; Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut for its revolutionary approach to religious architecture; the Cabanon de Le Corbusier as an archetypal minimum cell based on ergonomic and functionalist approaches; and the Maisons de la Weissenhof-Siedlung that became known worldwide, as part of the Werkbund exhibition.

“Other sites acted as catalysts for spreading ideas around their own regions, such as Maison Guiette, that spurred the development of the Modern Movement in Belgium and the Netherlands; the Maison du Docteur Curutchet that exerted a fundamental influence in South America; the Musée National des Beaux-Arts de l’Occident as the prototype of the globally transposable Museum of Unlimited Growth which cemented ideas of the Modern Movement in Japan; and the Capitol Complex that had a considerable influence across the Indian subcontinent, where it symbolized India’s accession to modernity.

“Many of the sites reflect new architectural concepts, principles, and technical features. The Petite villa au bord du Léman is an early expression of minimalist needs as is also crystallized in the Cabanon de Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier’s Five Points of a New Architecture are transcribed iconically in Villa Savoye. The Immeuble locatif à la Porte Molitor is an example of the application of these points to a residential block, while they were also applied to houses, such as the Cité Frugès, and reinterpreted in the Maison du Docteur Curutchet, in the Couvent Sainte-Marie-de-la-Tourette and in the Musée National des Beaux-Arts de l’Occident. The glass-walled apartment building had its prototype in the Immeuble locatif à la Porte Molitor.

“A few sites inspired major trends in the Modern Movement, Purism, Brutalism, and a move towards a sculptural form of architecture. The inaugural use of Purism can be seen in the Maisons La Roche et Jeanneret, Cité Frugès and the Maison Guiette; the Unité d’Habitation played a pioneering role in promoting the trend of Brutalism, while the Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut and the Capitol Complex promoted sculptural forms.

“Innovation and experimentation are reflected in the independent structure of concrete beams of the Maisons de la Weissenhof-Siedlung, while pre-stressed reinforced concrete was used in the Couvent de La Tourette. In the Capitol Complex, concern for natural air-conditioning and energy saving led to the use of sunscreens, double-skinned roofs, and reflecting pools for the catchment of rainwater and air cooling.

Standardisation is seen in the Unité d’Habitation de Marseille, a prototype intended for mass production, while the Petite villa au bord du Lac Léman set out the standard for a single span minimal house, and the Cabanon de Le Corbusier presented a standard, minimum unit for living. The modulor, a harmonic system based on human scale, was used for the exterior spaces of the Complexe du Capitole, which reflect the silhouette of a man with raised arm.

“The idea of buildings designed around the new needs of ‘modern man in the machine age’ is exemplified in the light new workspaces of Manufacture à Saint-Dié, while the avant-garde housing at the Cité Frugès, and the low-rent Maisons de la Weissenhof-Siedlung, demonstrate the way new approaches were not intended for a tiny fraction of society but rather for the population as a whole. By contrast, the Immeuble Clarté was intended to revolutionise middle class housing. The Athens Charter, as revised by Le Corbusier, promoted the concept of balance between the collective and the individual, and had its prototype in the Unité d’habitation, while the Capitol Complex, the focal point of the plan for the city of Chandigarh, is seen as the most complete contribution to its principles and to the idea of the Radiant City.”

The site is important because: 1) The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier represents a masterpiece of human creative genius, providing an outstanding response to certain fundamental architectural and social challenges of the 20th century. 2) The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier exhibits an unprecedented interchange of human values, on a worldwide scale over half a century, in relation to the birth and development of the Modern Movement. 3) The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier revolutionized architecture by demonstrating, in an exceptional and pioneering manner, the invention of a new architectural language that made a break with the past. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier marks the birth of three major trends in modern architecture: Purism, Brutalism and sculptural architecture. The global influence reached by The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier on four continents is a new phenomenon in the history of architecture and demonstrates its unprecedented impact.

4) The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier is directly and materially associated with ideas of the Modern Movement, of which the theories and works possessed outstanding universal significance in the twentieth century. The series represents a “New Spirit” that reflects a synthesis of architecture, painting and sculpture. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier materializes the ideas of Le Corbusier that were powerfully relayed by the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) from 1928. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier is an outstanding reflection of the attempts of the Modern Movement to invent a new architectural language, to modernize architectural techniques, and to respond to the social and human needs of modern man. The contribution made by the Architectural Work of Le Corbusier is not merely the result of an exemplary achievement at a given moment, but the outstanding sum of built and written proposals steadfastly disseminated worldwide through half a century.”

Chandigarh Food And Cuisine

Sarson da saag is a dish that is made using mustard leaves, along with spinach, green chillies and spices. A generous dollop of butter adds richness to the dish that is best served with makke di roti (Indian bread made using corn flour). Shahi Paneer is delicious dish originated from the Mughlai cuisine. The word 'shahi' means into royal. The delicious curry of shahi paneer is made with soft chunks of paneer (cottage cheese) that are cooked in a gravy made using tomatoes, cream and spices. It is best served with naan or tandoori roti (Indian breads) or basmati rice.

Bhuna Gosht is richly flavored traditional mutton curry made with a host of spices and yoghurt. The gosht is cooked for a long time to ensure the flavors are well infused into the meat. The word 'bhuna' in Asian cooking means cooking the curry until it is reduced and becomes thick. This way it gets more easily coated to the meat, which appears brown in color. Served with jeera (cumin) rice, bhuna ghost makes a great option for lunch or dinner.

Butter Chicken, also known as murgh makhani, is a delectable staple of most non-vegetarians in the country. It is made using puréed tomatoes, spices and dried fenugreek leaves. Dollops of butter and fresh cream, along with a pinch of sugar, give the chicken a deep and balanced flavor. The curry is best enjoyed with butter or garlic naan (traditional Indian breads). It is said that the dish finds its origins at the Moti Mahal, Darya Ganj, in Delhi. The story goes that in the 1950s, the place was already popular among tandoori chicken lovers. The cooks at the restaurant were in a habit of recycling the left-over chicken juices by adding butter and tomato to them. Once, this sauce was tossed with pieces of tandoori chicken by accident. Thus, was born the decadent butter chicken that sets mouths drooling all over the world. It is creamy with thick, red tomato gravy and tastes slightly sweet. The dish almost melts in the mouth as the juice percolates into the chicken pieces making them juicy and tender.

Le Corbusier Buildings in Chandigarh

Capital Complex in the northern end of Chandigarh features the High Court, Legislative Assembly, Open Hand Monument, Geometric Hill and the Tower of Shadows. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 under the Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement, the Complexe du Capitole, in Chandigarh, is a must-visit. It is set against the mighty Shivalik range and almost competes with the mountains for grandeur. The complex includes three distinctive masterpieces of Le Corbusier (architect of the city of Chandigarh): the Secretariat, the High Court and the Legislative Assembly. These buildings are separated by large piazzas that provide relief from the towering constructions. It is within the capitol complex that the large and formidable Open Hand monument is situated. A part of the capitol complex, this monument is the largest and tallest of the three edifices.

Secretariat is shaped like a concrete-slab. Eight storeys tall, it was built during 1953-59 and has the distinctive brise-soleil-louvered screen of deeply sculptured two-storey porticos in the center. The cafeteria, which is also a part of the building, has been established on the terrace and gives a splendid view of the city. It has been designed like an art object in itself.

Rotating Open Hand Monument was designed by Le Corbusier. It is part of Sector 1 of the capitol complex but has an imposing presence of its own. It is the official emblem of Chandigarh and has become almost synonymous with the city in popular imagination. The hand is raised to a height of 85 feet and weighs around 50 tonne. It is planted in a trench, which is called the Trench of Consideration. The monument is created out of metal sheets and is an excellent example of the avant-garde art of the period. The hand, with its palm spread wide, resembles a weathercock and rotates in the direction of the wind. Many say that the shape also resembles that of a dove, which heightens the symbolic meaning to include peace and happiness. It can be seen as an artistic representation of the belief that there are always two ways of looking at anything. Another way in which this sculpture-like monument can be interpreted is that one should always be open to both giving as well as receiving.

Government Museum And Art Gallery is a unique museum that traces the Indian history of partition, it is noted for its paintings, sculptures and artefacts. You can also find fascinating exhibits of Rajasthani and Pahari miniature paintings. The building of the museum was designed by Le Corbusier. The museum is located in the center of the city and offers panoramic views of the Shivaliks.

Parks and Zoos in Chandigarh

Chandigarh is known for the serene Sukhna Lake, sprawling parks, and beautifully landscaped gardens. Worth checking are the spectacular the Rose Garden, with nearly 1,600 varieties of roses on 30 acres of beautifully landscaped land; Sukhna Lake, where sports enthusiasts can enjoy boating and waterskiing; and Yadavindra Gardens at Pinjore and Morni Hills.

Chhatbir Zoo was set up in part to conserve endangered and rare species of wildlife through captive breeding. The zoo is spread over an impressive 202 acre of raw scrubland. This makes it the biggest zoological park in northwestern India and home to over 1,000 animal and bird species. The zoo also houses a significant number of primates, big cats and several varieties of deer and antelope. Visitors can spot animals like zebra, hippopotamus and crocodiles as well. The zoo was started in 1977 and was a part of the Chhatbir protected forest area. Officially, the name of the zoo is Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park but because it falls in the Chhatbir region, the locals have come to refer to it simply as the Chhatbir Zoo.

One of the achievements of the park has been the successful captive-breeding of the gharial, a critically endangered variety of crocodile. The gharial is a majestic reptile that is distinguished by its long and narrow snout. Birdwatchers flock to the zoo to spot a wide variety of pheasants, including the Mongolian and the white-crested Khaleej. The popular exhibits of the zoo include the reptile enclosure, which includes a python and a sand boa. The zoo also offers opportunities of lion and deer safaris that attract a lot of visitors. It is conveniently located merely 17 kilometers from Chandigarh, near Zirakpur. It is a great spot for family outings, especially with children.

Zakir Hussain Rose Garden spreads over an area of 30 acres. This is Asia's largest rose garden that has been named after India’s former President, Zakir Hussain. Established in 1967, there are more than 50,000 rose bushes of 1,600 different species that have been planted in carefully planned and landscaped flower beds. There are pathways lined with blooming roses as well as arches and lawns, which are fragrant with the many flowers on display. It is one of the most popular stopovers for people from Chandigarh as well as those who are just visiting the city. The rose garden is also home to a number of medicinal trees. Located next to the city center, it is easily accessible and locals often come here for picnics. An annual rose festival celebrated at the end of February or the beginning of March attracts large crowds.

Rock Garden

Rock Garden is a spectacular 50-acre sculpture garden built largely from items fished out of Chanigrar garbage dump by a guy named Nek Chand. A testament to human ingenuity, creativity and perseverance, the garden is an open-air exhibition hall and a surreal experience. It comprises a series of interlinked courtyards, each of which contains a number of similarly themed sculptures created out of a melange of raw materials. The unpretentious entrance of the Rock Garden is misleading at best. As soon as one enters it, one is treated to many arrangements and sculptures. There are vast sets, dreamlike arrangements of rocks and sculptures, all ranging from ethnic statues to a group of astronauts sitting with folded legs. It can be both a trip to dreamland and a tumble down Alice’s rabbit hole. The waterfalls, bridges, alleys and cavernous pathways make it an adventure one is not likely to forget.

Bennet Schiff wrote in Smithsonian: "The first six acres of the garden contain a series of walks which lead through low archways into courtyard, each containing a different society people by inhabitants made of junk so ingeniously contrived and embellished that only after a hint can you discern that they been fashioned from bicycle frames, seats, wall plugs, electric fixtures, fluorescent tubing or cast off debris from a foundry. [Bennet Schiff, Smithsonian magazine]

"There is a place for a king to grant audience, a bathing pool for a queen, a germ section. There are sheep made with the help of ladies' bicycle frames, cattle formed of tricycle frames, folk romances of boys and girls made from broken clay water jugs. There is also a whole population of queens with real hair swept up from village haircutter' shops and now bleached a fiery reddish blonde by the strong and relentless sun...The colors are both natural, from the earth, and artificial, from the factory, so there is dazzling variety. Pink, yellow, green and blue bathroom porcelain — of that particularly garish hue which characterizes it — is in thousands of shards of every shape and size, applied to the great walls.

"Suddenly you enter a court inhabited by Satan and his followers...[You] come up dozens of figures made of coruscating bits of glass coated with soda-pop-bottle caps, a wall made of parallel layers of dead fluorescent-light tubes. Everywhere there are figures made of natural rock — from stones the size of marbles to more-than-man-size boulders — all of them suggesting beings with strong spiritualistic or animistic meaning." There are also crenelated castles, dollhouses, a Greek amphitheater, mosaics, waterfalls, ravines, canyons, and mulberry, mango, mesquite, red gum, poplar, Indian jujude and flame trees. A student who wrote his graduate thesis on the garden calculated that there are least 20,000 figures.

Nek Chand: the Man Who Created the Rock Garden

According to what has now become local legend, Nek Chand began working on his rock garden at night, after completing work at his regular day job in the early 1960s. He created sculptures with whatever raw material he could find easily at hand. He worked in secrecy for the fear of being caught and reprimanded as the land on which he had begun carving out a small garden for himself was not legally his.

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Nek Chand became a road inspector in Chandigarh six decades ago, when India's only planned city, a geometric dream of clean lines and modernist buildings designed in part by French architect Le Corbusier, was just taking shape. One day, using his access to city maps, Chand spotted some forest land out of sight that wasn't slated for development. He set about creating a wonderland, a bit of beautiful chaos in tidy Chandigarh. On his rickety bicycle, he slipped into the woods after work with scrounged stones, chunks of concrete and discarded wire. For six months, he didn't even tell his wife as he laboriously crafted a surreal rock garden populated by mosaic animals, Indian gods, birds, figures with broken teapots for hats, woozy drunks holding broken bottles. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2011]

“Over the next 18 years, he created a folk art retreat with echoes of Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona and Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, the soaring Los Angeles fantasy made from steel rods. He says there was no particular spark — it was a project from the gods. "It was just a hobby," he said. "I didn't think people would ever see it."

“But the low-level Indian bureaucrat's gift for turning trash into treasure has since delighted millions of visitors to Nek Chand Rock Garden, a down-the-rabbit-hole fantasy world reached by paying 30 cents at a teeny window and then ducking through a small doorway. "It was a bit of trouble bringing these things from the mountain," said the 85-year-old with silver hair, wrinkled face and elongated ears. "But I'm very fond of trouble."

“Chand's reluctance to throw things away is evident in his office, filled with old newspapers, tissue boxes and medicine bottles. This instinct to recycle, long before it was trendy, has served him well, propelling him onto the global art stage. But Chand wasn't thinking of such acclaim 60 years ago, when he helped build Chandigarh by day and doggedly recycled its waste by night, crafting his "town of gods and goddesses." Aware he could be fired, even prosecuted, for unauthorized use of government land, he hid his fantasy world behind rusting 55-gallon drums whose "Public Works Department" logos lent an illusion of officialdom.”

Making Nek Chand Hobby Into the Rock Garden

When the authorities found out, they were surprised to find the splendid work that he had been able to do on his own. Fortunately, they took the decision to acknowledge his genius and provide him with a salary for his creative work so that he could concentrate full-time on creating the Rock Garden. He was also provided a workforce of about 50 men, who were to assist him in the humongous project. In fact, Nek Chand set up a local network whereby broken crockery and discarded material could be sent to him for being recycled into these magnificent sculptures.

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In the early 1970s, wary of being caught, he approached Chandigarh's then-chief architect to solicit his support. M.N. Sharma, busy realizing Le Corbusier's master plan, initially brushed Chand off. But the lowly road inspector persisted. Eventually, Sharma agreed to accompany the humble man who appeared at his door. Chand led Sharma to the forest and showed him how part of the wall of 55-gallon drums would lift up almost effortlessly using a wooden counterweight, allowing him to pass through what seemed like an impenetrable barrier. Sharma's curiosity piqued, Chand led him to a small pool with carefully rounded stones and hundreds of strangely beautiful figures. "I was overwhelmed," Sharma said. "It's a small wonderland in forbidden territory." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2011]

“Believing those in charge would quickly destroy the "junk pile" amid Le Corbusier's masterpieces, Sharma advised discretion until the arrival of a more open-minded city administration. In 1975, that plan was undermined when a survey team ventured into Chand's secret world. After much debate, a majority within the generally rigid Indian bureaucracy decided that, illegal or not, this was a gem. The city assumed control of the project and paid Chand to expand his outlandish dream. In 1976, the garden opened to the public, and now reportedly ranks behind the Taj Mahal as one of India's most visited sites.

“But resistance to the project remained. Over the next 15 years, Chand fought off attacks on the garden by government workers and a lawyers association that coveted the now-60-acre site for new roads and a parking lot. In 1990, a bulldozer was stopped in its tracks by a wall of children, artists and residents. As Chand's fame spread, Paris and Washington commissioned similar gardens. A commendation letter in Chand's office, signed by then-Washington Mayor Marion Barry, designates Oct. 5, 1985, as Nek Chand Day there.

“But Chand's relationship with local authorities remained uneasy. Driving it, some say, was envy that the largely uneducated Chand was getting so much foreign attention. "The administration was jealous and insecure," said Chand, who still works at the garden most days. Gautam Kaul, Chandigarh's senior police superintendent in the late 1970s, said many officials were charmed after seeing the oddity. "I can't recall too many senior officials objecting to the garden," said Kaul, now retired. "It was mostly jealous coworkers."

Views on Nek Chand’s Rock Garden

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “John Maizels, editor of Raw Vision magazine and a member of a foundation charged with protecting the garden, describes it as a "wonder of the modern world." Chand, who modestly says he's not an artist, says he never plans in advance, shaping the scraps as the spirit moves him. At its best, his vision suggests a childlike magic, with walls embedded with broken electrical switches, fragments of plates, porcelain toilet bits, broken bangles. At its worst, said the critics who spoke up before it gained international recognition, it's a waste of space, a mess, a glorified junk heap. "He built what his heart desired," said his son Anuj Saini, 47, a businessman. "He was like a little child building sandcastles."[Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2011]

“Chand said he wanted to avoid the vistas found in traditional gardens so visitors would keep wondering what was around the next corner. He believes there are gods in the rocks and trees — a feature of Hinduism — but says he respects all religions. The small doors, he says, are so visitors are forced to, in effect, bow to the deities. Sitting on a rickety chair in his small office in the garden, he graciously meets with tourists, autographing books and mustering enough English to charm some foreign guests. "You're an inspiration to the spirit of the individual," a Canadian tourist said recently.

“Seema Bawa, an art critic, historian and curator, said Chand has never been appreciated much in Indian art circles for his innovation and aesthetic. "Unfortunately, he's still not considered mainstream but more as an eccentric using bits of toilets," she said. "It's a very significant piece of architectural space he's created, although it remains to be seen with time what's the actual aesthetic value of this, as with any art piece."

“Chand said he saw but never met Le Corbusier, although he once brought rabbits to the designer's nephew after hearing that French people liked to eat them. Chand's garden has been called a Le Corbusier alter ego compared with the famous architect's clean lines and 1960s concrete. Chand's work is a riot of color, form, exuberance. Chand believes Le Corbusier would have liked his garden if he'd lived long enough. Sharma, who knew him well, agrees, saying, "A good look is a good look."”

Near Chandigarh

Mansa Mandir and Chandi Mandir (eight kilometers from Chandigarh) are two popular temples that are often visited together as they lie only 10 kilometers away from each other. The Chandi Mandir is dedicated to Goddess Chandi, who is believed to be the goddess of power. It is a shaktipeetha (devotional shrine where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell), from which the city of Chandigarh draws its name. A large number of visitors come to worship at this temple at the time of the Navratris, a nine-day holy festival. The Chandigarh Mansa Devi Temple is located in Panchkula, which is 8 kilometers away from the city. This too is a shaktipeetha dedicated to Mata Mansa Devi. According to local legend, the head of Goddess Sati fell here and as a result, a temple was built in her honour. There are two temples in the Mansa Devi premises. The main temple was believed to have been established by the ruler of Manimajra (a historical town in Chandigarh) in 1815. The new temple, however, is credited to the Maharaja of Patiala. A scenic garden with a large number of medicinal plants has also been created right next to the temple where visitors can relax. The festivities of Navratri see large footfalls.

Parwanoo (30 kilometers from Chandigarh) is a pleasant great summer retreat. A part of the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh, it is separated by the town of Kalka by a large river bed that offers picturesque views. The scenic panoramas that Parwanoo offers are accentuated by fruit orchards. Since the weather is moderate and pleasant, one finds many apple and peach orchards throughout the city. As a result, Parwanoo is a great place to not just buy fresh fruits but also get home-made natural fruit products like jams and preserves. Near the town, one can take cable car rides through the Shivalik range to admire the glorious vistas of the surrounding areas. Some of the local attractions that should not be missed include Timber Trail, Gurudwara Nada Sahib, Kali Mata Temple and Mansa Devi Temple. The Kali Mata Temple and the Mansa Devi Temple are quite popular and receive thousands of visitors every year. The Gurudwara Nada Sahib is an important spot for Sikh devotees. Kasuali (67 kilometers), a beautiful station in the Himachal Pradesh mountains. Kasuali also is the home of one India's most famous private schools.

Bhakra-Nangal Dam (100 kilometers from Chandigarh) is the highest gravity dam in the world. Built over Sutlej river, it is the second highest dam in Asia, rising to a height of about 207 meters. With a length of 518 meters and a width of 9.1 meters, it is a gigantic structure that leaves one in awe of its size. This is the source of water for all the farms in Punjab and Haryana, which are two of the most important agricultural states in the country. It is also used to produce hydroelectric power. The reservoir of the dam, called Gobind Sagar, has a water capacity of 9.34 billion cubic meter. It is about 88 kilometers long and 8 kilometers wide. Though permission is required to visit the actual dam, the reservoir is open to all.

Yadavindra Gardens and Bhima Devi Temple

Yadavindra Gardens (24 kilometers from Chandigarh) is 17th garden blends Mughal and Rajasthani styles. Also called Pinjore Gardens, the gardens were designed by Nawab Fidal Khan, who was the architect commissioned by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The gardens stretch over an area of about 100 acre and is known for its lush greenery, refreshing fountains and serene water bodies. It is a fine specimen of terrace gardening in India. If you are visiting here, try to time your visit to coincide with the celebrations of harvest festival of Baisakhi, between April and June, when the gardens hosts the annual Mango Festival. The gardens also house a mini zoo, a Japanese garden, a nursery and various picnic spots.

Bhima Devi Temple (10 kilometers away from the famous Yadavindra Gardens in Pinjore) was constructed between the 9th-11th centuries. As evident from excavations from around the area, the temple was once dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is said that there were three stone plinths here, which may have belonged to the beautiful ancient temple. The stone plinths indicate that the temple must have been built in the Panchayatan style of architecture, in which a main shrine is located at the center and four sub-shrines are placed in the four cardinal directions. This makes a total of five temples. The temple has figurines and sculptures that are similar to the ones in Khajuraho. Moreover, the remains have shown that the ancient temple included architectural elements like chaitya windows, Bhadramukha and miniature turrets, among others.

According to inscriptions unearthed by archaeologists, this area was once referred to as Bhima Nagar. This name is believed to have been derived from a much revered local temple dedicated to Bhima Devi. There are a number of references to this area either by the name of Bhima Nagar or by the name, Panchapaura, which seem to suggest that this was a place of considerable importance between 9th and 12th centuries. Sculptures of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Goddess Agni, Lord Varuna (god of air), Lord Surya (sun god), Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartikeya have also been found at this site. Some important inscriptions excavated link the temple to the historical figure of Raja Rama Deva, who might even have patronised it. The ruins are easily accessible from Chandigarh, being only.

Erotic images at Bhima Devi temple have earned it the nickname of Khajuraho of North India. The concept of bhoga and yoga are artistically expressed through relief sculptures of a pair lion-headed human bodies having sex in a sitting-on-a-chair position and a monkey-headed human body fondling the crotch of a Garuda-headed human body.

Ambala and Chaneti Stupa

Ambala (40 kilometers south of Chandigarh, in Haryana) is skirted by the Ghaggar river in the north and the Tangri river in the south. Of great historical prominenc, it is believed to be the region where the powerful Buddhist center of the Ashokan empire flourished. It was then called Shrughna (modern Sugh).

Visitors head to the Bhawani Amba Temple, dedicated to Goddess Amba. There are several other temples, gurudwaras and churches in the vicinity that can be explored. Boasting bustling markets, Ambala draws visitors for its lively and vibrant shopping scene. The Cloth Market is a great stopover, which is lined with about 1,000 shops selling a fine selection of clothes at wholesale rates. From silks to handlooms, you will be spoilt for choice. The city also hosts a Science Market, where you can shop for a plethora of surgical instruments and science equipment. Its gold jewelry and linen items are also quite popular.

Historical records say that the city was founded by Amba Rajput in the 14th century, after whom it was later named. Another legend, which gives an alternate version of how this place got its name, suggests that it is a rough variation of ‘Amba Wala’ or the mango-village, as there have always been a large number of mango groves around here. Still another version suggests that the place gets its name from the local goddess Bhawani Amba, who is still revered in the city. Ambala also boasts a great culinary scene and its street food is quite delicious. Ambala can be also seen as the jumping off point for exploring Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Chaneti Stupa (80 kilometers southeast of Chandigarh) is an ancient baked-brick stupa dating back to the Mauryan period (322 and 185 B.C.) when the city of Shrughna (now Sugh) was under the rule of emperor Ashoka. According to an account given by the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, Sugh was home to a number of important stupas as well as a monastery. The village of Chaneti lies about 3 kilometers northwest of Sugh, and it is highly likely that the stupa at Chaneti was among the ones referred to by Hiuen Tsang. The architectural style of this stupa, formed by concentric layers to create a hemisphere, corresponds with Shahpur and Dharmarajika stupas at Taxila. When constructed, the stupa was most probably surrounded by a wooden railing as no trace of a stone railing has been found. The Kushana period saw the construction of four shrines in four directions near the old circumambulatory path (pradakshina path). A new pathway was also built underneath to walk around it. This is the only place in India where Shugna period terracotta figures of Vaanara (monkey) have been found. Archaeological pieces of evidence have suggested that this was an important trade juncture on the Uttarapath, which lay on the banks of the Yamuna river. According to the travel records of the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, the village was big enough and important enough to be home to about a 100 Hindu temples, 10 stupas and five monasteries.

Patiala

Patiala (40 kilometers southeast of Chandigarh in Punjab) a former princely state known for its forts, palaces and gardens. The town is home to the fine palaces Moti Bagh Palace and Sheesh Mahal and the notable schools of Hindustani classical music, the Patiala gharana that produced the likes of Ustad Ali Bux and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Shoppers can find a good selection of jutis (embroidered shoes), parandis (colored braids) and nallas (silken drawstrings). Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports that was set up within the Moti Bagh Palace after independence is said to be the largest sports institute in Asia.The most ostentatious ruler of the princely state, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, is said to be the first Indian to own an aeroplane.

Bahadurgarh Fort (on the outskirts of Patiala) was built in the 17th century by first settler nawab Saif Khan during the reign of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. The fort is believed to have been called Saifabad. There are many notable Islamic-style monuments near the fort, including the Diwan-e-Aam and an elegant mosque. Tourists can also visit the nawabs tomb that lies Nearby the fort. It is said that the fort was renamed later on to commemorate the stay of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Thus, it is called the Bahadurgarh Fort now. With time it was renovated and a gurdwara was built by Maharaja Karam Singh of Patiala in the 19th century. Since 1989, the grounds of the fort serve as the Punjab Police Commando Training School.

Armour and Chandeliers Museum is best known for its collection of elegant Bohemian cut-glass chandeliers. These were brought by Maharaja Mohinder Singh, the ruler of the princely state of Patiala (1852-1876). Another attraction to look out for is a four-wheeled silver alloy chariot that belonged to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1900-1938). This gorgeous chariot was built in 1909, in Kolkata, and was drawn by six horses. It was mainly used on ceremonial occasions. The museum's armament section is just as amazing and holds a remarkable collection of arms including a seven-barrel bolt-action gun, a jade dagger that belonged to Guru Gobind Singh and a sword used by Nadir Shah, a powerful ruler of Iran (1736-1747). The museum can be visited between 10:00am and 5:00pm.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest airstrip is Chandigarh airport, which is connected to other cities of India. By Road: There are regular buses to Patiala from major cities in India. By Train: Patiala is well-connected to most of the major railheads of the country.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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