If Varanasi symbolizes the spirit of ancient India, then Chandigarh is its city of 'today'. Visitors used to the meandering sprawls and historic skylines of most old Indian towns are surprised at the planned layout of Chandigarh and its sleek buildings. In fact, the city is considered as the Mecca of modern architecture and planning all over the world.
Ironically, this new city of India was born out of the partition of the country. A new capital city for the State of Punjab was required and Chandigarh was created to serve this purpose, and even more, to be the symbol of faith and confidence for the resurgent republic. Today, this is a reality. Chandigarh thrives as a palpable city of half a million people-proud of themselves and their duty.
In spite of its modern façades, at heart, Chandigarh is quite traditional. In fact, it is a strange mix of the old and the new-perhaps a city in transition. Amidst the array of slick departmental stores can be seen the pavement hawkers doing brisk sales. Small vendors from their ingenious mobile shops on bicycle backs offer attractive bargains. In the residential areas, the traditional rehriwallahs (cart shops) are very popular with the housewives for purchasing their daily needs. Even the city's fast-moving traffic roads are often slowed down by the presence of a 'holy cow' or a buffalo, sitting right in the center.
A city takes hundreds of years to develop a distinct personality and character of its own. But Chandigarh, barely 40 year old-an infant compared to other cities-has already come of age and assumed an ambience of its own. Built in the tradition of historic "new towns" of India like Mandu, Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur, Chandigarh too is an act of the faith and daring.
Planned by the famous French architect Le Corbusier, Chandigarh was conceived as a city of "Sun, Space and Verdure" to fulfill four basic functions of living, working, circulation, and care of body and spirit. The master plan is a checkered mesh of rectangles called sectors, which are intended to be self-sufficient neighborhood units, enclosed by fast-moving traffic roads. In fact, a salient feature of the city plan is its novel movement system, which has a hierarchy of streets for different types of traffic. A number of city parks have been planned for the care of the body and spirit. The sun-bathed piazzas of the city, its neat housing clusters and the broad tree-lined avenues are visible manifestations of the planning precepts. No wonder Chandigarh is often called the "City Beautiful" or the "Garden City"-both fond epithets given to it by its residents.
Perhaps a major part of the city's modernity emanates from the fact that there is a very large body of youthful student population. The hub of its activities is the beautiful Panjab University campus with its impressive red sandstone buildings laid out amid gardens, water pools, and fountains. The idyllic campus surroundings inspire academic learning, scholarship and cultural enrichment. Besides the university, there are also many other premier institutions of medicine, engineering, architecture and science located in the city.
The other dominant species of the city populace is the Government servant-retired or serving. With the presence of two State Governments of Punjab and Haryana, and the third one of Chandigarh Administration, the city abounds with babus and bureaucrats and clerks in cars or on cycles.
Fairs & Festivals
However, it is not bricks, stones and trees alone that infuse breath into the city's soul. It is essentially the people and their ethos that etches the image of a city. Although, the planning of Chandigarh was not intended to be a social revolution, it has nevertheless shaped the psyche of its people-who are more secular, integrated and modern in their outlook. They are also fiercely proud and possessive of their city.
Lacking in age-old cultural traditions of a typical town, Chandigarh has acquired new ones to its calendar of activities. People celebrate spring festivals, tree plantation festivals, rose and chrysanthemum shows, dog shows and kite-flying festivals with as much gaiety and zest as they celebrate Diwali, Holi or any other religious function. Chandigarh citizens are also a very culturally conscious. For a small city of its size, there are more than five major auditoriums and a same number of art galleries. Even more and bigger cultural centers are being planned to be built to cater to the growing demands of art and theater lovers. In autumn and winter when the sun is mellow, on a single day there can be a good number of art exhibitions and concrete openings in the city. It is usual for the 'city elite' to be seen and to see such occasions as an important status symbol.
In the final analysis, what makes Chandigarh extraordinary is the fact that merely within four decades a barren landscape has been transformed into a modern and model human habitation. The making of a new city is "like inventing a new tomorrow." And Chandigarh succeeds in ushering in a new dawn.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Chandigarh is between the months of October and March when the weather is enjoyable and is favorable for a city tour. During the day, the temperatures remain in the range of 20-30 degree C. During night, the minimum temperature in winters in January drops to 2 or 1 degrees C.
During the summer months, the heat is scorching when the temperature rises above the 40 degree C. The days of May and June are dry with hot winds but the monsoon shower brings some relief in the month of July, bringing down the temperatures though the humidity levels remain high. Nevertheless, Chandigarh can also be explored in August and September.
How to Reach
BY AIR -Chandigarh is connected to Delhi (daily) and Amritsar (bi-weekly) by flights of Indian Airlines. There is also a weekly flight to Leh from Chandigarh. Jet Airways has daily flights to Chandigarh from Delhi. The airport is 11 km away from the main city. Taxis and auto-rickshaws are readily available for the airport.
BY RAIL -The railway station is 7 km away from the city center. It is well connected to the major cities of India like Delhi (238 km), Bikaner (575 km), and Jodhpur (827 km).
BY ROAD -Chandigarh is well connected by road to almost every small and big town in northern India. Frequent buses ply from Chandigarh to Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and even Rajasthan. One has a varied choice that includes luxury buses, ordinary buses and taxis, all of which are readily available.
In terms of attractions, the first thing that comes to mind is the monumental Capitol Complex, which dominates the city skyline. Standing aloof, like the Greek Acropolis, at the foothills of the city, the geometrical concrete buildings rise from the mounds as giant playful sculptures. The three major buildings comprising the Capitol Complex are the Secretariat, the Assembly, and the High Court. All the three are interlocked to one another as part of a subtle visual composition, delicately balanced and enclosing grandiose spaces. Between the silhouettes of these magnificent edifices is juxtaposed the city's most popular visible symbol: the Open Hand. Conspicuous as a giant hand in steel, it rotates free with the whims of the winds from a high concrete pedestal, conveying the message: "open to give, open to receive."
Next to the Capitol Complex, the most important place to visit is Sector 17, its sleek shopping area and the city center. Planned around four pedestrian concourses meeting at a central Chowk, it is a pedestrian's paradise, dotted with fountains, sculptures, and groves of tree. In summer one can move from one end of the sector to the other under the shade of a corridor, and in winter it is nice to be out in the sun-drenched piazzas. In the evenings, when the colorful mosaic of neon signs and the aesthetically illuminated fountains come alive, it becomes the city's biggest outdoor club. And the people congregate there for the thrill of the urban rub and the excitement of its shop-front glitter.
A major feature of Chandigarh is its Leisure Valley, which, like a garland of gardens, ornaments the city from one end to the other. A natural eroded valley of the city site with a small gurgling rivulet has been now developed into a series of theme gardens. The most famous of these is the Rose Garden. The other prominent parks of the city are the Garden of Tranquility, Garden of Rare Plants, Garden of Annuals, and the Bougainvillea Garden.
No description of Chandigarh gardens can be complete without a mention of its most celebrated creations, The Rock Garden. Spread over 12 acres of wooded land near the Capitol Complex of Le Corbusier, it is the creation of a humble former road inspector: Nek Chand. Turning urban waste material into creative patterns and textures, his touch transformed mute rocks into art objects. Mysterious spaces with stones, rocks and waterfalls recreate the awe and wonder of primordial nature. This unabashed realm of natural and manmade creativity attracts people of all age groups, and from all parts of the world.
Another favorite recreation spot of the nature-loving people of Chandigarh is the Sukhna Lake. Created by building an artificial dam on a seasonal stream, it is spread over a large area. A two-kilometer-long promenade along the lakeshore is a popular place for strolling. On any day, early in the morning, fitness buffs of all age groups can be seen walking, jogging, and performing yoga or vigorous exercises at the lakefront.
Places Around Chandigarh
A visit to Chandigarh is not complete without a visit to the temple of Goddess Chandi, which is located in Panchkula, 10 km away from Chandigarh. In fact, the name Chandigarh is derived from this temple. Nearby is the temple of Mansa Devi. Both the temples are built in the North Indian style of architecture. Moreover, there is the Panchkula Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden, which houses over 2,500 varieties of cacti and other succulent plants from all parts of the world. This is the first and the only botanical garden where a systematic and comprehensive collection of Indian species of cacti is being.
Located on the banks of River Ghaggar, 15 km from the city, the Chattbir Zoo is an ideal getaway from Chandigarh. The zoo lies on the Chandigarh-Patiala Road. Besides these, Pinjore (now Yadavindra Gardens; 20 km), Morni Hills (45 km), Kasauli (77 km), Chail (107 km), and Shimla (110 km) are some of the interesting places to visit around Chandigarh.