Thursday, February 10, 2011


Chandigarh probably isn’t on many people’s Indian itineraries and, being honest here, it wasn’t originally on mine either, but with reports of snow and high winds - and a 12 hour bus ride to get there from McLeod Ganj - Manali suddenly became a bad idea and so, suddenly, Chandigarh seemed like a really good idea. Chandigarh’s main draw is its bizarre if quite intriguing Rock Garden but given what I’d read about the unusual nature of the city itself it was well worth a stop off on my way back south again.

Conceived of by Nehru who saw the construction of Chandigarh as a symbol of an India of the future, he handed the task of constructing this Utopian vision to a Swiss-French architect known as Le Cobusier. Beginning in 1952 Le Corbusier split the city into 29 sectors in a grid like form, each one of them measuring 800 by 1200 metres and sprinkled patches of green all around. It has since grown from the original 29 sectors to its present day 61. Le Corbusier’s original concept was to see the city as a human body with the Capital Complex in the east as the ‘head’, Sector 17, the shopping precinct, as the ‘heart’, with the green open spaces as the ‘lungs’. Finally Chandigarh’s wide network of roads were to be the ‘circulatory system’. All lofty, even laudable ideals, sure, but in India? Chandigarh is the urban equivalent of Dolly the sheep. It looks like a city, smells like a city, sounds like a city but it isn’t really a city at all. Futuristic designs like this belong in a city, they shouldn’t ever be the city. And certainly not in fucking India where the Indiafication of Le Corbusier’s vision is inevitable i.e. like Christmas presents on New Year’s Day, everything looks worn out and neglected. If Chandigarh is the representation of a human body, well in 2011 it has cellulite and sagging tits. Architecturally it’s like Gdansk on downers and has about as much character as you’d expect a large grid-like construction to have.

Chandigarh’s only saving grace for me is its Rock Garden, a truly surreal attraction of its own and said to be India’s second biggest tourist draw after the Taj Mahal. It began construction in 1965 - Chandigarh would have been a moody teenager by then so some light relief was obviously needed - and a man named Nek Chand (so the story goes) decided to build a small garden. By 1973 his small garden measured 12 acres and he was given a team of workers to help expand it. Today it covers 25 acres and a walk around reveals thousands of sculptures, plants and every conceivable type of junk you could imagine thrown together to create what amounts to a 25 acre LSD trip. You'll note that there aren't any photos of the city of Chandigarh above and that's no accident.

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