This was a bit of the Rock Garden experience in Chandigarh that I was saving for a separate post. As usual, there was me walking around with my camera, clicking anything and everything that caught my fancy. Udai and Aadyaa decide to explore a dark cave in front of us. I pick up my camera to idly look through the viewfinder, when I see an eye slyly stare out at me from behind a pillar. Click. Then a face appears. Click. Then two faces dart out. Click. Then another naughty eye. Click. And so on….
We play the game of peek-a-boo, my camera and the kids, I and the kids. Us. All.
We have so much fun.
I last visited the Rock Garden in Chandigarh in December 1991 or thereabouts. I was born in the city and I was revisiting Chandigarh after my early years there for the very first time. I vaguely remember wandering around the sculptures and there are a few really nice pictures of Daddy, Mummy and me posing in front of the exhibits.
I was, therefore, quite excited to revisit the Rock Garden with my children and see how they react. Nekchand is a legend in the city and beyond. Even as the city was being planned and built by an over-enthusiastic newly-Independent nation along the lines suggested by the world famous architect Le Corbusier, Nekchand was piecing together works of art from bits and pieces he collected from the ruins of the villages that were relocated to create the city. Nekchand was of humble origins and a government servant. He worked secretly at night to create this garden and when it was discovered, illegally built on government land, it took a miracle and considerable civil society action to conserve this wonderland and create it into a public park. It is now a valuable resource for the city, attracting hundred of tourists every day.
Saturday 30th March, the day we visited, was no different and we joined the teeming crowds that ambled through its serpentine pathways, admired its fountains and streams, and were intrigued by the strange shapes and forms crafted from waste material. The park is now a model for environmental conservation, recycling all the water on its premises and even running the waterfalls from recycles water alone.
A new area has been added now and here, the scale changed dramatically. Everything is huge, larger than life. As an architect, I found the effect interesting in some parts but quite ineffective in others. Scale is not always a good thing! Another thing that irked me was the diesel-operated toy train in the park, going against its very philosophy of closeness with nature.
Udai and Aadyaa both enjoyed the Rock Garden, climbing all over the place, touching things. The water bodies attract many colourful insects and Udai was most fascinated with the red and blue dragonflies, and complained repeatedly about the fact that I was not carrying my zoom lens! Aadyaa loves climbing. This place was a dream come true for her and we had to keep stopping her from trying to scale the walls….All in all, a highly recommended outing for families. I only wish they had a better way of presenting the garden’s history and significance, a more interactive exhibit that could involve kids could drive home an important message about the importance of re-use and creativity.
I turned 37 two days ago. On that day, I was in Chandigarh enveloped in the warm love of dear friends who have been, for the most part, closer than family and the lucky recipient of the unadulterated affection of my two most wonderful children. Considering I was born in that city, I could not help thinking that life keeps coming back in full circles, again and again. These were the tree lines beautiful avenues where I spent the first few years of my life. Despite its inevitable expansion, Chandigarh retains its laid back feel and its vast, accessible public spaces give it a special charm. No other city in India that I have visited comes close to Chandigarh in the sheer amount of green open space available to citizens to walk, play and lounge as they feel fit. Those who live here are cognizant of the huge advantage they have and are reminded of their luck each time they leave town, so I am told.
We stayed the weekend with Nupur’s sister and her family in Sector 30 and the park right next door to her home became our first port of call. Naturally, for Aadyaa is an ardent park lover. And if the park has swings and jungle gyms in it, no force on earth can keep her away! As soon as we dumped our bags at home and gulped down our evening tea, Aadyaa has dragged us down there and passed her infectious enthusiasm to her brother as well. Nupur and me spent an hour watching the kids go up and down the slide over and over again, make friends with the local children and also observe interesting turf wars with them, fortunately none of which ended in fisticuffs!
Next to the slides, a group of young men were playing soccer. They seemed to be members of the local RSS Shakha, a thought that was confirmed when I was woken up the next morning by the chants and shouts of their weekend morning lessons! Mothers sat on park benches nearby, while others watched their kids from inside their homes while they cooked dinner. Men played cards in a corner, some people were engaged in a brisk walk around the park. I heard from didi that the sector had mixed income residents, living in employee housing for officer level as well as Class 3, Class 4 workers from government departments. The mixed income character is critical from the point of view of the usage of public spaces. The sheer vibrance of the neighborhood park Aadyaa chose to play could not be compared to the rather bland nature of the larger, better maintained sector park nearby that boasted some decent walking paths and a musical fountain that played Punjabi music!
Other highlights of the Chandigarh visit were the Rock Garden, Sukhna Lake and Sector 17 market (sataara, as Udai correctly picked up!) and I will blog about those experiences as well. The first evening spent soaking the the green open spaces and the fresh nippy air was, however, the best of all!
A girlie trip to the Punjab. Sounds good? It is good.
Here we are, five of us. Two of whom I know, two others became my friends today. In the cool fresh air of rural Punjab, it’s hard to remember the crazy pace of city life and its easy to let go and just be.
Driving on highways on a Sunday morning ensures a smooth ride and we literally zipped across Delhi and Haryana to land up in Chandigarh well ahead of schedule. Amusing sights like the gate of Jurasik Park that sported two super ugly dinosaur statues, a fiat car adorning someone’s roof in Sonepat and glimpses of two astonishingly beautiful ruined old havelis from atop the elevated highway at Gharaunda were some highlights. Prompted by these and other sights, the conversation flowed. From homes and husbands and children to hobbies, vacations and the dubious joys of social networking. Silly jokes, nostalgic anecdotes from the past. All poured out of us as we bonded. As women are wont to.
And then we reached Chandigarh and got off the car in the infamous Sector 17. Where you apparently go to hang out, ogle at the girls or guys depending on your choice and simply pass time. We girls, on the other hand, were dead serious about our shopping. Or at least two of us were, buying up the place in record time and derailing the time schedule by an hour!
Going back to Chandigarh after years was a pleasant experience though. What a vision Corbusier had in terms of scale for public spaces! I can imagine hundreds of people thronging the square in Sector 17 and it would look right. The tree lined parking, the street furniture, lovely shaded corridors and a large open space make for very nice high street retail indeed. Unfortunately on a Sunday morning and most other times this city does not create the sort of mass that a space like this deserves. Swank showrooms aside, there is a laid back run down quality to this place as well. Of course, that didn’t deter us from shopping, eating and giggling like schoolgirls. Some of whom we encountered in the ladies loo of ‘Girl in the Cafe’, attending to a puking friend who hadn’t been able to hold down her morning vodka!
A short drive from here and we were in the lovely fort of Bharatgarh, the last living fort in the Punjab and the seat of one of the twelve Misl of Sikh warriors. We headed out almost immediately and are just back from soaking in the mesmerising experience of the Khalsa Museum at Anandpur Saheb. But I will wax eloquent about the fort and the museum another day when I can upload the pictures that will show you their surprising beauty.
For now, it’s goodnight amid chit chat and more giggling.