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2015 Oct by Peter Kuiper
I don’t like to arrive in a new city in the middle of the night. I was worried to get dropped somewhere with no transport in sight. I was happy that some more people were getting off as well. At least there would be some people to ask what to do. The worries, as usual, were groundless. Everywhere where there is some money to make there are tuk-tuks or taxis. Here in the middle of nowhere there was a whole line off them.
I got the first tuk and mentioned my hotel: S. B. HOTEL in Sector 45, a cheap place, 600rs. I had found it under booking.com. “Dangerous area” the tuk-tuk driver said as I showed him the address, “bad area”. “I’ll survive for a night” I said, “I won’t walk around in the middle of the night.” We drove a couple of endlessly long straight boulevards, the driver made some turns and we drove through a badly lit area. Then I saw the hotel name. It really it didn’t look good here, but I did not want to look somewhere else at this time of the night.
Just as I paid the driver his 200rs, a topless, fully tattooed man came out of the door. “Eeeeh big tattoos!” the driver said admiringly. I wasn’t that enthusiastic, even less as I saw that the space around the entrance it looked like a car junk yard. But since I slept in all kind of places during my life, I gave it a try.
The place was horrible: the guy who checked me in was rough and unfriendly, the boy who showed me the room dirty and the room was even worse. I won’t go into details, but the sheets hadn’t been changed since Christmas, the rubbish bin was half full and when I dropped something on the floor and picked it up I got a glimpse from under the bed: Oh My God!
As always I prepared the bed with my own sheet and covered the pillow with my own pillow cases, double! Only a bottom sheet was needed, because it was about 27°C in the room, my favorite temperature to sleep. I didn’t have to switch on the air-con. Believe it or not, I never slept better. But when I got out of bed in the morning the horror came back. I packed, paid the 600rs and left.
I took a tuk to the SATYADEEP HOTEL in Sector 22. This hotel is listed in the Lonely Planet. I should have gone here right away. Sector 22 is a good area and right next to the “center” of Chandigarh, Sector 17. The hotel is located in the second floor in one of the many similar looking shop buildings in this town. They had a room for me for 900rs/13€ or a better room with air-con for 1150rs/16,50€. I took the more expensive one a bit further away from the reception. I liked the room, it wasn’t perfect, but it had some style with its polished wooden doors, dark wooden floors and nice bathroom. It’s a hotel on a 24 hours basis, you can use the room for 24 hours, very convenient when you check-in late in the day.
Finally I was settled and could start the day. To get things clear, here a few lines for the people who are not familiar with this place. Chandigarh is a planned city. There were some villages in this area, but they were demolished to build this town. After independence a new city was needed as a capitol of Punjab. The old capitol was Lahore, after the 1947 partition behind the border in Pakistan. Millions of Sikhs and Hindus had fled Pakistan and needed a place to live. India’s first President Nehru decided to build an entirely new city, with a new approach. Some architects were engaged, but finally one famous architect would tackle the job: Le Corbusier.
His plan was to segregate traffic from working and living. He did that with roads in seven categories. From big Champs Elysees-style boulevards, intersecting the city in about one square kilometer big blocks, to pedestrian areas with no traffic at all. The boulevards never run in an east-westerly direction, so drivers never have to blink against the sun at sunrise or sunset.
Le Corbusier did not only plan the lay out of the city, he planned everything! The government buildings, the offices, the theatres, the residential areas, the gardens, you name it. Thus arose a very uniform city, or not a city at all, more an urbanized zone. Many buildings have a similar appeal: four to eight stories high and encircled by galleries to prevent the sun reaching the actual windows or walls of the building. Round pillars support the galleries with massive concrete balustrades in between, just off the pillars. Most buildings are built in an east-westerly direction. The sun burns on the thin side of the building in the morning or late afternoon, mid-day the sun is high up and doesn’t affect the long south side of the building.
Along the big boulevards there are endlessly long shop houses, three or four stories high. They are quite a distance from the boulevards, behind secondary roads and massive parking lots. This all together turns the boulevards into huge empty urban spaces. The enormous blocks, or sectors as they are called here, have no interaction or relation with each other.
Other than normal Indian cities, this place is un-walkable. The distances are huge. The traffic speeds with a very un-Indian pace over the four, six or sometimes eight lane wide boulevards intersected by New Delhi-style circles. After I had run for my life to get from (hotel) Sector 22 to Sector 17 - the main business and shopping district - I wanted to cross the road to get from Sector 17 to the Rose Garden in Sector 16. I stood along the road for a long time, but didn’t dare to cross. Finally I stopped an auto-rickshaw to bring me to the other side of the street. (One kilometer to the next roundabout, circle 360° and back one kilometer again.) He must have thought I was crazy, but for 50rs he saved my life!
Another disappointing feature of the city planning is that the blocks do not pick up the shape of the circles. How nice the city would have looked with buildings around the roundabouts! Every intersection a Grand Étoile. Now you would look at the backside of some square buildings, seemingly haphazardly placed among the trees. That is because in Chandigarh the Sector is important - the almost traffic-free life within the unit – not the city as a whole.
I could have agreed with many of Corbusier’s ideas if it had been at a smaller scale. But this place is too big, a quarter of the space would have been sufficient. The city is like Brasilia. It is a big city, but will never get a big city feel.
After visiting Sector 17 extensively, not only out of interest for its architecture, but simply because I did not find a place to eat, and the Rose Garten with its withered roses, I found a pushbike rickshaw to bring me to the Chandigarh Architecture Museum. The gate was locked! I read and reread the opening times until it crossed my mind that today was a Monday! Stupid not to think of that, today I should have made the trip to Haryana.
I was near one of the main boulevards, Jan Marg. Further north-east was Sector 1 with the government area and Corbusier’s most famous buildings. I planned to walk the two kilometer to get a feeling for the city. Chandigarh is very green. Thousands and thousands of trees must have been planted already during its construction in the early 1950s. These sixty year old trees have matured and give pleasant shade. I meandered up through one of natural green corridors of the city, to come back at Jan Marg near the famous Secretariat Building. The road leading into its direction was closed by the military. Then I would see the Vidhan Sabha, the State Parliament. Same story. I made it to the High Court in a very busy area. Also here there was lots of police around. Without attracting attention I made a few pictures of the building. Unfortunately only from the backside of the building and not from the famous colorful front side. Also the nearby giant Open Hand Monument I did not find. I think this whole area is locked of from the public.
Back at Uttar Marg, the northern-most boulevard, I stood in front of the famous Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden. A refugee from Pakistan created his own world, using junk and trash, somewhere in the then jungle of Chandigarh. Many years later his strange jungle hide-out was discovered by the government, but not demolished. With government help he was allowed to continue the construction of his fantasies and now this garden is one of the top sights in India. I paid the 20rs entrance fee and walked through. It was ok, but did not like it very much. He must have had access to a lot of cement as thousands of stones have been glued together to construct walls, corridors, yards, squares, waterfalls and many, many creatures: men, dogs, fantasy animals and God knows what. I thought these creatures covered with broken pottery looked a bit simple, uniform. Dozens of similar creatures were arranged like armies covering every single bit of space. I saw it all, but was happy to be outside again.
My hotel had no Wi-Fi. I tried KFC and McDonalds, but in vein. Good that phone charges are low in India, so I can communicate over Mobile Data. Since I was at McDonalds to try their Wi-Fi, I decided to eat there. They have a complete different menu, as the consumption of holy beef is prohibited in India. I chose a spicy chicken burger, not bad, but I prefer the American original.
Somehow I made it across the street again from Sector 22 to Sector 17. Yesterday I had crisscrossed this Sector and now I knew my way around. I had breakfast above a sweet shop, some cakes and sweet masala tea. Once more I walked along the enormous empty space that is some kind of central square or plaza, now at ten o’clock still deserted. I took a tuk-tuk right away as I knew I wouldn’t be able to cross Madhya Marg or Jan Marg.
Today the museums of Sector 10 were open. The biggest was the Government Museum & Art Gallery. Under the outside gallery a new exhibition was in progress about Le Corbusier. I seemed to be a few days too early. A lady with a French accent came up to me and asked if I would like to come for the opening of the exhibition on Saturday. “No Saturday I’ll be in Shimla” I said. The museum was a nice building with printed textiles, miniatures, brass statues, stone statues and some real good paintings. But these were not the kind of things I had come for.
I crossed the museum square and found the much smaller Chandigarh Architecture Museum. The building looked like a big Bauhaus Villa. The entrance was via the basement and it was pitch black. “No electricity” said the lady at the desk apologetic. “I’ll try it anyway” I said optimistic and set off into the dark. I tried to make out Nehru’s eulogy about Le Corbusier as the lights came back. Further upstairs electricity wasn’t needed as light flooded through the huge Bauhaus-style windows. The museum was interesting. There were a lot of original photos, drawings or letters from Corbusier and some original wooden furniture he designed.
The Natural History Museum next door must have been arranged in the nineteen thirties and has been well preserved ever since.
By far the most interesting museum in Chandigarh is Le Corbusier Center in Sector 19. It’s here in this long stretched one story office building where Corbusier worked for many years during Chandigarh’s construction. The original furniture is still there as well the huge table in his studio.
Once more I tried to get to the important government buildings, I did not get any closer. I continued to Sukhna Lake, a huge artificial lake with a very nice promenade and gardens. I expected to get a glimpse from the buildings over the lake, but the trees have grown too high. |
2006 Mar by Veikko Huhtala*
Chandigarh is capital of two states of India,|
Haryana and Punjab! Very funny to thing about.We booked our train to Chandigarh in Delhi. There we only changed our train on the way to Shimla. I liked this landscape over there. Himalaya Mountains were so close.
1999 Jun by Jorge Sanchez
I visited Chandigarh by chance.|
In those times I traveled free around India boarding the carriages of the train reserved for the sadhus, or religious pilgrims.
I just visited Jyotisar where took place the battle of Kuruksetra, between the kauravas and the pandavas, described in the epic poem Bhagavad Gita. Then I returned to Kuruksetra and boarded the first available train to Shimla, but the train was too slowly (it took eleven hours for 100 kilometers!), the carriage so crowded, sitting on the floor with two sadhus sleeping on my legs and shoulders, that in one of those long stops resolved to get off the train and wait for another faster train.
There was another train at night, so I had the whole day to visit Chandigarh, a city, as soon discovered thanks to the information that supplied me the sadhus of my wagon, that Chandigarh was a city designed by Le Corbusier, in the style of Canberra or Brasilia.
From the railway station to the downtown there were 6 kilometers that I walked.
Chandigarh consisted on blocks, about forty, so I was told, all symmetrical, at mathematical distances, and with about one million inhabitants.
I did not like that city, I found it too programmed, no natural, and there were few sadhus around, which is a bad symptom.
In the evening I walked back to the railway station and boarded the sadhus wagon in the fast train to Shimla, in Himachal Pradesh.