Giving due credit to the fog that hung low in the morning I left the Dehra Dun ORH close to 8 am only. I was told that the drive to Chandigarh would take about four hours and that is what it took. As you set out for the first milestone of Paonta Sahib from Dehra Dun you pass the sprawling campus of the Forest Research Institute, built in the 1920s, and the majestic Indian Military Academy. Paonta Sahib, the place where Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, spent his younger days is barely an hour from Dehra Dun. The Gurudwara is on the banks of the Yamuna and is just beyond the Uttarakhand border. The road from the border, right through the Himachal Pradesh territory can rattle the sturdiest bones. It is a wonder how the same NH72, which in the Uttarakhand State was extremely well maintained, deteriorates immediately after the border into Himachal. One would expect the roads in Himachal to be super for it lays so much stress on tourism. I was disappointed. After Narain Garh, in Haryana, the road changes its character once again. The drive to Chandigarh is superb. En route is Panchkula, which prepares you for the superbly laid out city of Chandigarh. As you drive into the city one wonders if this is really part of the normally chaotic and noisy India.
The ORH of the Northern Railway, where my accommodation is arranged, is close to the railway station. The ORH has one of the best maintained gardens among the Railway ORHs I have stayed in so far in the country. The gardeners who tend to them are fiercely proud of the blossoms and carefully tend to them through the day. I had lunch at the ORH and set out to explore the Le Corbusier city.
Chandigarh was chosen as the new capital city of Punjab after the trauma of the partition. And it was decided by the planners of the day, including Pandit Nehru, that it should be a city like no other. The responsibility of converting this idea into reality was placed in the capable hands of Le Corbusier, the Frenchman. He was handed the project after one the original designers died and the other resigned. It is a tribute to him that the city is maintained and expanded in the manner which does him proud. The Sukhna Lake is a prime example of what the founding fathers wanted the city to be like. There is a plaque in the Park there which says that the city fathers intended the lake and the dam to be an escape for the citizens from the humdrum existence of a city and enjoy the beauty of nature. It is a beautiful place to spend time either in solitude or in a group. Lovely walkways are tinged with flower beds and places to relax. There are paddle boats on hire to spend time in the water body and the lake has a lot of geese and ducks, which people feed and take pictures with. The open area also cools the atmosphere and hence, in winter the lakeside is cooler than the rest of the city. The Raj Bhavans of Punjab and Haryana ring the Lake on one side.
The Nek Chand Fantasy Park brings home the fact that waste for one is treasure for another, depending on your creativity, passion and fortitude. A refugee from Pakistan, Nek Chand illegally occupied government land – unobtrusively – and built his jungle junk art. He used to cart the waste generated in the building of the city and fashion the ‘art’ as it occurred to him. When the government came to know of the illegal occupation it was caught on the horns of a dilemma – to destroy or preserve it. Wise counsel prevailed, as the design and administration of the city amply articulates, and the ‘Garden’ was adopted by the city. Broken ceramic ware and bangles, discarded jute bags, stone chips and boulders and everything else he could lay his hands on contributed to the building of the fantasy garden, which is reputed to be visited by over 5000 daily and is the second most visited place after the Taj Mahal – one a fantasy in waste and the other in marble!
The High Court of Punjab and Haryana is located in an iconic building. This was among the first buildings designed and constructed in the new city. The High Court celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 and the Chief Guest was the 102 year old Mrs. Bhandari, the wife of the first Chief Justice of the High Court, Shri. AN Bhandari. The High Court Museum is a treasure trove of information about the development of the judiciary in the new State Capital. There are many interesting exhibits and photographs too; among them is the handcuffs used on Nathuram Godse, Mahatmaji’s assassin. Till recently, the pen that was used to write the death sentence of Bhagat Singh was also on display in the Museum.
Deepak Chhabra insisted that I should visit Sectors 14 and 17. I was happy to have heeded his suggestion. The Panjab University Campus in Sector 14 is like no other in the country. The well laid out roads in the campus and the university buildings would be the envy of many of its counterparts in the rest of the world. It also has an excellent garden and many walkways to keep your mind and body in good trim. Sector 17 is a shopping centre – I first mistook it for a huge parking centre. Later I realized that Sector 17 is the ‘happening place’ in Chandigarh and it is to this part of the city that people flock to after a hard day’s work. Despite the temptation to sup at one of its many eateries I bought an old favorite to keep me company for the rest of the evening, ‘Old Monk’.