The Chandigarh railway station exhibits some Nek Chand Art at the entrance. I called on the Station Superintendent to seek a testimonial of my visit to Chandigarh, the capital city of both Punjab and Haryana. Having covered Chandigarh I have another 7 State Capitals left – or is it 8 with J&K having separate summer and winter capitals?
I went to the Chandigarh Tourist Information Office at the Station to check if they have some brochures to help me decide on places to visit today. The Sardar manning the counter is the ‘type’ you should have in every such counter across the country. He handed me a few brochures with a flourish, but with finesse. He suggested a half day tour in a hop-on-hop-off bus. When I told him that I have been around some since the last evening he was crestfallen. And when I told him that I am travelling ‘alone’ he genuinely sympathized with me and ‘almost’ mentioned that there is no place to go or anything to be enjoyed alone in Chandigarh! When I asked him if visiting Pinjore would be a good alternative he suggested that it is better visited late evening to enjoy the ‘lightning’! I asked him for directions to go to the Rose Garden. He told me to take the exit road from the Station and take the right turn, all the while gesticulating with his left hand. When I tried to correct him he told me that the direction to take depends on which way you are facing! The genuineness of the man and his friendly demeanor overrode any limitations that one may perceive.
While driving past Sector 17 I spied Mainland China, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Chennai. Despite a huge breakfast the ‘sighting’ of Mainland China stirred hunger pangs such as would be the lot of one starving or on hunger strike. By the time I walked in through the door I had even forgotten when I had had my last meal. I was famished and was impatient to order. The wine menu was dismissed and all attention as on the food menu. The final order was Steamed Chicken Wonton in soy sauce and Mixed Meat Fried Rice. Before the former arrived I started on the Khimchi and sliced cucumber in brine. I was well into my second helping of both when the wontons arrived accompanied by black pepper, mustard and sweet ginger sauces. It was the most delicious wontons I have ever had in this short life of mine! When I asked for second helpings of black pepper and mustard sauces the chap who was waiting on me concluded that there is more to me than what met his eye. The ‘small’ portion of the Mixed Meat Fried Rice was ‘washed’ down with three pots of Chinese Tea and the waiter was convinced that he was interacting with only the tip of the iceberg above the table top! As if that was not enough, I acceded to his suggestion to a sweet dish. The sesame coated caramelized walnut was the right way to wind up the lovely meal. I was given a customer feedback form and it took some time for the bill to be presented, for they were trying to decipher my handwriting!
The Harri Hypermarket is next door to the Mainland China Restaurant and stocks some of the finest spirits for the connoisseur. The 30 year old Glenfidich is priced at Rs. 63,980 and the latest from the Johnny Walker stable is on display as well. I bought some chocolates, dates and biscuits for the journey and reached the checkout gate. I must admit that I was absolutely floored by the speed at which I was serviced. It was one of the best experiences I have had in a store the world over. Rajkumar who manned the counter was responsible for this experience. The express checkout was a combination of good quality barcodes, skills of Rajkumar and the evident pride and obvious delight of Rajkumar in servicing a customer.
The 20 hectare Bougainvillea Park also houses a War Memorial. The Memorial is to keep alive the memory of the soldiers from Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh who gave up their lives, in the wars since independence, to ensure that others live in freedom. The War Memorial was the result of a funds campaign run by the Indian Express Group of Newspapers and the citizens of Chandigarh. The Park has a wide variety of bougainvillea and the double color bougainvilleas are special. While perambulating the Park I came across Dharminder, Arvind and Govind, three young students reading in the 6th and 7th classes. They spend the vacation mostly in the Park – access is free – practicing their ‘stunts’. All three of them harbor dreams of becoming stuntmen as they grow up. They train rigorously to achieve their dream. They were happy to perform a few stunts for my camera. They were thrilled when I played them the videos I had shot. This seemed to have motivated them as they immediately did some amazing cartwheels to show their gratitude.
The Zakir Rose Garden in Sector 16 is spread over 42 hectares. The Garden, named after the former President of India, has over 17000 rose plants of more than 1600 varieties. The thoughts of Ammachi, my mother, were uppermost in my mind as I walked around the Garden. She was ‘crazy’ about roses. She used to maintain a small rose garden in ‘Three Wishes’, our home in Trivandrum. She took all sorts of trouble to get the latest varieties from Bangalore and Chennai. However, a pest attack one year destroyed all the plants and my father took the opportunity to plant paddy as an alternative to the rose plants! Hundreds of workers look after the Garden and the entrance to it is free. The ‘business model’ of the Parks and Gardens is not quite clear. The Garden has well appointed walkways and distances are indicated for serious walkers. The Garden is where youngsters knit their dreams together, families live their dreams together and elders take stock of their dreams together.
The more I saw of Chandigarh the more I fell in love with the city. It is so well organized that I feel that legislation should be enacted to stipulate that new cities follow this model. The roads are wide and well surfaced, the junctions have well maintained roundabouts, parking spaces are adequately provided for, traffic constables are effective, wide open spaces provide enough lung areas, parks and gardens keep the citizens in good trim, noise and emission pollution is minimal, the sectors are symmetrical, the city is green and so on and on. My ‘Bhabhi’ in Delhi used to complain about the congested and disorganised Delhi in the early 80s, when she married my good friend Ujjawal Khanna, as compared to her hometown Chandigarh. It then struck me as something strange as Delhi to me was ‘another planet’ when compared to my hometown Trivandrum. Now I know that she was right. Moral of the story – “There is a distinct possibility of even a lady being correct with the passage of 25 years”!