Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chandigarh

Nek Chand's Rock Garden

After Srinagar, I flew to Jammu, and took the train to the modern city of Chandigarh. A little adventure on the train - couldn't book any seats so I ended up in a 2nd class chair car, sharing a long bench with about 5 other people on an overnight trip. Although uncomfortable and sleepless (I envy some Indians' ability to sleep in nearly any situation), this turned out to be one of the most incredible train rides I've had. You were forced to get to know the people around you, and everyone was so caring and bent over backwards to help each other. This young guy across from me, after putting up a little fuss for letting this poor old grandma share his extremely small sitting space, doted on her the entire trip. He would push others out of the way to give her room, and help hold her stuff. I made friends with a couple of Sikh military guys who were on some special forces in Jammu (also a heavy security area).

Chandigarh

Chandigarh is a very unusual Indian city. It was planned by the French architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s as a symbol of the new, post-Independence India and has many aspects of a modern, Western city. There are wide leafy avenues, a grid system, and a lot of malls. It's a strange juxtaposition to see what would look like any major arterial road in LA, lined with trees and grassy parking strips, with bicycle rickshaws and horse-draw carriages driving around.

Open Hand Sculpture - Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier not only designed the city, but also contributed sculptures and architected many of its major buildings. The signature piece by him is the "Open Hand" sculpture, meant to symbolize the new, open, non-corrupt Indian society (though honestly it looks like someone is saying "talk to the hand").

Ned Chand's Rock GardenNek Chand's Rock Garden

Pretty much the only thing I did in Chandigarh besides go to malls was to check out Nek Chand's Rock Garden. Chand, who was a government official, surreptitiously created the garden in his spare time, starting in 1957 and using only garbage and industrial waste. The authorities discovered it in 1975 and it's become a big attraction since then. The garden is huge, and contains thousands and thousands of sculptures of people, animals, gods, and amorphous blobs of concrete and tile. Tori, this is another place I think you would love.

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