Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chandigarh's Fantasy Rock Garden

On the afternoon of February 13th we drove out to Chandigarh. This took five or so hours. For several of those hours we drove along a river along which a variety of people were living, cooking, bathing, washing, swimming and defecating. There was no particular order to this so 200 meters upstream from a swimmer might be someone doing something that you'd really rather not be done just upstream of your swimming. The driver with the land cruiser-like vehicle was unavailable so Rod, Pavan, Pavan's parents, and a new driver all crammed into the small car. This was fairly challenging!

On arrival in Chandigarh we met Pavan's cousins Aman and Nonie, and Amans wife Gurinder.

LTR: Pavan, Aman, Gurinder, Pavan's parents, Rod.
Nonie seems to have somehow escaped...

The small car ;)

Both our Lonely Planet and Aman highly recommended Nek Chand's Fantasy Rock Garden (aka Rock Garden of Chandigarh). This remarkable complex was started off by Nek Chand in private before being discovered and, in a remarkable (and rare) display of government adaptability, recognized as a work of art of some value and saved rather than being bulldozed. The exhibits are constructs of recycled/garbage material. We expected it to be sort of neat but we were blown away as we progressed further and further into the garden. Some claim it to be the second-most visited Indian tourist attraction after the Taj Mahal!

The rock garden starts off fairly tame.

Then you pass into some spiffy passageways and catch your first glimpse of the complex opening up.

Then you step out into the result of adults playing at building castles out of scrap material. The traditional reaction is more or less "holy #@$".

Perhaps you are a fan of man-made concrete-sheathed-metal tree roots.

Or maybe a little water-fall wading near more-or-less a castle wall.

Even our hosts, visiting the rock garden for the Nth time, got in on the action!

Suffice to say we rather liked the waterfall-rich virtual castle!

Along the ridge ran a series of little model buildings and waterways, almost like a model town.

One last look at the water palace and then off through the remarkably organic looking concrete/steel roots to another environment!

Sadly the overpass seemed to be closed to tourists. Looks cool though!

In the next area we started to see the first, most basic, little sculptures. These were but a glimpse of things to come!

The entrance to the next area was borderline Rod-proof.

In the next courtyard we asked a guard if we could clamber on some fairly sturdy ironworks and he approved.

We slipped the guard a few rupee after and were immediately chastised by what turned out to be an undercover police officer. What luck. We kind of expected to have to bribe him too but fortunately no problems resulted. The sculptures were beginning to grow more complex.

The next area was another water castle scenario, this time highlighted by a large waterfall and some fairly elaborate figures, both at the base and at the top of the falls.

The end of this area passed through a kind of high-walled man-made ravine and then opened up into a space where you can take a breather, grab snacks, the inevitable crappy souvenirs, and admire the scrap-tile-work.

Along the middle are a set of swings slung under a series of horse sculptures.

All this was of course exhausting so we had to stop for a brief lounge. And to people-riding-camel-watch. And then, perhaps against Pavan's best judgement, to provide entertainment for the locals by performing our swing routine.

After the break we entered the source of a great deal of the pictures one sees of the garden: the sculpture gallery. We liked them. So we have a LOT of pictures of them!

And so ends the rock garden! Of course rock garden viewing is hungry work, and Rod likes dosa, so we went to a place Aman knew about that sells a family size dosa. The dosa was as large as advertised, served with a variety of sides. Very tasty and quite fun to smash apart.

Pavan and Gurinder decided they wanted henna done. They settled down to get the henna applied while Rod and Aman wandered around. A surprising number of vendors were out selling flowers, which eventually caused the realization that it was valentines day. Not too big in India yet but much like Christmas in China businesses are pushing hard to make it bigger.

Chandigarh is a staggeringly orderly city. The whole thing is in a grid, cell is numbered, at the intersections there are neat roundabouts, and while rickshaws and other odd (for Westerners) vehicles are in the streets the whole thing is like a different world from the other parts of India we saw. The city was built deliberately "modern" (a term with plenty of room for interpretation) largely under the guidance of Le Corbusier. After henna we went to visit a hand monument left from the time when the major outline of Chandigarh was being created.

After the hand we went to a coffee shop. A good coffee shop. Anyone who knows Pavan knows that this was a very important stop!

Next Pavan convinced us to go to a bazaar. Rod wasn't terribly enthused but it made his week to find a restaurant called Catch 22!

The outside of the market seems innocent enough.

However, once you get in its an absolute maze of people-choked passages between vendors.

The market about wrapped up the day for us. We headed back to Aman's place and stayed up for a bit chatting. It was very nice to get to hang out and talk to fluent English speakers similar to ourselves.

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