State: Punjab and Haryana
Distance: 248 km NW of Delhi
When to go: October-March
Punjab Tourism, Archives Bhavan, Sector 38A, Chandigarh
Haryana Tourism, SCO 17-19, Sector 17-B, Chandigarh
STD code: 0172
Air: Chandigarh Airport
Rail: Chandigarh Station
Road: Route from Delhi, take NH1 to Ambala via Panipat, NH22 to Zirakpur, NH21 to Chandigarh.
Situated in close proximity to the Shivalik foothills of the Himalayas in northwest India, at a distance of 256 km from Delhi, lies the city beautiful – Chandigarh. The name Chandigarh means the fort of goddess Chandi, an avatar of the Hindu mother goddess, and the city is so named because of an ancient temple to the goddess of power located nearby.
Chandigarh was the first post-independence planned city, the master plan for which was created by the renowned Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier. Unlike most small towns, wherein the splendour of the past is juxtaposed incongruously with the squalor of the present, Chandigarh was conceptualised as an urban project with wide roads drawn out in a grid-iron pattern, interlinked self-sufficient sectors with a thick green cover, manicured roundabouts with flowering plants that now are a cultural marker of the city, and a disdain for high-rise buildings: and this crux which remains unmarred to this day.
Things to see and do
The city, the twin capital of Haryana and Punjab, sees tourist traffic most of the year and largely plays host to travellers on the Delhi-Manali and Delhi-Shimla course. Visitors can cruise along the notorious geri route (a few streets where young men ride their motorbikes and cars regularly), savour the local delicacies, or just traipse in and around town sightseeing while adding to their lexicon a few Punjabi words that they’ll inevitably pick up along the way.
Located at Uttar Marg in Sector 1, north of Chandigarh, this fantastical place attracts over 5000 visitors daily. In 1957, a road inspector, Nek Chand began collecting rocks and discarded material from demolished sites around the city in his spare time. Using materials such as broken crockery, coloured stones and bangles, he started giving shape to the creations that can be seen today. Spread over 40 acres, the garden has amazing figures built of industrial and discarded home articles such as electrical items, glass, ceramic pots, bottles, tiles, sinks and other such concrete paraphernalia that are positioned in walled paths. The garden also has an open-air exhibition hall, a theatre trove and sublime waterfalls.
Government Museum and Art Gallery
The Government Museum and Art Gallery, located in Sector 10C, was designed by Le Corbusier. The Art Gallery is the most impressive of the four wings of the museum with the latter three including the Chandigarh Architecture Museum, National History Museum and National Gallery of Portraits. These galleries house a vast collection of Gandhara and Hindu sculptures, Pahari, Mughal and Rajasthani miniature paintings, decorative arts, coins, plans, sketches and photographs pertaining to the planning and development of the city, maquettes, contemporary art, textile work and even furniture.
International Dolls Museum
The museum, housed in Bal Bhavan in Sector 24, showcases dolls dressed in Indian tribal attire and in various bridal ensembles, highlighting the diversity of cultures and secularism in India. Also on display are dolls from countries such as Netherlands, Korea, Russia and Germany, all adorned in their local garb. Along with dolls, there are appealing scenes from prominent fables. However, a toy train that’s been a permanent fixture since 1985 is the main attraction of the museum and has the young ones swarming around in absolute glee.
Created by damming the cyclic stream that flows down from the Shivalik Hills, the Sukhna Lake, located in Sector 1, is an artificial water body. Declared a protected national wetland by the Government of India, this is also a sanctuary for countless exotic migratory birds like the Siberian ducks, cranes and storks during the winter months. To preserve Le Corbusier’s vision of beauty and tranquility for Sukhna Lake, motorboats in the lake are not allowed to this date, nor are vehicles permitted on the promenade.
A popular place year round, the waterfront is always abuzz. Activities such as rowing, boating and kayaking are available, and rows of artists and photographers offer to click a photo for posterity or make a sketch as a souvenir. There is a bustling restaurant and a souvenir shop a few steps away from the entrance.
Zakir Hussain Rose Garden
Established in 1967, this botanical garden is spread over 30 acres of land with over 16000 species of roses. Most popular as the venue for a popular cultural event, the Festival of Gardens held at the onset of each year, the Rose Garden in Sector 16 is a popular spot with locals and visitors alike. Besides a plethora of flowering plants, the garden also has thousands of trees such as camphor and yellow gulmohar that have medicinal value. Fountains, twinkling lights, a well-stocked canteen and several benches dotted around the park all make for a lovely place to while away a pleasant winter day.
Where to stay and to eat
At the top-end, the Taj Chandigarh (Tel: 0172-6613000; Tariff: INR 9,450-26,450; www.tajhotels.com) has an excellent location in Sector 17, and the Schezwan cuisine at its restaurant, Black Lotus, is delicious. JW Marriott Hotel Chandigarh (Tel: 3955555; Tariff: INR 10,750-20,700;www.marriott.com) in Sector 35 has all the usual top-notch amenities and is one of the top luxury options in the city.
The government-owned Hotel Mountview (Tel: 4671111, 2740544, Cell: 0904115566; Tariff: INR 3,550-12,500; www.citcochandigarh.com/mountview) has a gym, swimming pool and a multi-cuisine restaurant. The TOY Hotel (Tel: 4033333, Cell: 08054703648; Tariff: INR 5,000-8,500; www.thetoyhotel.in) has a blingy exterior, but the interiors are stylish and comfortable. The Fern Residency (Tel: 5043333; Tariff: INR 5,000-8,000; www.fernhotels.com) and Hotel Aroma Complex (Tel: 4010000-27, 2700047-48; Tariff: INR 2,795-4,195; www.hotelaroma.com) are good choices as well.
Chandigarh has a plethora of eating choices. Some of the eateries worth visiting are Gusto Cafe and Restaurant and Virgin Courtyard in Sector 7 and The Willow Cafe in Sector 10. For good Continental and grills, there is Chili’s, Underdoggs, Pirates of the Grill and Mocha, all housed in Elante Mall. Swagath in Sector 26 serves excellent Chettinad fare, while Mainland China in Sector 26 is the go-to Chinese joint.