I’ve spent the last 2 days getting reacquainted with the city of Chandigarh after a 25 year gap. It’s a self governing city (Union Territory) as well as being the capital of 2 states- Haryana and Punjab (2 state governors live side by side!) and most exciting of all, it was designed and planned by leading designers in the 1950s, most notable of all, Swiss-born LeCorbusier. See the Wikipedia link at the top for more information. (Thanks to my cousin Amar for providing!)
So to recap, I made it here by ‘Volvo’ Coach from Delhi after Indian Airlines cancelled my flight. When I finally did make it to Chandigarh, it was a great relief to end my day with a warm welcome from my uncle and aunt. Their anticipation and my exhaustion had been growing in equal measure since 2pm, so by the time we met at 10:30pm they were really excited and I was really exhausted. Nonetheless we had a great reunion and spent a few hours catching up before hitting the sack.
The following morning my aunt began stuffing with me with food in good Indian Aunty fashion, and before I could say, “I need a nap” they took me out on a tour of the city. As we started to drive around, I was particularly interested to see buildings designed and built as part of LeCorbusier’s master plan for the city. I was not disappointed- the modernist architecture of The Secretariat (government buildings) and the High Court were beautiful- clean linear grey concrete structures marked with splashes of colour and surrounded by green open spaces. This was optimistic 50s architecture and urban planning in all its glory.
I started to realize that Chandigarh was just not the same India in which I had spent the last 3 weeks. This city was relatively clean and gleaming with civic pride. There were a lot of signs that made this point clear; for example there’s a large Rose Garden and even a Rose festival that includes a ‘best roundabout garden’ competition. Signs encourage people to use waste bins and keep the city green, there are even signs encouraging people to take walks and enjoy nature!
But that was just the beginning- there are lanes marked on the litter-free main roads (one day people may actually drive in them!), and they even have a digital countdown showing when the light will turn. The main roads are tree-flanked, divided boulevards- straight, flat and free of cows! There’s a cool breeze from the hills that makes for fresh clean air to breathe. It’s never too hot here and the whole place is buzzing with happy people. I think I just found my happy place!
Far from being like ‘master planned’ communities in the US, the best part is that this city has character! Each sector (neighborhood) has been designed with its own shopping area so people can walk to their local shops; most even have their own temple. There are so many uniquely designed homes and so many mature trees everywhere, it never feels stale or boring.
A bizarre feature- the residential streets don’t have names; your house is identified by its number and sector number. It all seems to work and it’s actually quite cool. Perhaps it’s one more step in redefining what a city should look and feel like.
Chandigarh is also one of India’s richest cities. That’s a welcome statistic and it translates to very few beggars (begging is actually illegal here- surely a first for India!). There are a lot of very nice neighborhoods around the city too, including Panchkula; where every street seemed to be filled with uniquely designed marble-clad mansions that would be the envy of people from most western cities.
My day was filled with stops that showed off the city- a Bougainvillea garden with a war memorial, drinks at the private “Chandigarh Club” where my uncle is a member. Then there was Sukhna lake- a picturesque man made lake where families were out enjoying boat rides and where you can walk or jog along the lakeside during morning and evening music. There was Rajiv Gandhi IT Park, full of brand new glass buildings and the Chandimandar Military Cantonment and bustling Sector 43 Outdoor market. The list went on- this city had something exciting to see around every corner.
I was really enjoying being here. It was a relaxed, comfortable and safe place. Toward the end of the day my uncle drove us to Panjore Gardens in the hills above the city, and finally to the Timber Trail restaurant just outside the hill town of Kalka. There was a cable car taking people up to a hotel of the same name, and amazing views down into the valley.
We had dinner at an uncle’s house that night whom I had not seen for 14 years- last time his daughter was 7 and scared of my ‘cut thumb’ trick; now she was learning Japanese and becoming a doctor. Talk about a time warp! I really enjoyed catching up with them and it was amazing to hear that despite growing up in the US, she actually enjoyed it here enough to say she wasn’t desperate to move back there.
The next morning, after a buttery breakfast of Aloo Parantha and home made yoghurt, I took a cycle rickshaw (first time on this trip) to Sector 17- the giant concrete shopping piazza where Chandigarh shops and socializes.
After people watching for a few hours, there followed another emotional family reunion as I met up with some more cousins after 25 years. They live in a new housing development outside the neighboring town of Mohali called, “Sunny Enclave”. It was sunny alright- it’s always sunny in Sunny Enclave.
My time in Chandigarh was rapidly coming to a close… way too fast- I was left with a list of places to visit and things to see on my “I’ll be back” list. Chandigarh is a model city not only for India but for the world- of course it helps that the Indian people have brought it to life with their flair and character. And how! Go Punjabis!
The next day I was going on to Delhi, by yet another new transport method- train. I took the express ‘Shatabdi’ train from Chandigarh to Delhi. For western standards, the train was a bit rickety and a bit congested but it made up for those minor shortcomings with a great service, speed (300KM to Delhi in just over 3 hours) and of course value. The ticket was just over 400Rs ($10) and for that I got several cups of tea, a newspaper and a tasty breakfast with an omelet. Of course getting to the station for my 0650 departure was a drag but it was by far the most reliable way to get to Delhi, based on my past experience with Indian Airlines. I would take an early rise over an airport delay any day.
En route I met Mr. Yadhav, a 26 year veteran employee of government owned HTM (Hindustan Tool Manufacturers). Mr. Y works in marketing for their tractor division and was en route to a meeting with the government to talk about new developments and potential orders.
We talked for the whole 3 hour trip about his paltry salary of Rs. 20K/mo ($500), the state of the Indian Tractor manufacturing business, his son who had just moved to study Hotel Management in Brisbane and his hopes of one day in the not to distant future, leaving the public sector to pursue a job with his competition, where he could quadruple his salary. He told me that HTM Tractors had had a hiring freeze since 1990 and were not competitive with the likes of new entrants including John Deere. I started getting angry on his behalf and giving him my opinions on the state of the company. Mr. Y. was lapping up my western marketing talk and I felt like quite the consultant all of a sudden! “We have an expression in English”, I said, “ ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’- you should jump ship to the competition before your company goes out of business!” I told him. “YES YES, I will go home and discuss with my wife.”
As the train clickety-clacked its way through farmland and I saw the sunrise over the flat horizon of Haryana state, I pictured myself as a marketing guru working in India, hosting seminars on Internet marketing across the land, attended by thousands of eager business people just like Mr. Yahdhav. I was going to be the master of the marketing lecture circuit in India! I would live in Chandigarh and go boating at the weekends; visit my holiday retreat in Kasauli in the summers and patriotically drive a Tata car. I would nod my head sideways a lot in approval, disapproval and also when unsure to all who crossed my way. It would be great!
I have now arrived in Delhi, excited about the next section of my trip- Jaipur, the Pink City. On to Jaipur tomorow by hired car!