Writing from: Jaipur on technology from ye olden days.
India’s cleanest city, the Lonely Planet guide tells us. We have four days to kill before Diwali and the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and India’s cleanest city sounds quite tempting after the lung-wheezing chaos of Mumbai and Delhi, and the didn’t-know-I-could-bend-that-way yoga fun, and Ganges-flavoured white water rafting of Rishikesh (just so you know the Ganges up there was quite near enough to the source, and therefore clean enough, for me to jump in at the fourth rapid and float through in person rather than on raft. Bit chilly though, remind me next time that the Ganges is glacier meltwater. Brrrrrrrrr).
So we shuffled into Chandigarh in search of less peace and quiet and more beer (Rishikesh is a meatless boozeless haven). Mainly though I was here for the fabled Rock Garden. Point me in the direction of something described as wonderous and weird and I will inevitably want to go there.
Brief history without boring you (I hope). When India became independent in 1947 and was split in two (Partition – India became India and Pakistan) the city of Chandigarh was planned to be built from the ground up as the new capital of Punjab.
One of the many folks who flowed into the city pre-construction was a man called Nek Chand (I’ve always liked people called Chand). Mr C took a look at all the rubbish being generated by the clearing of villages in preparation for the new city to spring up, and decided to do something with all the broken bits of stuff and things being left behind.
Fifteen years later the government who owned the land stumbled on a fabulous bit of unauthorised madness in the middle of all the order. And, rather than knock it all down, they threw 50 workers and a bit of grant money at its creator and the Fantasy Rock Garden was born.
You can’t help expecting to see David Bowie appear round the corner wearing wincingl-tight tights and a Tina Turner wig as you enter the labyrinth of the Rock Gardens (“You remind me of the babe.”, “What babe?”). I fell in all kinds of love as soon as I ducked through the half-height archway door and was faced with a wall made of broken plug sockets, and shelves where oddly shaped faceless creatures peered down at you.
The maze is 20 hectares of pure imagination, twisty passages, armies of wobbly-legged stickmen, spindly ponies, growling stone hounds, hobbling rocktagenarians clutching clay pots, wavering-necked graceful but gawky swans and peacocks with shards of mosaic feathers, and colourful boogie-ing bracelet maidens. Wavy walled waterfalls appear round bends, and spine-bridge streams trickle past cobbled floors.
In the middle of it all is a huuuuuuuuuuge courtyard with flashes of mosaic monsters at the top of go-nowhere stairs, and columns along the back wall topped with bandy-legged mosaic horses. Couple this with streaming sari silk and shiny snakes of dark hair as countless field-trip school children push themselves to and fro on the swings hung between the columns, and you are walking out of the almost-soulless concrete clean of India’s newest city, into something storybook-flavoured and magical.
The gardens are said to be the second most visited site in India next to the Taj Mahal, and my overenthusiastic picture-taking tended to agree.
Now if I could just find Hoggle with those keys, then I could murder a paneer tikka roll and a fresh lime and soda.