Nek Chand Rock Garden: Chandigarh’s Ode to Eccentricity

It would appear that Emma and I don’t know how to travel easy (see flying to Sri Lanka). So it was with Chandigarh.

Since we were flying into Chandigarh, but actually spending the night in Pinjore 20 kilometres outside of the city, we needed to leave our large backpacks somewhere in order to explore Chandigarh in comfort. My first idea was to go to a museum, since they usually have lockers or at least a cloak room. Our first stop was at Le Corbusier’s museum, named after the architect who designed a lot of administrative buildings in the city between the years 1952-59. It turned out to be a lonely, dusty, but airy exhibit showing photographs of the architect in Chandigarh. The correspondence between Le Corbusier and the city officials is for some reason meticulously preserved, as well as other rather pedestrian memorabilia like manhole covers and chairs that various dignitaries sat on. We simply couldn’t leave our bags with the bored and lonely guard, who was already too busy swatting away nagging flies.

Our second stop was the Government museum and art gallery. Their lockers turned out to be too small and not working. After wasting nearly two hours traveling around the city, visiting museums and trying to find a place to put down our bags, we finally resigned to carry them on our backs.

And so we found ourselves going to the Nek Chand Rock Garden laden with two bags each, the large ones on the back, and the small ones on the front. The restriction of mobility and maneuverability made me feel not unlike a turtle, and this turtle was about to squeeze into some tight places. Chandigarh rock garden is a sole creation of Nek Chand, a government employee who from 1957 started secretly collecting waste materials around the city, and using them to construct narrow labirinthine pathways.

To keep this kind of project a secret must have been a great achievement, as by the time it was discovered by the authorities in 1975, it was already covering a 12-acre area. Contrary to Nek Chand’s fears, upon discovery of the garden, the local government did not shut it down and instead provided him with 50 labourers to work on the garden on full scale. The transition from the secret garden to the government-sponsored public space was really obvious as the clustered courtyards gave way to large sculptures and dream-like castle architecture. I’m not going to lie, we breathed a sigh of relief coming into the wide-open spaces, since it was more than once that I found myself getting stuck with my backpacks in the hobbit-like low doorways, blocking pedestrian traffic. It was amazing to see that despite the scale of construction drastically increasing, the materials used didn’t change. Even with government funding, Nek Chand was still busy scouring the city for discarded ceramic, glass and plastic, thus making recycling a true art form.

The rock garden path culminates in a large open space where the parents sit on the tiled steps watching their children play on the swings under an undulating collonnade. It is truly a wonderful place full of laughter and noise.

Practicalities:

Transportation: If visiting Chandigarh’s Capitol complex with its administrative cities, it is just a short walk over to the Nek Chand Garden.

Time: It is really up to you how long you would like to spend in the garden, as there are a lot of charming places to simply sit and admire.

Cost: 20 rupees for adults, 10 rupees for children.

Extras: Due to popularity of the garden, it does get very crowded, with bottlenecks forming around the narrow passages. If you are not in the mood to squeeze past hordes of people, make sure to visit during the non-peak hours.

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