Still among the list of best planned cities, Chandigarh makes for the perfect place for a family vacation. Making Park Plaza Zirakpur the base, we spent a day exploring the beauty of this city.
Words and Photos: Ambica Gulati
Better known as a city for educational institutions, Chandigarh has long been a town planner’s delight. Open to give, Open to receive was the motto of the French architect and man who designed the city, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, and that’s what the famous Open Hand monument in the city signifies.
This openness was alive when I had visited the city 28 years back in 1987—the lovely wide roads, the round circles, houses with low walls and an amazing amount of greenery. The people were not in a hurry and the city was unlike any other in Punjab. There was a mixed feel as students from all over India came to study in Punjabi University and the medical college. My first impact was one of leisure and pleasure blended with quality.
Once upon a time, there was no Mohali, no Zirakpur and no Panchkula. Now, the hubs vibrate more than the city. Zirakpur is a thriving town, just 20 minutes drive from the railway station which is the probably the cleanest after the Kalka station. And this was our base for the two-day trip, on invitation from Park Plaza Zirakpur.
Managed by Sarovar Hotels, this is a four-star property with good amenities. And it’s well located on the Ambala-Chandigarh highway. And on what I would call ‘the hospitality road’, as there are many hotels there. But the competition isn’t deterring as the General Manager Michael G. Singh elucidates. It’s just a way to keep on toes all the time.
Not much has changed in terms of the culture in the city, even though there has been a population explosion. The suburbs have risen with more MNCs, software parks, knowledge centres and manufacturing industries. Gone is the relaxed pace of either working in the Government or moving to bigger towns in Punjab and abroad or simply tending to the fields. But even then, it remains the same in the way it talks and walks, unspoiled by the many brands which thrive there now.
An early morning ride to Sukhna Lake was bliss. Everything is in order here. People don’t honk on the roads and there’s a lot of emphasis on physical health. Soft music floats through the air, the rising sun and the chirping birds make it the perfect way to begin the day. Many perform yoga on the side of the lake, while others are rowing the boats. The young and the old are enjoying a morning walk. There is less chatter and more nature here. It is such a pleasure to breathe in some fresh air and see the pollution-free blue skies. Maybe its mayhem as the day progresses for there is a food court and rides for children and boating, but the early morning scene is refreshing.
The hotel had packed our breakfast, which we enjoyed with a cup of Nestea. Yes, the machine has found its way in the land of milk too. And we were off to the famous Rock Garden, merely a few minutes walk. But some might like to use golf carts too. It opens at 9 am and the tickets costs Rs 20.
When seen with an adult’s eye, it’s really a piece of art. During my teens, I probably missed the wonder in it, the spirit of one man called Nek Chand. Legends around this genius say that he went to the Shivalik hills to collect the stones and materials and had hidden the work for 18 years as it was considered illegal. Everything not needed in its creative form has found its way into this man-made garden. Tiles, bangles, wires are now men, women, owls, monkeys, horses, birds. If you really want to enjoy the garden, keep some time for there are interesting things that you find in every nook and corner. And you would enjoy walking through the narrow paths, sitting on the benches or under a tree, watching the little fishes in the aquarium or laugh it out in the gallery of laughing mirrors. Or maybe you would like to take pictures by the flowing water bodies and feel better looking at the green trees. There are even swings in one area. No eatables and drinks are allowed inside.
Luckily, we had kept some juices from the breakfast pack. And these were so needed after the long, sweaty walk. Then it was a ride to the Capitol Complex which comes under Chandigarh Tourism. This complex comprises the High Court, the Open Hand monument, Assembly Building and The Secretariat, the decision-making hub of the city designed by Le Corbusier himself. A tourism officer and police accompany you. They are upbeat with the airport gaining international status, expecting more tourists and more earnings. It’s not a huge area, but has to be walked around and most of us lazy Indians abandon the walk. But it’s really popular with people from abroad and amongst architectural students, I was told. As the city was expecting UNESCO officials when we visited, there was a lot of construction going on and there was an Assembly session too. This complex is soon expected to be a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So we just gazed at the sun dial and the high court and came back.
But what was interesting to know that Le Corbusier had designed the city like a human body—the left side was all industrial, the right was residential and educational, the heart was the government hub.
Back at the hotel for lunch at the all day dining Essence, we enjoyed a round of Pan Asian cuisine. And then two hours of rest and we were off for a spiritual evening towards Panchkula. Within minutes, we were parked in front of Gurudwara Nada Sahib. The sound of shabads greeted us at this holy place at the foot of Shivalik Range on the banks of Ghaggar. Legend goes that after the battle of Bhangani in the Nahan hills, Guru Gobind Singh reached here with his army. Baba Nadu Shah, a Lubana by caste and an agriculturist, was influenced by the Guru and served milk to the army. Pleased by this selfless service, the Guru blessed the Baba that, “One day, this place will be visited by thousands and anyone coming with sincere intention will be rewarded with the fulfillment on his wish, provided that he pays respect to Baba Nadu”. On every full moon, people come to seek the blessings of the Guru and Baba Nadu Shah.
A cup of tea as langar, a bowl of jal prasad and hearts filled with spiritual bliss, we drove to Mansa Devi temple. A form of Shakti, she is the goddess who rules mann or things which we feel. And she blesses this mann to remain pure. This particular temple on the Shivalik foothills in village Bilaspur was built by Maharaja Gopal Singh of Mani Majra from1811–1815. Paying our obeisance and thanking her for the blessings, it was time to return to the comfort of Park Plaza Zirakpur for a good night’s sleep.
A day in the city made me realise that a lot had not changed, even after 28 years. Chandigarh was still ‘open to give and open to receive’.