We weren’t planning on calling into Chandigarh, we’d planned to go straight to Amritsar from Delhi. But plans change. Our land lady and friend from London was visiting her family there and offered us a room in their temple… for free. Unfortunately she was flying there the day we arrived and we couldn’t get hold of her, so we decided to spend one night in a guesthouse first.
On arrival we decided to risk it and go to a new hotel that we found on tripadvisor. It was a bit far out but had clean rooms and free wifi. At least that’s what the review said. When we got there it was a grotty hotel that didn’t have any internet whatsoever. Avoid Hotel Royal Palace.
We left and headed for the top choice in the Lonely Planet, Satyadeep Hotel. It was cheap enough (although more expensive than other parts of India) with clean rooms and sporadic hot water. And it had a TV… oooh fancy.
We didn’t much fancy spending the afternoon in our room though so we headed to the sweet shop downstairs. We’d heard they served samosas and were not disappointed by what we found. A plate containing two samosas and a bowl of chick pea curry, or channa. We were only expecting a snack for 30 rupees (about 40p) but this was a whole meal, amazing.
Once we’d refuelled we decided to go to Nek Chand’s Fantasy Rock Garden – set to be India’s top tourist attraction. If people in Chandigarh are to believed, even bigger than the Taj Mahal?!
Nek Chand first started the garden in the early 1960’s, when he began recycling rubbish by creating little creatures in his shed. He soon built up a secret maze filled with creatures all made out of broken pottery, old bits of pipe and discarded tiles. In 1975 the authorities wanted to knock it down and move Nek on, but he won a court case in 1989 to keep it. He even got funding to make his creation into a real attraction. Now, volunteers come to help expand and maintain the garden – see www.nekchand.com for more information.
You can see the garden evolve as you walk around. Once you’ve bought your tickets from a tiny hole in a wall you head into a concrete maze, decorated with broken ceramics. As you walk, you begin to see unrecognisable blobs or ‘creatures’ peaking out over the top of the wall. Soon you begin to see them more clearly defined, all peering back at you. From there you see tiny rock villages, big waterfalls and bigger recognisable animals.
It’s not finished yet and perhaps never will be, but for 20rupees it’s well worth a visit. It’s no Taj, but if you find yourself passing by, call in and spend a day in Chandigarh. If you want some big shops and American fast food in more peace than you’ll find in the other big cities, even better. And if you’re a cricket fan too, then maybe this’ll even be your favourite destination in the North.