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CHANDIGARH: A DAY IN THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

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Hungry to travel, we planned a trip to Himachal. We had to decide between Chandigarh and Delhi to be our pit stop. But being architecture – geeks we chose Chandigarh, even though it meant loosing more time in travel. 
What Chandigarh was all about- Tons of Le Corbusier. Lots of Chole Kulche. Napping on park benches and gardens. Having an entire double decker bus to ourselves. High energy. Great weather.

Chandigarh Railway Station

Arrival Story

We reached Chandigarh railway station at dawn. And boy oh boy, that was a clean railway station! The cleaners were wiping the walls clean like we do at our homes in Diwali. As a result of 24 hours journey in sleeper coach, our bodies felt dirtier than the benches we sat on. After cleaning up in the waiting room, we went to the ISBT in sector 17. We kept our luggage in the cloak room as we had to board the bus to Himachal from there. These were our ways for a cheap trip turning out to be a pocket friendly and thrill- pill.

Trees dot the fabric of Chandigarh- along the roads, in open plazas, everywhere! And mulberry is one such tree that you spot all around. Coming out from the ISBT, we found big mulberry trees loaded with berries as with the onset of summer, they start bearing fruit. While satisfying our taste buds, a few lines from James Riley’s poem on the mulberry tree came to my mind:

“Today as I dream with both eyes wide-awake/ I can see the old tree and its limbs as they shake/ And the long purple berries that rained on the ground.”

Mulberry hunting on the roads of Chandigarh

Chandigarh Tourism runs a hop-on, hop-off double-decker tourist bus. It leaves from sector 17 and runs to prominent sites like the Rose garden, Museum and Art gallery, Bougainvillea Garden, Rock Garden and Sukhna Lake for just 50 bucks a person. As there were no other tourists that day, it was like we had our own private bus to scout the beautiful city and enjoy the panoramic views of sparkling parks, eating joints, and majestic hills, at our own pace!

HOHO bus

SUKHNA LAKE

Our first stop was Sukhna lake, a majestic man-made lake with Shivalik ranges forming its backdrop. We took a small stroll and clicked a few pictures. After that, we headed towards the next famous destination of Chandigarh, Nek Chand’s wonderful, whimsical Rock Garden.

Large plaza adjoining the lake

ROCK GARDEN

The whole experience of visiting the Rock Garden was extraordinary, disorientating and deeply impressive. Throughout the garden, Nek Chand has used space in sharply contrasting ways, from almost oppressively narrow, steep-sided lanes and tiny Alice-in-Wonderland doorways to large, confident waterfalls and open terraces. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s use of concrete in the city, yet what Nek Chand produced is folk art and labyrinthine paths. It stands in extraordinary contrast to Corbusier’s modernist city and its grid pattern roadways. Though being about half a decade old, it still has the same charisma and awesomeness. You are spellbound by the site of hundreds and hundreds of figurines covered with colorful broken crockery, tiles, bangles and what not!

Made entirely of reclaimed, reused and recycled materials

GOVERNMENT MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY

If it is not Monday or outside the hours of 10:00 AM to 4:45 PM, you may visit the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Sector 10. The Government College of Art and the Museums of Architecture & Natural History surround it. It has become a haven for tourists, researchers, students on a school visit and families because you can spend an entire day here. And for us, its campus meant, a nice place to rest. As we were awake since 4 in the morning, we were tired and the benches shaded by the trees proved to be very cozy to take a half an hour nap.

No one else was there the afternoon we visited. We paid admission for ourselves and half-admission for our camera. The curators intended the exhibition to have placid and mesmerizing effects on the eyes of the onlookers. And I must say they were quite successful in doing so. And if one happens to be a lover for art and crafts and architecture, then this place is the ultimate paradise.

Built on Corbusier’s concept of “a Museum of Unlimited Growth”

Corbusier conceived the Capitol Complex as the head of Chandigarh’s sectored body, and the City Centre in Sector 17, two-thirds of the way up the grid of arteries, as the heart. The green space—surprise, surprise—was considered the lung. And as an conclusion to our day, we decided to visit the Capitol Complex.

Unlike other cities such as Mumbai, which are a mixture; Chandigarh is easy to navigate, sector-wise, as the sectors are all in line. In Mumbai, it takes more-and-more-proximate-but-never-definitive directions from five pedestrians to get anywhere.

An easy to navigate layout

CAPITOL COMPLEX

The rickshaw deposited us shy of the gate. In front of the guard booth, an army officer kept vigil. He had arms and a rifle, which were enough to make us feel nervous. As we walked towards him, we did rapid character development and hammed up to look like non-hostile tourists (which we were). An even pace, cautious bob of the head, clearly displayed hands, chattering amongst us. While we didn’t expect bullets flying towards us, the thought of how severely dangerous an error would be under the circumstances of upcoming elections affected that kind of dread in us.
Fear not, we passed through unscathed. The officer took our identity cards in his possession and allowed us to go visit the campus of Capitol Complex. We were warned not to wander anywhere near the Assembly building and the High court or any other building other than the Open Hand.

OPEN HAND

No one else was there the time we visited. As soon as you enter the campus, you can see the 28 meters high Open Hand looming over you, heavy and dominating. It’s not until you reach the monument that you see, the hollow crowned by the Open Hand. The floor of this consideration, ‘considering to think, see, to talk about what’s real’, was 5 meters deep. It consists of two amphitheaters. Two because Corbusier’s philosophy was that ‘ there are always two sides to a question’. 

We descended to the sunken courtyard designed as ‘ pit of contemplation’ where the public affairs would be discussed. It appeared more to us as a place, hidden in view, where cult meetings would take place. We could imagine cult leaders addressing their followers from the podium. Corbusier designed the place so carefully that a person won’t need a microphone, but the acoustics of the place will handle it all.

And it was while sitting there, clicking weird pictures that one of us squealed that the Hand is moving! Yes, we didn’t know it till then that the Monument is mounted on a ball bearing. It allows it to turn with the wind, not aimlessly, to express what life really is, constantly moving.
The true and simple meaning of the Open Hand is to Give and Receive.
Symbol of Faith in the world of Catastrophe.
You don’t need knowledge of symbolism in architecture nor longer than a day in Chandigarh to become familiar with the Open Hand and its authority in enhancing the brand name of the city. Also interpreted as a flying bird, for the citizens of Chandigarh, it is symbolic of freedom, freedom to be who they are and what they can do.

Open Hand, also identified as flying bird

HIGH COURT AND ASSEMBLY BUILDING

Till the time we were sitting there, two surveillance conveyances had already come to check in on us. The barbed-wire-and-jeep-patrolled perimeter was enough to dismay us. So, after spending a significant amount of time in the pit of contemplation, we walked to the High Court, hopeful that no one will catch us. Since the officer had warned us not to wander anywhere near the other buildings, we gratified ourselves by clicking pictures with the architectural marvel, as a proof that affirmative, we had visited the much-celebrated building.

Sculptural architecture with rhythmical brise-soleil and a floating roof

Though Corbusier conceived the entire complex as the head of the new capital, looking behind us, we could not see any of the city. Lush trees and extensive landscape surrounded us, with no building in sight. The only structure visible was the sculptural hill that Le Corbusier had designed for the Assembly Building, at the Southernmost part of the complex that divides the city from the Capitol Complex.

Returning back to the security booth, the army personnel had changed. The camoed officer flicked through our identity cards. On sight of State Maharashtra, he apprised us of his roots there. Like true Indians, meeting in a foreign country, we exchanged greetings. “Aree tumhi pan, mi pan!” There is no greater happiness than meeting a person speaking your language in a state where the language and people, both are alien!
We witnessed something on our way to the main road which you would never expect in an urban area. In the darkness of the night, the landscaped areas along the sides of the road started glimmering of golden speckles of dozens of fireflies. We stood there unable to believe. And then, suddenly it started sparkling all around. What joy such brilliant tiny moments can bring!

We didn’t fear, we dare. This is what women do everywhere. It turned out to be a successful girls going. And that was an end to Chandigarh but a perfect beginning to a great travel story.

Exploring Kashmir: A heavenly experience

Source: Beautiful World

Nothing can touch a little kid’s heart more than the divine touch of a drop of beauty. And that drop of beauty which shines so charmingly in this vast expanse of India’s terrain is Kashmir. True, I was a little kid when I traveled to Kashmir, excited for a four or five-day trip, which would assemble for me loads of memories, but never did I realize that even years later, the same heap of memories would stay afresh in my mind, mesmerizing me even more and more. That’s the captivating charm of Kashmir, beholding your breath and taking you far along, away from the agonizing miseries of this world.

So here is day-wise experience of my 5 day long trip to Kashmir

Day 1: Delights of Dal Lake

After an hour-long flight from Jammu, we reached Srinagar. The first sight of Dal Lake was quite appealing. More than the deluge of water along its banks, what captured my attention was the dozens of houseboats which held their head high amidst the gush of that splendid lake. I remember shouting those exceptional houseboat names shining on each one’s roof. But what seemed more fascinating was the joyful Shikara ride which would actually take me to those heavens in water.  Things seemed fun – the boat ride was exactly a joyride. But what grabs my attention now is- how peaceful it was, the exquisite view of the mountains on one side, whilst you are sitting in the lap of the magnificent lake. Even loneliness would seem a perfect companion when you are bounded by this picturesque. Down below, I could notice a marsh, and growing in it was a gorgeous pink lotus. I had never seen a lotus in my life.

Source: Beautiful World

Our houseboat was a warm place. With beautiful engravings on the walls of our bedroom and living room, it was a treat to live in the midst of the vast lake. Especially at night, when lights sparkle around the mountains and you can sit on your balcony to gaze at the beguiling sights. Our caretaker Abdul was kind and caring. He would serve our meals on time and clean our rooms during the day. He also took us on a trip around the lake. It was indeed a soothing experience. It seemed these people have raised a whole society in water- from markets to houses and what not! Yet they have their share of struggles and the tales of dark mysteries related to this era old lake, inflicted pain in our heart. The beauty has survived, and it will keep on surviving, with such courageous and intellectual citizens.

Day 2: The Mughal Formations to Kashmir

God carved it this way so that the title JANNAT was apt for it. Maybe that’s why even our ancient Mughal emperors did not leave without the indications of their love for Kashmir. Proofs reside in Mughal gardens like Shalimar Bagh, Chashmeshahi, which harbor lively tinted flowers and swiftly cascading springs. We spent much of our time, sitting and adoring the beautiful gardens of Nishat Bagh. Also meaning the ‘Garden of Joyhour-long these gardens are situated very close to the Dal Lake. These gardens were planned in such a way so that they can fit the water source conditions.

The layout of these twelve terraces is unique and signifying the meticulousness of the Mughals. Similarly, Chashmeshahi, which was a gift from Emperor Shah Jahan to his son Dara Shikoh, was built around the fresh-water spring and its topography is majestic. Shalimar gardens are the largest of all the Mughal gardens in Srinagar.

Nishat Bagh in Srinagar

Later, we explored the local markets around Shankaracharya temple, which boasted of intricate Pashmina shawls, sold by the natives of this area.

Day 3: Glorious Gulmarg

Gulmarg is a beautiful hill station which lies in the heart of Kashmir valley, around two hours from Srinagar. We hired a taxi and reached the hour-long mountains of Gulmarg. I would have loved viewing heavy snowfall, but maybe luck wanted me to enjoy the green expanse which was just everywhere. Thanks to the Gulmarg Gondola which runs a few feet high and gives you the best moments to cherish. We had a great time landing close to the snow-covered peaks. Where we enjoyed activities like sledging on the patches of snow, along with a hot cup of coffee to warm up our chilled senses. We could not visit the Apharwat peak, which lies in the second phase of the Gulmarg Gondola and is a premier ski resort. However, skiing activities are open mainly from December to February.

On our way back, we stopped at Pahalgam to sit by the Lidder Lake. The river is surrounded by meadows, majestic hills & tall pine trees. Sitting by this river, I got absorbed in the solace inundating it. The water was too cold to touch, yet it was a wonderful adventure climbing on the rocks and getting clicked with the breathtaking view.  It was indeed great place for camping and photography!

Day 4: Stunning Sonamarg

We drove to Sonamarg, around 3 hours away from Srinagar which is also called the ‘Meadow of Gold’. It gives rise to some great Himalayan glaciers, which shine from a distance. On our way, we also crossed Nallah Singh, a major tributary of river Jhelum.

It was time to explore the peaks of Sonamarg on the back of a horse. As a kid, the very fear of getting up on those dark brown horses named ‘Badal’ or ‘Ramesh’ smacked a big NO out of me. Deep gorges below, and a whole line of these ‘Badals’ walking up in procession, looked good but scary. Now I realize!! Sitting there on the top of a horse, looking below to see Gondola mountains merge with the green panorama would have been pleasurable.

Gondola, it would have been captured in my heart for a lifetime! The view of the Thajiwas glacier is hour-long must watch, when you reach Sonamarg.

I explored other options. I got myself pictured with the adorable furry sheep, that ran about in their vast territory! Do get pictured with them in the vicinity of their freedom, and if they aren’t infuriated when you touch them, you could get a lovely masterpiece for your homes!

We had snacks at some local shops which heralded the mountains. If going back home wasn’t on our agenda for the next day, I would have never left this heavenly place for a few more days!

Day 5: Adieu to heavenly days

It was time to bid Later, to Srinagar, Dal Lake, Shankaracharya temple(visible from our houseboat) and our caring houseboat keeper! For we had a flight back to Jammu, followed by our drive back to my city in Punjab.

Given a chance, I would love one more trip to Kashmir in my lifetime. As now I have a list of 5 reasons to visit Kashmir. I know it would welcome me lovingly with those moments of immense peace once again.

Create Your Trek Story at Hampta Pass

Hampta Pass Trek, Hampta Pass Trek Review, Hampta, Hampta Pass

Mountains are the special love nature gave to us. From pleasant weather to stunning views it has many things to offer. And I caught up one of my experience in the laps of those pretty mountains on my trek to Hampta Pass. Hampta Pass Trek is a crossover trek from Manali to Spiti covering the streams, rocks, and beautiful flower blooming views. Pass is a route through a mountain range or a ridge. Thus it has a navigable route.

Trekking gives energy to my soul. It feels like a walk in paradise. Challenging self for reaching the heights and walking will never leave you disappointed because of the panoramic view you will get while moving. Those five days trip let me realize there is always so much we are left to feel. Nature has a lot to give us. Pick your chance to grasp those surprises of nature. Also beautiful flower valleys make it no less than valley of flowers in Uttarakhand.

Hampta Pass Trek Assistance

Hampta Pass Trek, Hampta Pass Trek Review, Hampta, Hampta Pass

Hampta Pass Trek is quite difficult to do it by own. One will need some guidance and proper belongings for the trek and survival as there are no options on the way. I did my Hampta Pass trek with a Delhi based trekking company Renok Adventures LLP and certified being a successful trekker for that 14,100ft. visit in around INR 9,500 but there are many other options you can choose from. Or you can take your group of experience buddies with you. Reach Manali and drive till Jobra and trek further with assistance. Camp stops are naturally done at Chika, Balu ka gera, Chatru etc. enroute.

Hampta Pass Weather

Hampta Pass Trek, Hampta Pass Trek Review, Hampta, Hampta Pass

Situated between Kullu and Lahaul Valley, you can visit for this trek from June to mid-October and rest of the year it is difficult due to very cold weather and snow sheets covering the way. Also, this is one of the treks which are open for the large time period in India as compared to other treks like Rupin Pass, Goechala, etc. Weather at hampta pass route is pleasant with the support of sun while your walk and chill breezy winter at nights. This will help you feel cool when all the other part of India will be hot.

What I realized is nature is the reason we find ourselves better, give some time to it and to self. Later I did few more treks but hampta pass trek is a package for all what I experienced till now. Get some time and rejuvenate yourself with the epitome of nature.

 

Also read Tungnath-Chandrashila Trek: Pack up for the peak

 

(This story was first published in Lonely Planet Magazine India)

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