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The Nek Chand Rock Garden in India's radical city of Chandigarh was way before its time, here's why & what to expect when visiting...

Crowded, frenetic, turbulent—just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of India’s magical cities, so upon arriving in Chandigarh, in Northern India, I wondered if I’d somehow been transported to another country. A marked difference from the bustle of Delhi, Hyderabad and the huge state of Tamil Nadu, where I spent a lot of time eating and figuring out the best things to do in Madurai, Chandigarh almost doesn't feel like India at all. Laid out in a grid format complete with 56 sectors, it reminded me more of the USA than the India I'd come to know and love. Arriving on a night bus from McLeod Ganj, I was amazed to wake up to wide boulevards, no litter, and modern geometrical architecture. Designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, Chandigarh is India’s first planned city with its design commissioned by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. His vision was a dream city like no other in India and it materialized in the early 1960s becoming one of the wealthiest and cleanest cities in the country.    

My main reason for wanting to visit Chandigarh, aside from seeing the famous gridded city, was to visit the Nek Chand Rock Garden (India’s second most visited attraction, after the Taj Mahal). 

Figures made from broken tiles and crockery standing in stone at the nek chand rock garden in chandigargh, India
Figures fashioned from broken crockery at the Nek Chand Rock Garden

Nek Chand was way before his time when it came to recycling and minimizing wastage, in my mind he’s perhaps the original recycling artist. Born in Pakistan, in 1924, he moved to Chandigarh during the partition and began working for the Public Works Department. As Chandigarh was being transformed into the city it is today, Chand was dismayed at the amount of waste he’d find discarded daily, so he began collecting it and taking it home. Over the next eighteen years, he worked transforming the materials he’d collected into recycled works of art, spread over 13 acres, on a hidden plot of land. What he created was astonishing—full-size courtyards and concrete walkways lined with waterfalls and mosaic murals made from broken crockery and coloured glass. Thousands of figurines and animals decorate the place. Today you can see statues of women standing proud in their bold saris crafted from broken bangles, while boys are frozen in time wearing mosaic t-shirts made from discarded pieces of broken crockery. 

statues of women made from stone and broken bangles at the nek chand rock garden in chandigarh, India
Stone women wearing broken bangle 'saris'

But authorities discovered the surreal fantasyland in 1975, and since it had been created on land that wasn’t Chands, the garden was in serious danger of being destroyed. For ten years, Chand worked alongside the residents of Chandigarh promoting his garden as a reason to visit the city until his space was saved from destruction and successfully turned into the tourist attraction it is today. Over five thousand people are said to visit each day. 

four small girls wearing white walk through the Nek Chand Rock Garden in chandigarh, India
School children explore the garden

The city itself and the Nek Chand Rock Garden are well worth a visit, I’d recommend combining them with a trip to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and a journey up to the hill station of Dalhousie or McLeod Ganj, where you’ll find the Tibetan Government in exile and the chance to see a teaching by the Dalai Lama.

I was backpacking on a budget when I visited Chandigarh so slept in the basic and very budget-friendly Divyadeep Hotel, but there are lots of higher-end options throughout the city. 

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