We hit Chandigarh by mid morning and went and had a quick look around before heading to the Dhande's house. Chandigarh is unlike any other City in India in that it is India's only planned City. Designed in the early 1950s by world renowned French architect Le Corbusier who was commissioned to design a new capital for Punjabi (which incidentally is also capital city of neighboring state Haryana and a territory in its own right) from scratch. The streets are wide and clean and full of nice cars - but also lots of cyclos and horses and carts - a little touch of India! We loved the little "school buses' which are pulled by bicycle packed with kids and with dozens of school bags hung off the sides.
Chandigarh is a green clean extremely prosperous city with numbered sectors - the central ones containing Government buildings and a large shopping centre - moving out to residential sectors all of which have their own small shopping areas surrounded by a great deal of greenery. Radiating out from the centre there are a great many parks and lots of wide tree lined streets. We both thought that it very much reminded us of Canberra - and later found out that Burley Griffin who designed Canberra was actually a student of Le Corbusiers.
As a very welcome relief after Delhi Chandigarh is very easy to navigate around - you just have to find the relevant sector and then the correct house number. We found Mr. and Mrs. Dhandes' house very easily and were given a very warm welcome!
We have never actually met their eldest son Simar who lives in Melbourne but he is also a travel enthusiast whose dream would be to drive his bike from Melbourne to India and after he contacted us on our website we have had quite a few conversations with him. On this fairly flimsy basis we were given a welcome like long lost family by the Dhandes and as I type a few days on have been pampered like royalty throughout our stay!
As I think I said before an Indian saying translates as "our guest is our God" and it certainly seems to apply! Mrs. Dhande was worried as to what we'd want to eat but we assured her we loved trying local food and so have had numerous delicious Punjabi meals. We really liked the Punjabi breakfast which consists of hot rotis served with homemade butter and curd with vegetables and pickles. Mrs. Dhande is an amazing cook and we have both eaten way too much - including far too many Punjabi sweets - over the last few days!!!
It is incredibly hot now - the rains are late coming and though it is around 38 degrees which isn't excessive it feels much hotter! - I think the humidity is what kills you.
In these killer temperatures we crazily undertook the major job of unpacking re-packing the car. This is always a biggie and always takes all day! For the next stage of our trip we have to pull out the winter woolies as up in Leh the temperatures drop at night - though it's hard to imagine ever wanting to wear them as we drip with sweat! We are also leaving a lot of weight behind - things we don't need day to day i.e.) Andrew's work tools - which should lighten the load as we drive over mountain passes. This is a huge help and we're very grateful to the Dhandes.
We also got to meet Ashok who is Poonan the live in maid's little son who is a real live wire and he helped out as we re-packed the car by almost starting the car as we'd left the key in the ignition - phew!! He also likes motorbikes!
Mr. Dhandes's elderly mother who is in her nineties and in great shape also lives here and I think Ashok helps keep her young!
Between eating and being waited on we managed to fit in a bit of sightseeing. The Dhandes insisted on driving us everywhere so it was a really nice break from driving for Andrew.
First we took in the Fantasy Rock Garden. Opened in 1988 this was set up by Nek Chand a former roads inspector and it was incredible, a garden made entirely from re-cycled materials.
Comprising sculptures a fantasy castle landscape and animal figures it was really interesting. As a bonus we actually got to meet Nek Cand who is now a world renowned artist which was really lucky.
Next stop was the Capital Complex where the government buildings are all positioned. First we had to go to tourist information and give in our passports to get a letter of approval for security reasons. When we arrived at the High Court we then had to wait to get a separate approval to bring the camera in so they obviously take security pretty seriously- all quite a palaver!
Andrew really enjoyed seeing some of the architecture - a lot of which was extremely innovative for its time - a double roof on the court to increase natural ventilation and keep it all cool- very necessary in this climate!
We saw the Vidhan Sabha or Assembly Hall the "Open Hand" sculpture and the outside of the Secretariat - though we'd run out of time by now so saved the inside for our next trip -have to keep the approval letter in a safe place!!
We took a quick drive round the University grounds where we saw the Gandhi Studies building which was also pretty innovative. Then we went to the War Memorial. The names recorded are lists of names of those killed in various conflicts since independence from the war with Pakistan up to the border clashes in Kashmir a few years ago. As ever at war memorials too many young men dying! This monument was in the Bougainvillea gardens which were lovely with a wealth of gorgeous flowers.
That evening we went to the Sukhna Lake though it was dark by the time we arrived. In the centre of town this was a manmade lake with a focus on recreation for the citizens of Chandigarh including live entertainments laid on at weekends, restaurants and bars paddle boats and lots of walking/jogging tracks. The property prices around here are very high - indeed Chandigarh property in general is very pricey - much more so than Australia on the whole. Apparently it's nigh on impossible to get a house of any size here for less than $1 Million!!
The next day we took a trip 50 kms out of town to Morni where the Dhandes have a holiday house. Going up into the hills on a fairly twisty road this was a welcome relief from the heat of the plains.
It was a stunning area with beautiful views over the rolling hills and the lakes below. The flowers and trees (teak and pine) looked particularly healthy and the air was beautiful and fresh.
We walked around Tikkar Taal (or lake) a natural lake this time which is very scenic and we even caught a good sunset! We didn't have time this visit but on our return we decided we will all go and spend a night up here which is something to look forward to.
I am a bit behind on the website now particularly loading my pictures. It is a sad fact that despite being the most modern city - all clean roads and very organized - Mohali (where the Dhandes live an outer suburb of Chandigarh) is the victim of frequent power outages particularly at the moment when (understandably!) everyone wants the AC on all the time. Thus getting to a Cyber Café with power has been a challenge and once we've on the road in Kashmir/ Leh it might not happen as we'll be constantly "on the move". So, pictures to follow when we can - bear with us!
As at Tuesday 11 August we are doing a few last minute jobs on the car - sourcing some new spare tyres and replacing some spare parts - Mr. Dhande has been a huge help here - eating way too much Punjabi food and gearing up for the next stage of our trip to Kashmir and then onto Ladakh and the highest drivable road in the world at Leh. We'll be back to see the Dhandes (and give them back their storage space!) in a couple of months time after we've been to Nepal and got a new visa. 6 Months in India isn't nearly long enough!!