Thursday, January 19, 2017

eden in the punjab

India used to feel overwhelming, its normal street life a constant tangle of overstimulation. But it was our fourth year here, and so I wandered the hot, dusty streets of Chandigarh unimpressed with the tinny beeps of rickshaws, the vivid sarees, the cacophony of smells -- burning garbage, ripened mangoes, frying onion and garlic. It was just another Indian city, comparable to Jaipur or parts of Delhi.

When we first entered the Rock Garden -- pretty much the city’s main tourist attraction -- we didn’t expect much.

smallest ticket window ever!

We wandered through a few interesting courtyards divided by low sandstone walls. The walls themselves were adorned with broken tiles, bits of ceramic, pieces of electrical outlets, wires -- all sorts of castoff garbage made beautiful again when they were united in the space. We wound past tall stacks of red clay pots and groupings of disintegrating human figurines placed in symmetrical lines across tiled expanses.

“This is cool,” I said to fellow explorers Chris, Sydney, and Rachel. “But it’s much smaller than I thought. The article I read made it seem like this garden is huge.”

The crowds of tourists, too, diminished my experience. I silently judged people taking what seemed like thousands of selfies against the patterned walls -- even as I took my fair share of photos.

But further explorations extinguished my doubts. A few bends brought us to the more expansive sections of the garden. Soon, the squat, man-made walls gave way to large, moss-covered rock faces and a dramatic waterfall that sprayed its refreshing mist on passers-by.

With each turn came new delights. One brought us to crowds of animals -- (thankfully) docile monkeys, elegant peacocks, proud, white horses.

Another ushered us into a huge open area with an amphitheater and undulating rows of columns hosting swings. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds swung with abandon, marveled at the scope, or picnicked in the shade.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Nowhere else in India had I witnessed such pure joy -- joy for joy’s sake. Though some might judge the statues rough or crude, they were such an outpouring of pure creativity. This was a place we were meant to revel in, one that felt distanced from the city and its business. Stop, the garden commanded. Look around, forget your worries.

Visitors to and residents of Chandigarh owe the pleasure of its famed garden to Nek Chand (1924-2015). Chand spent his days working as a roads inspector in the newly forming Chandigarh, which sprung up in the 1950s as India’s first planned city (Britannica par. 2). While Le Corbusier worked to design and build a modern city with spacious roads and cleanly defined sections, Chand secretly built a meandering world of statues on protected forests in the outskirts of the city (Economist par. 4-5). When the city discovered the hidden garden, they decided to help Chand complete his work, rather than razing the place (Britannica par. 3). We’re lucky they did.

Works Cited

Blumberg, Naomi. “Nek Chand: Indian Artist.” Brittanica, Accessed 21 October 2016.

“From Rubbish, Beauty.” The Economist, 27 June 2015. Print.


  1. This seems like a really magical place! Thanks for sharing it with us! Love your way of expressing yourself.

  2. Amazing.
    'Stop, the garden commanded.' I love that.

  3. Thanks Mel, great post! Nothing like a well watered garden to soothe the soul. Love from Dad2

  4. And I loved the background story. Glad you guys are enjoying break.

  5. thanks, everyone -- my resolution this year is to keep up with my writing more, so i'm not just a teacher who tells kids to write! hope you're all well!

  6. Thanks for the blog, Mel! Fascinating! Glad to hear you will write more this year - we love reading it! Love, Mom2

  7. Thank you, Melanie! We love it when you share your travel adventures with us. Beautiful photographs & wonderful, descriptive writing.
    Love, Mommy & Daddy