City with a future

Print edition : November 02, 2007

An aerial view of Matka chowk. The city has seven categories of roads meant for varying traffic needs. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Chandigarh is recognised as one of the most significant experiments in urban planning in the past century.

IN his edict, Le Corbusier summed up his own estimation of what he had accomplished with Chandigarh by saying that it was planned to human scale. The citys architect had attempted to put its residents in touch with nature, while allowing for all kinds of human activity. Their lives were intended to be full, and harmonious. In fact, the architect planned the city according to the principles of the human body.

It has a head (the Capital Complex), a heart (as represented by the City Centre), lungs (green spaces and gardens), limbs (cultural and educational institutions) and a circulatory system (the roads). Just like a human being, the city needs to live, breathe, work, and rest, and provisions were made for all this.

Accordingly, Chandigarh is recognised as one of the most significant urban planning experiments of the last century. Le Corbusier, the famous French architect-planner, had been hired in several other places, but his plans were fully executed as per his wishes in this city. Ever since, it has been upheld as a symbol of planned urbanisation.

The city was divided into sectors each of which was 800 metres by 1,200 m. Each sector was surrounded by wide roads to allow for quick movement of transport, and it was also sealed off, in a sense, so that individual houses did not face the main roads directly. Each sector would have its own market, and a green strip stretching down its length, towards the mountains. This was to bring tranquillity and breathing space for the residents.

The architect had classified the roads into seven categories, depending on their expected usage and respective needs. This was known as the system of seven Vs. For instance, V-1 roads were meant for fast traffic, for they connected Chandigarh to other cities. The next level was V-2, or arterial roads, where traffic was likely to be heavy; V-4 were circuitous roads around shopping complexes, where traffic was bound to be slow while V-7 was meant as footpaths and cycle tracks. Buses were allowed only on V-1, V-2, V-3 and V-4 roads.

The central plaza in Sector 17 was designed by Le Corbusier as the Pedestrians Paradise. No vehicles were to be permitted in the plaza. Some areas were reserved for residences and the cultural spaces, as well as parks and the Leisure Valley, were sacrosanct, and barred to housing construction.

The Rock Garden in Chandigarh is unique for its composition. It is full of art created from industrial and urban waste. The unpretentious entrance leads to a magnificent, surreal arrangement of rocks, boulders, broken porcelain, discarded fluorescent tubes, broken glass bangles, construction materials, coal and clay. The art itself is a juxtaposition of images palaces, soldiers, monkeys, village still-lifes, women, temples, and so on.

The creator of the Rock Garden, Nek Chand, a Road Inspector in the Engineering Department of the Chandigarh Capital Project,spent years in the Shivalik foothills often picking up stones that had shapes of birds, animals or humans or had abstract forms. His collection grew to a staggering 20,000 rocks. He deposited them around a hut that he used for work and contemplation.

The Rock Garden came from this improvised hut. In 1973, it was accidentally discovered by Dr. S.K. Sharma, who headed an anti-malaria party that happened to be on reconnaissance duty in the forest. Since the site where the Rock Garden stands today was also used as a dumping ground for urban and industrial waste, Nek Chand had picked up pieces of foundry lime-kiln and metal workshop waste and shaped them into various forms..

The garden is now laid out as the fantasy of a lost kingdom. In a spirit of make-believe, the garden has 14 chambers like the forecourt with natural rock forms, a royal poet, a musicians chamber complete with a pond and a hut; the main court (durbar) with a kings throne and natural stone forms depicting gods and goddesses and a swimming pool for the queen.

The Museum of the Evolution of Life in Sector 10 takes visitors on an educative historical experience, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the current times. The International Dolls Museum in Sector 23 is another curious attraction. The Pracheen Kala Kendra in Sector 35, a private institution that offers degree courses in Hindustani classical music, dance forms such as Kathak and Bharatnatyam, and folk songs and dances, is a significant cultural landmark. It organises a week-long festival every year in March, and through the year it has smaller programmes, called baithaks, on the 11th of every month, which are free and open to the public.

Amongst the newer cultural initiatives is Kalagram, the art college at Manimajra, just outside Chandigarh. Sculpture has been a sign of the times, a reflection of our history, myths and beliefs. In keeping with this, the administration has created a sculpture park inside Kalagram. Here, stone is infused with the creative life-breath of various artists and the themes include both the everyday, ordinary life around us and the abstract. The materials used include stones of various colours brought from different parts of the country. The idea was to encourage a communion between art and people.

The Open Hand monument at Capitol Complex in Chandigarh.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

So far, 187 pieces of sculpture, created by 180 artists from all over the country, have been put up. Among the significant green spaces in the city, the Leisure Valley is an exceptional continuum of theme parks. Le Corbusier had worked along a natural landscape the eroded valley of a seasonal rivulet and created a park at the site, stretching over 8 km, from Sector 1 in the north and Sector 53 at the southern tip.

It starts with Rajendra Park, spread over 400 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) near the Secretariat building. The next theme garden is Bougainvillea Park in Sector 3. As the name suggests, one sees hundreds of varieties of bougainvillea flowers here. Beyond that, in Sector 10, there is a series of Physical Fitness Trails.

The well-known rose garden is in Sector 16. Named after the former President Dr. Zakir Hussain, it is the largest of its kind in Asia. Spread over 27 acres, it has at least 1,600 varieties of roses.

Another beautiful spot in Sector 16 is Shanti Kunj. As the name suggests, it was meant as a peaceful spot and is in a noise-free area. Further down, there is a hibiscus garden, with 40 varieties of hibiscus shrubs. South of that there is the Fragrance Garden, full of aromatic plants like Raat ki Rani, and different varieties of jasmine and rose.

The other gardens include Smriti Upvan, in Sector 1, where people plant trees in memory of the departed. A large banyan tree was planted here in the memory of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. A small valley has been developed into a terraced garden where the chief attraction is an illuminated musical fountain. It also serves as the venue for the annual Chrysanthemum Show.

There are two Botanical Gardens one between the Rock Garden and the Sukhna lake and the other in Panjab University. Another, much larger, botanical garden is being developed in Sarangpur village.

Chandigarh has about 3,245 hectares of land under forest cover. Most of it is concentrated around the Sukhna lake, Sukhna Choe and Patiali Ki Rao. There are two reserve forests, Kansal and Nepli, and both have forest rest houses, where people can stay if they get a permit from the Forest Department. In a bid to promote eco-tourism, the Tourism Department has been organising treks and excursions in forest areas.

Apart from the garden festival, there are many other festivals and cultural events that draw people together. The Rose Festival is celebrated at the Rose Garden in the spring. The Chandigarh Carnival is celebrated in November, where students can display their talents and participate in competitions. Teej is celebrated at the Rock Garden and holds a special attraction for tourists.

On most Saturday evenings, the local people gather in Sector 17 for the popular Plaza Carnival, a cultural event that includes song, dance and drama.

Amongst the myriad attractions of the city, one of the most significant is the Capitol Complex. It is known to be Le Corbusiers most spectacular work. Set against the Shivalik mountains, the huge concrete structures represent the monumental character of the authority that runs this city as well as the governments of Punjab and Haryana. The Capitol Complex houses the Secretariat, the High Court and the Legislative Assembly. In the centre stands a giant metallic sculpture, the Open Hand, which is the official emblem of Chandigarh; it signifies the citys credo of open to give; open to receive.

The Legislative Assembly building represents stately grandeur. Square, with an independent portico, it faces the High Court. The High Court has a double roof, projecting over the office block, almost like an inverted umbrella. The outward sweep of the upper roof is symbolic of protection and justice to the people. The three vertical piers, rising 60 feet (18 metres) from the floor and painted brightly, form the entrance, while a gigantic screen, like an egg-crate, covers the facade.

The Secretariat monument is the largest and the tallest of the three edifices. Built like an eight-storey concrete slab, it has a distinctive screen with a two-storey portico in the centre, which houses the offices of various Ministers.

The more recent initiatives to develop tourism in the area include a Hop on Hop off tourist bus. It is one of the few of its kind in India and has become a major tourist attraction in itself, owing to its open-top model.

People can buy a single ticket and use it to hop on and off whenever they wish. This lends flexibility to the tourists who may want to spend more time at one place than another. In order to boost tourism, the administration has approved a Tourism Action Plan, which includes ideas such as hiring a professional agency to advertise Chandigarh as a tourist destination, getting a new set of pictures, and making a promotional film on the city, which will be projected as not only the City Beautiful, but the new Knowledge City Beautiful.

There are plans to relax the barriers and enable people to have access to the architectural delights of certain spots such as the Assembly building, the Secretariat, the Open Hand monument, and so on.

Golf Tourism and other sports-related events are very much part of the tourism vision, as is medical tourism. The administration wants to popularise walks and cycling tours and is also setting up a Bollywood Facilitation Centre with a view to encourage film and television professionals to shoot in the many green spaces available in the city.

The administration will open a single window system, which will grant permission for film shooting in various locations and help get security for the crew through the Chandigarh Police. The cell will also assist film-makers in identifying indoor and outdoor shooting locations, enable them to find board and lodging and transport, and introduce them to local talent, providers of equipment, and so on. The upgradation of the airport, when it eventually happens, will go a long way in supplementing these efforts.

In his edict, Le Corbusier had mentioned that the citizens ought to know the basic concepts of planning and that they must serve as the guardians who save it from the whims of individuals. He said: The seed of Chandigarh is well sown. It is for the citizens to see that the tree flourishes.

The administration is doing its part in watering the tree and welcoming visitors to admire its beauty. The citizens would do well to support them.

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