You will remember that my friend Manuela arrived in Delhi from Colombia. Now she leaves Delhi to live in Chandigarh the capital of Punjab! She describes her leaving of Delhi and experience of Chandigarh in her own words. An interesting account.
Proving why Chandigarh IS the City Beautiful
Even thought India is becoming a really popular destination for people from all over the world, not a lot of travelers know about Chandigarh. Of course you’ve all heard about chaotic Delhi; Mumbai and Bollywood; the Holy city of Varanasi; Jaipur, the pink city; and all those ‘European’ paradises spread over the huge country like Shimla -also known as ‘the little Switzerland’- Pondicherry -‘the little France’- Kasol -the unnamed Israeli territory- and Goa, the party destination, where you can see the entire world hanging out together, especially on its famous Christmas and New Year’s parties… Would I make it to Goa on this December 31st? …
There is a lot of charm in those lands once taken by foreign colonists -I was specially charmed by Shimla- where the European architecture, cuisine and traditions blend with the native culture creating an exotic and interesting new place. Well, Chandigarh has a little bit of it too; the relative new city was planned by the French Architect Le Corbusier and is the capital of the controversial states of Punjab and Haryana.
The squared map of ‘City Beautiful’ is divided in sectors; each one with a least one Market and one big park. Along with the neighboring cities of Mohali and Panchkula (you can’t even say when one ends and the next one starts!) it is known as the ‘Tricity’ and both Indians and Foreigners often say Chandigarh is a little different from the rest of India; cleaner, safer and greener. If its truth or not, I still can’t really tell… There is a lot more of this continent-sized nation I have to explore before my final verdict.
After spending two amazing days in Delhi in which we didn’t do much besides adjusting to the food and Indian accent, my Brazilian friend Layla and I, took the train to Chandigarh and spent 4 hours lost in the landscape, drinking lots of chai and even making new friends. Now that I go back, the memories of that first week seem blurry and surreal; the AIESEC Intern’s house packed with 16 friendly guys from all over occupies a special place in my heart even thought I wanted to run away from there in the very first day, and the things that ‘shocked’ us at the beginning are now funny stories and pictures that deserve to be framed for its tremendous power on our lives: ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’! Right? And that’s exactly what the electric ‘artefacts’ to heat the water and room did.
India is for the ‘tough’ and open-minded people, although sometimes that last word may sound contradictory. But once you overcome the initial cultural shock -that in my case was a literal one- your life changes forever; oh yes, we thought we were really brave, relaxed and independent! But until you have to explain a tuk-tuk driver who doesn’t speak English how to get to the house you yet not recognize, learn how to live without meat, proper AC in 40 degree C or survive an indigestion, you do NOT deserve that title.
Don’t get me wrong! I don’t want to fall in stereotypes and as I said in my first post, it is impossible to cage India in a simple definition; yet is true I’ve seen people living in extreme miserable conditions, I’ve also witnessed a lot of lakhs spent in one single function of an Indian wedding. India is the country of contrasts and possibilities.
But let’s go back to the cold days of January! So Layla and I spent 7 days living in the living room of a three floors house in Sector 15, Panchkula, both suffering and making the best of the power cuts and lack of water; exchanging music, candies and alcohol with people from Mauritius, Croatia, China and Indonesia. The Russians, French, Costa Rican, Tunisian, Ukrainian, Moroccan, Polish and Egyptian friends came later. On that first week we were invited to a Bachelor party, had our first encounter with the tradition of joint family, saw the matrimonial ads on the classified pages in the newspapers and got lost 100 times. Oh! We also had our first (of many to come) disagreement with the neighbors after one of our friends said goodbye to her date with a big romantic kiss. On the mouth. On the streets!
But that was just the beginning. Where to start?? How to summarize the best and essential of the 5 months I’ve lived here? The traffic, the food, the animals, work environment, Punjabi Culture, the funny anecdotes, interesting facts, the lessons learned and cultural shocks… The good and not-so-good experiences, the weddings and celebrations, the religions, the Temples, the history, the Gods, the language, the similarities and extremely differences between East and West… I wanna scream it all!
Let’s start with a couple of lists and highlights (I need to keep you engaged people!)
Fun Facts about Chandigarh
• A lot of foreigners confessed to have had criminal thoughts while staring at the beautiful and garnished cows on the streets of Panchkula, and that’s why I decide to create a survival guide for the intractable carnivores! (Coming soon!)
• People asked to take pictures with my white friends while talking to me in Hindi (yes! I look like a Punjabi girl, and the nose-ring I’ve wore for 5 years helps me camouflage). So dear white and different-looking friends about to come to India: get ready for stares and unexpected requests.
• There is no Sector 13 in Chandigarh or Panchkula because this is an unlucky number in Hindu religion, as in many other parts of the world.
• Smoking in public places is strictly prohibited and sometimes even offensive; so if you don’t wanna get a fine for 500 Rs and a lot of bad looks, save the ciggies for rooftops and smoking rooms in pubs and restaurants.
• The city is full of Hindu temples and Sikh Gurudwaras always open to whoever wants to visit! I’ve been told –and Google confirmed!- that there are also a Christian church, a Buddhist temple, a Muslim Mosque and a Jewish Synagogue. This is a place for everyone!
Quick list of my favorite places to visit in Chandigarh
• Sukhna Lake: Most romantic place in Chandigarh! Go for a stroll, cycling or boating. From couples on a romantic date and families enjoying the kid’s rides to healthy folks jogging, this 3 km² little paradise is for everyone!
• Rose Garden: Beautiful and peaceful park; avoid it in festivals though! – waaaay TOO crowded!- and hot nights; the mosquitoes rule the place.
• Rock Garden: Simply amazing! Genius. A wonderland for environmentalists and artists and the “chandigarhi’ version of Disneyland.
• The rooftop of Hotel City Heart in Sector 17: Ask for Masala fries and Kingfisher while watching Punjabi videoclips with your friends. Is inexpensive, cool and pretty! If you happen to be there on a Wednesday, head to Girl in the Cafe for free drinks for the girls on ‘Lady’s Night’!
• Gurudwara Naba Sahib in Panchkula: The chanting, architecture, flowers, statues and paintings of the Gods are definitely breath-taking; but is definitely the peace and welcoming feeling what put this place in my Top List. After Golden Temple, this is the prettiest Gurudwara I’ve been. Plus, the holy food is amazing and –of course- free. (Yes! I was very impressed by that!!)
Everyone’s experience is different and depends a lot on the age and personality of every person; but I also think the nationality plays a special role here, so I decided to ask my friends from all over about their adventures and opinions of Incredible India. Stay tuned and let me know if there is something specific you would like to know about Chandigarh or India or want me to talk about in future posts.