There are two broad reasons why I choose to go to Chandigarh to spend the weekend. First, itís a mini Delhi minus the cacophony and pollution - it literally is a home away from home. Secondly, since the last five years I have regularly been visiting this calm city thatís full of my friends - so I donít have to plan elaborately for my short trips.
I drive out early in the morning. One can also take the 6.30 am Shatabdi Express that reaches Chandigarh at 10 am. But I prefer the drive because I can stop where I want and sample great food at eateries en route. Like the chicken paranthas at a roadside dhaba, quirkily named - Zilmill Hotel. Served hot with white butter, these paranthas can give hot competition to anything dished out by a Michelin-starred chef. Sounds exaggerated? Perhaps, but seriously, the stuff is awesome.
Getting back to my journey, the one thing that strikes me each time I enter the periphery of Chandigarh is the way the city has been planned. Chic, clean-cut buildings, minimal colour - it looks very Japanese - neat, like sashimi on a platter. Believe it or not, but even those meticulous roundabouts have a history of their own.
A majority of these are infamous because of the accidents they have weathered. Donít be surprised if you see a swish car rammed into one of the roundabouts in the middle of the night with an inebriated driver at the wheel. This, when the Chandigarh Traffic Police is perhaps the strictest I have ever seen anywhere! If you have crossed the red light or have been over-speeding, you will be stopped and fined.
Like anywhere in the world, in Chandigarh your status is reflected by your postal address. The houses here are sprawling. Take a stroll in Sectors 4, 5, 9 and 10 and you will know what I mean. The green area in these houses can easily cover the open area of India Gate. As for the residents, the strangest thing is that everyone knows everyone. Puzzled? Well, itís like this - either your father studied with my friendís father, your sister went to school with mine or your mother attends the same kitty group as my neighbour. It doesnít take more than five minutes for a Chandiíte to bring out a relative or a Ďcommon friendí with each other. Cute, eh!
Even more interesting than the city is its people - itís a zesty, brimming-with-life, food fanatical bunch - which loves to entertain and enthrall. And the three things that are bound to come up in a conversation are - money, big cars and fashion. The fact is, there really arenít any have-nots in Chandigarh. Most of the people are either industrialists or farmers (read very rich!) whose wives know more about LV bags and YSL belts than a Page 3 Delhi queen bee does.
Itís a laidback city and thatís what charms me the most, especially when I get out of Delhiís madness, meet pals and hit a bucket of balls at the practice range at night at the Chandigarh Golf Club (CGC). The club is now very famous, as Indiaís finest pro-golfer Jeev Milkha Singh trained there. Incidentally it also has one of the longest par-5s in India, the seventh hole, which measures a whopping 613 yards, enough to make a pro sweat!
Once the game is over, itís time to hit the sack and gear up for a morning of activities. Going to Rock Garden is one of them. Though Iíve always wondered why itís called a garden when there are no flowers or plants here. It is full of objects built from household and industrial waste. However, the place where any Delhiíte (like me!) would like to spend most of their time would be at Lake Sukhna. This three-km-long man-made lake was created in 1958 and is a perfect spot to take a stroll with friends. However, the funny part about the lake is that it has speakers installed on either side, which play hotel lobby music. Itís rather queer to listen to the Kenny G sort of music while walking, but fun nonetheless.
When in Punjab, do as the Punjabis do. I mean, eat, drink and make merry. Believe it or not, but you are never more than 10 minutes away from a bar. You can find liquor and food in this city 24x7! My latenight butter chicken feast always commences at Sunbeam Hotel in sector 22. Itís a modest hotel thatís easy on the pocket. My other favourite haunts are Pal da Dhaba for its awesome chicken curry, and mechanic bazaar for keema kaleji and saag meat. Itís a rather cool experience since youíre served food on plastic tables laid out in a systematic manner amidst cars.
For a late night binge session, thereís Kaimbvala village behind the lake thatís open till the wee hours of the morning. All you have to do is take your car and park it between the wine shops. A person will knock on your window to take your order -itís convenience at its best. Funnily, people here call it ĎCar-o-barí.
Though this city has enough to do there is another leisure option in case you run out of places to visit. You can do what the locals call is a gaedi. I was honourably invited by a local boy for one such gaedi in his fancy 4x4 SUV. If youíre wondering what Iím talking about, let me explain - when a bunch of guys (seldom girls), sit in their cars and drive around aimlessly checking out members of the opposite sex on the road, youíre supposed to be indulging in gaedi. I politely declined the offer.
For me, Chandigarh is all about lazy days and crazy days. My brief stays in the city had allowed me to experience the best in terms of food, entertainment and yes, sleep! And before I knew it, I was already marking out the dates in the calendar for my next visit!
ē Chandigarh translates as the Fort of Chandi. The name was coined from an ancient temple known as Chandi Mandir
ē Unknown to many, Le Corbusier is not the first person to have worked on the Chandigarh project. Before him, American architect-planner Albert Mayer and Polish architect Matthew Nowicki worked on the plan. Corbusier was appointed following Nowickiís death in 1950.
ē In 2007, Chandigarh became the first Indian city to ban smoking in public places.
ē The city doesnít have any sector 13. However, in the old part of Chandigarh all the sectors are lined in front of each in such a way that if you add the two numbers it equals to 13. For instance, sector 4 is opposite sector 9.
ē Chandigarh is one of the top five cities in the country with the maximum number of luxury cars.
ē The most convenient way to travel is by train. Take the Shatabdi Express and reach in less than five hours. Many prefer to travel by car but regular traffic jams near Chandigarh could increase travel time by 1.5 hours.
ē Sector 17 is the most popular area for shopping. Cars are allowed only on the periphery so if youíre planning on a buying binge, spread it over two days. Apart from colourful Punjabi suits, mojris are a must buy.
ē A visit to Panchkulaís Cactus Garden, 5 km away, is a must. Cactii of all shapes, sizes and colours are a huge draw among visitors.
ē Visit the High Court Museum where you will find details about Punjabís history. Also look for the courtroom that was a part of Lahore before Partition.
ē What to eat: Amritsari kulcha, lassi, kadai chicken, chhole bhature, gol gappe My favourite haunts are Pal da Dhaba for its awesome chicken curry, and mechanic bazaar for keema kaleji and saag meat.