We kick off our visit to the fertile Punjab starting from it’s capital of Chandigarh and will make our way westwards, culminating in Punjab’s holiest city of Amritsar. On the way, let’s see what delights the state has in store for us.
A unique planned city, Chandigarh serves as the capital to the two neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. The city is unique as it is not a part of either of the two states but is governed directly by the Union Government. The city, also called a Tricity, is bordered by Punjab to the north, west and south, and by the state of Haryana to the east and includes Chandigarh, Panchkula in Haryana and Kharar, Kurali, Mohali and Zirakpur in Punjab. Chandigarh is located approximately at the mid-point distance between New Delhi and Amritsar.
It was one of the early planned cities in post-independence India and is internationally known for its architecture and urban design. The master plan of the city was prepared by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. A 2015 article published by BBC named Chandigarh as one of the few master-planned cities in the world to have succeeded in terms of combining monumental architecture, cultural growth, and modernization. Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex, which include the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Punjab and Haryana Secretariat and Punjab and Haryana Assembly along with monuments Open hand, Martyrs Memorial, Geometric Hill and Tower of Shadow and the Rock Garden was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2016. Not only is the city one with one of the highest per capita incomes, it is also is the cleanest in India and was ranked the happiest city in India by LG Electronics in 2015.
The name Chandigarh is a compound of Chandi and Garh of which Chandi refers to the Hindu goddess Chandi and Garh means fortress. The name is derived from Chandi Mandir, an ancient temple devoted to the Hindu Goddess Chandi, near the city in the Panchkula district.
Chandigarh was the dream city of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. After partition in 1947, Punjab was divided into two provinces, East Punjab in India with mostly Sikhs and Hindus and West Punjab in Pakistan with mostly Muslims. The Indian Punjab required a new capital because the former capital, Lahore, had become part of Pakistan after partition. In 1949 the American planner and architect Albert Mayer was tasked to design a new city to be called “Chandigarh”, which was to be from about fifty Puadhi-speaking villages in the then-state of Punjab.Shimla was the temporary capital of Punjab until Chandigarh was completed in 1960.
Albert Mayer developed a superblock-based city interspersed with green spaces which with an emphasis on cellular neighborhoods and traffic segregation taking advantage of natural land characteristics which promoted proper drainage. Mayer stopped work after his architect-partner Matthew Nowicki died in a plane crash in 1950, after which Le Corbusier was recruited to succeed Mayer and Nowicki, who enlisted many elements of Mayer’s original plan without attributing them to him. Le Corbusier designed many administration buildings, including the High Court, the Palace of Assembly, and the Secretariat Building as well as the general layout of the city, dividing it into sectors. Chandigarh hosts the largest of Le Corbusier’s many Open Hand sculptures, standing 26 metres high. The Open Hand (La Main Ouverte) is a recurring motif in Le Corbusier’s architecture, a sign for him of “peace and reconciliation. It is open to give and open to receive”, representing what Le Corbusier called the “Second Machine Age”. When the new state of Haryana was formed on 1 November 1966 out of the eastern portion of Punjab, the western portion was called Punjab and Chandigarh, which was located on the border of both states was a bone of contention between both states to become their capital. However, the city was declared a union territory to serve as capital of both states.
Rose Garden: Also known as the Zakir Hussain Rose Garden after the former President of India, this garden is a blooming exhibit that showcases around 825 varieties of flowers and about 32,500 varieties of trees and medicinal shrubs spread over 30 acres. Built in 1967, it is the largest garden of its kind in Asia. The Rose Garden is a sight to behold when the flowers are in their full bloom in the months of February and March. You will need around 2 hours to enjoy this serene place which is open from 6 am to 10 pm. The entrance fee for the garden is INR 50 per person, including children.
Rock Garden: A massive massive open-air exhibition hall that displays sculptures made from urban and industrial wastes that have been designed and executed by Nek Chand, the Rock Garden is located between Sukhna Lake and the Capitol Building and is a must-visit place when you visit the city! Also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, this massive 40-acre garden is a colourful mosaic of art pieces and sculptures which was built in the year 1957 by Nek Chand single-handedly in his spare time and has become a long-standing symbol of imagination and novelty in the city. The exhibition area of Rock Garden is divided into three different phases that have different types of installations and embellishments in them. Each phase deals with a different type of installations and walking through them is a true delight. The Rock Garden is open from 9 am to 7 pm in summer in the months of April to September and from 9 am to 6 pm during the winter months of October to March. Keep aside at least half a day to walk around and check out the place. Adults will need to pay INR 5 and children will pay INR 3 to enter the Rock Garden.
Sukhna Lake: Nestled at the foot of Shivalik Hills and stretching for a distance of 3 sq km, Sukhna Lake is a man-made lake and the only one of its kind created in 1958 by damming the seasonal Sukhna Choe or stream that flows down the Shivalik Hills. With its pristine blue water, the lake serves as a perfect location for a morning jog or walk where one can also enjoy the fresh air. Le Corbusier claimed the lake would be the centre of wellness pursuits for the residents. The promenade in front of the lake is a local favourite and the lake has one of the longest rowing channels in the country which hosts the Asian Rowing Championships. The best way to enjoy Sukhna Lake is to go on a lazy boating tour by hiring a boat, which would cost between INR 50 – INR 100. The lake is also home to several species of fish and migratory birds such as the Siberian duck and cranes. Bound by a golf course and the famous Rose Garden, the lake offers a mesmerizing escape at all times of the day. Sukhna Lake is open on all days of the week between 5 am to 9 pm and there is no entry fee to access the lake.
Pinjore Gardens: A beautiful Mughal Garden from the 17th century, Pinjore Gardens is a massice 100 acre garden located east of Chandigarh in Pinjore, in the district of Panchkula in Haryana. Also known as the Yadvinder Garden, the garden has well-maintained greenery, refreshing fountains and soothing water bodies. Pinjore Gardens are a good illustration of terrace gardens in India. During the festival of Baisakhi, between April and June, the Garden serves as the venue of the annual Mango Festival. It also houses a mini zoo, an area dedicated to historic places, a serene Japanese garden, a splendid nursery and some areas that serve as picnic spots. The best time to explore the gardens is in the evening and will take you around three hours to cover, as it is lit up after sunset making it beautiful. Entry fee for the garden is INR 20 and the garden is open from 7 am to 10 pm.
Chandigarh Botanical Gardens: Comprising of two gardens, the Chandigarh Botanical Gardens is spread across the city, one in the Punjab University Campus and the other between Sukhna Lake and the Rock Garden in Sector 1. The gardens are adorned by a huge variety of systematically arranged plant species that are both exotic and evergreen. The botanical gardens are open from 6 am to 10 pm daily.
Garden of Silence: Located in Bhagwanpura, with the Shivalik Range as a backdrop, the Garden of Silence is a meditative space which houses a massive idol of Buddha. The garden swears by its name and it offers a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere for meditation amidst lush green surroundings. Open from 6 am to 10 pm, the garden does not have any entry fee and is a beautiful pause in a hectic holiday.
Cactus Garden: Spread over a vast area of seven acres, the Cactus Garden is also known as National Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden and Research Centre and was established to preserve and protect the dying species of cactus. Currently, the garden boasts of housing around 500 varieties of cacti. The gardens are open from 9 am to 1 pm and then again between 3 to 6 pm in the evening with an entry fee of INR 10 per person.
Chattbir Zoo: Also known as the Mahendra Choudhary Zoological Park, the Chattbir Zoo is a zoological park in Zikarpur south of Chandigarh in the state of Punjab. The park is home to a vast variety of animals, birds and reptiles. Sprawling over an expansive 202 acres of land, the zoo offers an open enclosure to the animals to retain their natural habitat environment. The highlight of the zoo is Royal Bengal Tiger. The entry fee for adults, which means anyone above 12 years of age is INR 20 and for children below the age of 12, it is INR 5. You can also use a battery operated vehicle or the tiger safari for INR 50. The Zoo is open from 9 am to 5 pm, all days of the week, except Mondays.
Other Gardens: Other than the Rose Gardens, the Botanical Gardens and the Cactus Garden, the city is also home to numerous interesting open spaces and gardens. This includes the Shanti Kunj, a garden fed by a natural stream that divides it into five blooming islands, the Terraced Gardens, home to a myriad of colourful and vibrant flowers, covering 10 acres and full of lush greenery and scenic views. There is also the Bougainvillea Garden, with its annual bougainvillea festival and with over 50 varieties of bougainvillea on display, spread over 20 acres. The Garden of Fragrance as the name suggests is famous for its fragrant varieties of plants and beautiful landscapes while the Leisure Valley is an eight-kilometre long linear stretch that covers a large part of Chandigarh and is known as ‘the lungs of the city’. The Hisbiscus Garden on the other hand, houses over 40 varieties of hibiscus shrubs over an eight acre expanse and the Topiary Park is a children’s park with excellent play facilities. The Japanese Garden is a well-groomed, beautifully maintained park which houses a park, water bodies, pagoda towers, waterfalls, meditation centres, buddha idol among other structures and has two phases interconnected by an underground tunnel which is adorned with beautiful Japanese paintings. The Butterfly Park is a well maintained garden hosuing over 35 species of butterflies and more and has been designed to facilitate an ideal environment for the breeding of butterflies. One of Chandigarh’s newest gardens is the Garden of Palms which boasts of 21 different types of palm trees and houses rivulets, ravines, cycling tracks, eateries.
Government Museum and Art Gallery: One of the more prominent museums in India, the Government Museum and Art Gallery speaks of the Indian history and partition and was established in August 1947. Known for its rich collection of paintings, artefacts, and sculptures with a unique architechture designed by Le Corbusier is highly revered, this museum was opened in 1968. Located in the centre of the town, it offers gorgeous views of the Shivalik ranges in the background. The museum is closed on Mondays and public holidays and on other days it is open from 10 am to 4:30 pm and you require about 2 hours to check it out. The entry fee is INR 10 per person and you need to pay INR 5 per camera you need to take inside the museum.
National Gallery of Portraits: Chronicling the Independence era, the National Gallery of Portraits houses the portraits, recorded voices of the great leaders of India and rare documents in connection with the freedom struggle. It also houses a library that archives a huge collection of books on the freedom movement. The gallery also screens a film on the freedom movement of India on every Sunday at 2 pm. The Gallery’s prime collection is on Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
Le Corbusier Centre: A popular heritage centre dedicated the architect who made the city almost six decades back, the Le Corbusier Centre houses the legacy, research, study, writings and works of the famous architect. There is no entry fee and the centre is open from 10 am to 6 pm on all days of the week, except Mondays.
Open Hand Monument: The Open Hand Monument is an amazing work of art located at the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh city. The monument is an open hand symbol for the Government of Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier, which means “the hand to give and the hand to take; peace and prosperity, and the unity of mankind”. The hand also rotates with the direction of the wind.
After Chandigarh, we go about 45 km west to the town of Sirhind.
Earlier known as Fatehgarh Sahib, the popular notion is that the name Sirhind comes comes from ‘Sar-i hind’, meaning the Frontier of Hind, as the Mughals saw it as the ‘gateway to Hindustan’. The town was also a was a military outpost of Prithviraj Chauhan in his revolt against Muhammad Ghori and became a part of Ghauri Sultanate and later in the year 1362, it was refounded by Tughlaq emperors.
Varahamihira who lived between 505 – 587 AD in his Sanskrit treatise, Brihat Samhita, mentions the city as ‘Satudar Desh’. The city was later inhabited by a tribe of ‘Sairindhas Aryans, leading to its present name. According to Huan Tsang, the Chinese traveller who visited India during the seventh century, Sirhind was the capital of the district of Shitotulo, or Shatadru, which is the present day River Sutlej. In 12th century, Sirhind came under the rule of the Hindu Chauhan Rajputs of Delhi. During the rule of Prithvi Raj Chauhan between 1168 and 1192, the Hindu Rajput ruler of Delhi, it became his military outpost. It further rose in glory during the Mughal Empire, when it became its provincial capital, controlling the Lahore-Delhi Highway, the Grand Trunk Road. During the Mughal era, Sirhind was the name for Malwa, since it was the area’s capital city. Sirhind was the headquarters of the Mughal administration in Eastern Punjab. Many European travellers describe its splendours, and it also developed into a center of cultural activity.
Sirhind was known for the dozens of saints, scholars, poets, historians, calligraphers and scribes who lived there. A famous muslim saint Imām-e-Rabbānī Shaykh Ahmad al-Farūqī al-Sirhindī, an Indian Islamic scholar of Arab origin, a Hanafi jurist, and a prominent member of the Naqshbandī Sufi order is said to be buried here. It is said that in its heyday, the city had 360 mosques, gardens, tombs, caravansarais and wells.
Currently, it is prominent pilgrimage spot for Sikhs as the two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh were brutally killed here. The younger sons of the tenth Sikh guru Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji namely Baba Zorawar Singh ji and Baba Fateh singh ji were bricked alive at the age of 9 and 7 years respectively by the then Mughal governor Wazir Khan. The Gurudwara Sri Fatehgarh Sahib was established at that place to commemorate their death. Baba Banda Singh Bahadur in 1710 destroyed the city of Sirhind completely and killed Wazir Khan the governor. The Sikhs occupied Sirhind and made Bhai Baj Singh the governor.
Since Sirhind is a holy place for the Sikh community, there are a lot of Gurudwara in the town which include the Gurudwara Fatehgarh Sahib which was built to commemorate the martyrdom of the younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh. The Gurdwara Shahid Ganj, which was built to honour the martyrdom of the Sikh who were murdered by the Mughals. It is said that forty cartloads of heads of the martyred Sikhs were cremated. Other gurudwardas include the Gurdwara Jyoti Sarup, the Gurdwara Patshahi Chevin and the Gurdwara Motiram Mehraji. The town is also home to the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sirhindi called Rauza Sharif as well as the tomb of Mir-I-Miran. The Aam Khas Bagh which is the remains of a highway-inn constructed for the use of royalty as well as common people by the Mughal emperor Akbar and rebuilt by his grandson Shah Jahan. The inn was divided into two parts – the Aam for public use and the Khas for private use by the Royalty to be used while travelling between Delhi and Lahore. The Mata Chakreshwari Devi Jain Temple, said to be 1000 years old is located nearby and the water in the tank of the temple is considered sacred by the devotees who carry the water home and consider it as sacred as the water of the river Ganges. The Haveli Todar Mal, home to Diwan Todar Mal, who was one of the nine gems of Emperor Akbar’s court is also known as Jahaz Haveli and is located on the eastern side of the Sirhind – Ropar railway line.
The best time to visit Sirhind is in winter between the months of October to March.
In the next post, we will explore more cities and towns in Punjab.