Well, we made it back to Chandigarh (twice) on our trip to Shimla, with a good driver this time instead of the WDE. So we made it to the Rock Garden! Amazing! I loved everything about it! Well, except for the fact that a storm was threatening the entire time.
So, the Rock Garden. Let me introduce you to a civil servant named Nek Chand. He apparently lost his entire village in the violence of Partition. He moved to Chandigarh with his parents, who passed soon thereafter. He ended up being a civil servant with the city. The land that the Rock Garden is now on was protected lands fitting in with a strict master plan for the city.
The City of Chandigarh itself is very well planned, laid out in sectors with broad, modern streets and a good system of traffic flow. Everything built must conform with this plan for the city.
Nek Chand built a little workshop for himself in the centre of about 20 acres of protected, city lands. There he set above building networks of pathways, tunnels and bridges for his work. The building of the City of Chandigarh itself gave Nek Chand the materials that he would use for the walls, fountains, bridges and other paths. He collected construction debris – brick, sinks, wall sockets, bits of ceramic, etc. He used these in amazing and creative ways long before recycling became a thing in our own western, consumer society.
He also built hundreds of statutes of people, birds, animals, and buildings that reminded him of his native village. Again he used discarded material – bangles, bits of ceramic, human hair, stones – to build his sculptures and populate his village. There are geese, dogs, monkeys, deer, donkeys, water bearers, priests, workers and all manner of things you would expect to see as part of village life.
His extensive work was discovered in 1975 or so. Immediately politicians wanted the work destroyed as an illegal build contrary to the master plan. However, public support soon made the politicians rethink their positions. Nek Chand was dismissed from his position with the city but put in charge of the park full-time. He was given 50 employees to help him build his vision and complete and place his sculptures. Eventually that support and the funding began to dry up and the park was taken over by a group of volunteers who manage the park.
Nek Chand was traveling just a few years ago, attending conferences in the West and Europe about his creation and rock gardens globally when vandals badly damaged the park. Most of the damage has been restored but there is more to do.
Also, there has been a Phase 3 started which includes a toy train, awesome swings, a hall of mirrors, camel rides, and a canteen area. The host unit and I and then little sister and the cousin unit both took a ride on a smallish camel. The handler got to run with the girls but when he tried that with us, the host unit yelled so loud in surprise (and a bit of fear) that he slowed the camel to a snail’s pace to complete the ride.
The whole park sits on about 20 acres or so and takes a good 2 to 3 hours to walk through and appreciate. There are waterfalls which are present all year round and ponds which are mostly dry except for during the rainy season.
After the Rock Garden, we were going to go to the lake for a visit but the entire area was blocked off and guarded because of bird flu. You could see the bird poison spread every where from the road. The lake was going to be shut down for a month so.
Unfortunately, the signs telling people about bird flu and the closure of the lake were in English only… not sure how much help that was since many in Chandigarh don’t speak the language well enough to understand the sign. But…
We had already stayed longer than planned in Chandigarh, so it was probably a good thing that we didn’t spend time at the lake.
Already it would be getting dark when we arrived in the Himalayas to reach Shimla and we had dark, narrow, steep mountain roads to contend with for most of that drive.
On to the driver. He picked us up from the host unit’s brother’s home in the morning, hair all greased back, with an orange cap on his head and smoking a cigarette. Yeap. Good sign that the host unit would not like him. Fortunately, he put it out before the host unit saw him.
As is standard, we stopped to fill his car with fuel for the trip. I was sitting in the passenger front right next to the gas pump and we were the only car in the petrol station. The bill came to 2000 rupees (well just a few paise under that). I went to hand the gas guy 2000 rupees when he said that I owed 3000. What? Dude I can read the numbers on the pump! What the hell. Gas man said “another car came and filled up” Just now? Filled up with 2000 rupees of fuel in 10 seconds, paid you for that, then left all while I was watching and I missed it? Ummm… no dude. Take the 2000 rupees and we’ll forgo the fight, k?
The driver opened the door and said something in Panjabi which I missed. Then I heard “the gas man is insisting on another 1000”. At first we thought the driver might be in on the scam with the gas man. I held firm though and let the gas man know I was willing to stand there all day and fight with him, and complain to all his customers about the cheating. I gave the gas man the 2000 rupees and shook my head firmly, telling him that I am not an idiot. He finally backed off when he figured out that I wouldn’t.
The driver got back in the car and started laughing. I thought, dude you best not be in on this. If this is the way this trip is going to go, you are going to hear a lot of yelling and we can just turn this car around now and have a little chat with your boss. After getting more experience with him though, I think he was laughing because I wasn’t going to let the gas man get away with treating the poor, dumb white chick that way. He laughs pretty easily, which is nice given that I was going to be in a car with this stranger for up to 8 hours a day for the next three days.
I was hoping this wouldn’t be another WDE experience and thankfully, it wasn’t. In fact, I found the driver that will now take me on all my road trips. Except to Kashmir. He says he won’t ever go to Kashmir because of the dangers there. Okay, friend, no Kashmir for you. I’m going though.
People don’t exchange names round here so I have no idea what his name is. I call him ‘ji’ which is a respectful term.
He speaks Hindi and Panjabi, which is perfect for these trips. He also speaks and understands some English. Though he refuses to use any of it on me. I also overheard him telling the host unit that she should not speak any English with me and to tell little sister to stop as well, otherwise I will never learn Punjabi.
Damn him! But he’s right so … good. I will try to remember that he’s not just trying to be mean to me.
People here (well some people anyway) drive like they are playing a game of Frogger and they just need to squash that little frog no matter what lane or safe place he might be in. This guy does not drive like that. He’s far more reasonable. Even on the high, narrow, steep roads in Shimla, he was very careful.
He drove those long, difficult drives without complaint as well. Not at all like the WDE, who had easy roads through the Panjabi plains. He put up with the host unit when she had a melt down over the Expedia screw up as well, which was asking a lot of him. There was no sexism, no talking to us like we were just dumb women. All in all, he was just pleasant to be around and was doing an excellent job too.
He was also, it turns out, very honest. When I gave him too much for a toll, he returned the extra money instead of pocketing it. He could have taken advantage of my poor Punjabi and my lack of experience to charge me more than he should have, but he didn’t and for that he scored a big tip that the host unit clearly disapproved of (I shooed her off when she tried to stay to watch me count the money I was giving him).
He was also honest with us about not wanting to go in to the gurdwaras for langar. He’s a devout Hindu and respectful of our faith but he has his own faith and manner of practice. So when we invited him in, he declined very respectfully. I can respect that sort of honesty for sure.
He was so good that in fact, if the host unit found out that he smokes, I think she would just forgive him and tell him to make sure he doesn’t smoke in front of the girls. Yeap, I think she would be that tolerant of it, which is huge for her.
Until the next post, where we will finally visit Shimla, I hope you are all enjoying great days filled with the blessings of family, friends, love and laughter.
Peace and love all