Chandigarh: A planned city

One of the rare moments when Vivi and I were apart was when I decided to take two days to visit Chandigarh, the Punjabi capital four hours north of Delhi. Designed in large part by Le Corbusier, it stands out as an urban anomaly in India. The streets are so wide, the blocks so long, that nobody walks about, except along the arcades of the designated commerical districts. It’s a city of cars and buses and bicycles, a city of long avenues and massive government blocks, everything divided numerically adding to a sense of anonymity and selflessness. It is an urban recipe that I have encountered before in Eastern Europe, Northern France, and South America, but in India one notices that the prescriptions of the ideal city cannot entirely fend off local impulses. Chandigarh is still India, albeit a strange version of what I was accustomed to. There is also a sense that people in Chandigarh see themselves as set apart from other Indian urbanites. There is a belief in efficiency and order. The Sikhs are particularly proud that in their capital things seem to ‘work’. Whether that is true or not did not affect the bureaucratic obstacle-course I had to deal with to be able to visit Corbusier’s most famous buildings. Permits and stamps and armed escorts are all part of the experience. And photography is out of the question, except of course if you beg, plead, and invite your guard to hot cup of chai. My armed escort was a Tamilian, from Madurai, and I was easily able to warm him up with stories from his home town which he missed dearly in the north. I spent the rest of the time on a rented bike soaking up all the High Modernism. At night I indulged in low culture in my hotel room with a take-out thali and the Oscars on the TV.

The future of another time

master plan sketches in the city museum

Corbusier’s Open Hand sculpture near the Palace of Justice

Palace of Justice

Palace of Justice

Palace of Justice

Mid-scale commercial

behind the commercial block periphery, the center streets are lines with housing

train station

government blocks

single family homes

Punjab University of Fine Arts

Punjab University of Fine Arts

Punjab University of Fine Arts

Punjab University of Fine Arts

Punjab University of Fine Arts

City Museum

entry form to visit the Secretariat

The Secretariat

view of the Palace Assembly from the Secretariat roof

Secretariat roof and my escorts

Secretariat stair core

Palace Assembly roof

Secretariat

Palace Assembly

Tower of Shadows

uraban scale model from the city museum

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