Every city in the world generally has couple of landmarks which get associated with it over a period of time providing a unique identity to the city in such a way that they become synonyms for each other. The northern Indian city of Chandigarh is not an exception in this regard and also has couple of them. If I have to name them, these would be Sukhna Lake, The Tribune newspaper and Nek Chand's Rock Garden.
I had been passing through Chandigarh since my childhood as my grand parental house is at Anandpur Sahib and we were based in Delhi. Generally there would be at least two trips in the year especially during summer breaks and then later during autumn break or around some family event. Every time the bus would pass through the city with a brief halt at Sector 17 bus stand. To reach the bus stand, the bus would traverse through the neatly laid out city which always fascinated me. To be fair, it still fascinates me looking at the way city has maintained its fundamental structure even after so many decades of being created.
During my childhood as well as later I never got the opportunity to stay at Chandigarh and explore the city. Finally I got the opportunity when I started my training for my chartered accountancy and I had to be in Chandigarh for a month in connection with the audit of the local newspaper The Tribune. It is one of the leading English language newspapers in the country originally started in 1881 from Lahore but now headquartered at Chandigarh and published daily from six cities namely Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Amritsar, New Delhi, Dehradun and Bathinda.
The trip had provided me an ample opportunity of exploring the city as by that time couple of cousins had also settled down in the city and they became my local guides. During the stay, I explored most of the public places as well as the icons of the city and one of the college festivals at Punjab University. Not to mention the evening sauntering through the Sector 17 market over the weekends. Later, my first job with CEAT tyres would bring me to the city couple of times but during those trips it would be focused around work with very little time to move out. Last week, I go an opportunity once again to be in the city for 2 days along with my colleagues and we planned to take an early morning sortie to Sukhna Lake. Incidentally, in my earlier trips to the Lake, I had never been there in the early morning. As the earlier trip was long time back, I had the faded memories of the lake.
Sukhna Lake was created back in 1958 while the city was being planned although there are some versions indicating the existence of the Lake much earlier than this. The lake was the venue for Asian Rowing Championship in 1989 and has the longest channel for rowing and yachting events in Asia. Though I am surprised to see that after 1989, no international rowing event has happened at the lake. With little push and support, the lake could be amongst the global rowing map as well as a bigger tourist destination.
The lake is also a sanctuary for migratory birds like Siberian cranes, storks and ducks who visit here during the winter months. That is the period when the lake happens to be at its bloom and the ideal period to be visited at. This lake has been declared as a national wetland by government of India.
Five of us started around 6.30am and within 15 minutes’ drive we were at the Lake. The experience this time was different as compared to my earlier trips to the lake. The first thing to hit me was the air quality which was much better than Delhi that we are used to. The moment we stepped onto the lake sidewalk, a breeze of Himalayan fresh air welcomed us. It seemed as if the air from Himalayas has been piped into the lake. I am sure our lungs would have also been surprised with purity of air as they are not used to working on purifying this quality of air. The flowers alongside the walkway were bloomingly welcoming us from the well maintained and manicured flower-beds. Although there were good number of flowers but I guess that during monsoons, it will be a visual treat.
As we moved ahead on the walkway, it seemed as if the whole town had descended at the lake. For me it was absolutely a different face of the city. I could see the people from all age groups from young to old and men and women. Everybody was there with an agenda. Some were taking a brisk walk on the boulevard surrounding the lake. There was another group which was doing yoga. Couple of groups seemed to be sportspersons and were busy in vigorous exercises. We also could see a group of volunteers who were removing the trash from the lake side.
As we had reached minutes before the crack of dawn, we could see the sun rising from behind the trees and the reflection of rising sun on the lake water was proving a setting for the perfect morning. We spent around an hour walking alongside the lake absorbing the unpolluted surrounding beauty at the backdrop of Shivalik range of mountains. We wished if we could be there for some more time but had to come back as we had a long day ahead.
If you are planning a break from the fast life of a city looking for a place which is slightly laid-back, you may consider Chandigarh. This apart, you can have a Himalayan experience without being at Himalayas. You may plan a trip to Chandigarh for couple of days which could be a weekend sortie or extended weekend if you could add an additional day. You may spend couple of hours early morning as well as in the evenings at Sukhna Lake each day. The experience I am sure will be rejuvenating.
This apart there are couple of places that one can visit out of Chandigarh during the day time namely Pinjore Garden (23 kms), Naina Devi Temple (104 kms), Shimla (114 kms) and few more. Another nearby city is Ropar which is located 45 kms away and is one of the bigger sites belonging to Indus Valley Civilization.
Chandigarh is well connected through national and international flights from Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Dubai and Bangkok as well as direct trains from various parts of the country. One can even explore driving down from Delhi.