04th September to 06th September, 2016.
Driving from Dharamshala to Chandigarh was relatively relaxing after driving inside Dharamshala. The NH 503 is initially a double lane road with no divider separating the up and down traffic. However, it becomes a segregated four lane road after Dharamshala. It is then one pleasant drive to Chandigarh. Chandigarh in itself was a new experience with its well-planned roads and signals. Also, each house and lane were numbered, and very easy to locate.
This post is primarily about two gardens in Chandigarh area. A rather famous Rock garden and a not so well known Cactus garden. Let us start with the Rock garden itself. It was started by Nek Chand, a government employee, who decided to collect waste materials from demolition sites around Chandigarh and build entirely out of his imagination. He hid his work from authorities for 18 years before being discovered. However, things worked out well for the Rock garden when the city decided to support the work and its creator. Today, the Rock garden is among India’s most visited monuments.
When you walk around and experience the Rock garden, it really does seem like you are walking around inside someone’s dream. Everything in that garden exist, nothing means anything in particular, but every part gels well with everything else in the garden. Together, broken glass, bits of bangles, water, tyres, and broken bricks make a kingdom of great beauty. Without having ever met Nek Chand, it gives you the feeling that you have somehow been inside his head. The sad part is that many of the entrances and exits have now been closed to manage visitor’s traffic. This does, in some way, take away from the experience. However, the park is well maintained, and worth spending a few hours exploring.
While the rock garden owes its existence to one man’s dedication to art, The Cactus garden in Panchkula is a result of one man’s undying love for science, specifically, the study of succulents and cacti. Dr. J. S. Sarkaria, an eminent botanist created, and later gifted, his collection of succulents and cacti to Haryana Urban Development Authority. This later became the Sarkaria Cactus Garden. At present, it contains over 3000 varieties of cacti and succulents. Some, like the Carnegia gigantea planted from seed in 1975 now stands impressively tall.
It is not often that you get to see so many cacti in one place. This impressive garden has 3 green houses for rearing and naturalizing cacti and has a permanent staff of 70. Currently managed by Dr. Nidhi, the institute also sell plants to those interested. The park is also home to an impressive number of insects and birds. Any nature lover would love to spend a day here.
In addition to these gardens, we are happy to report that we found an Indian Coffee House in Chandigarh (started in 1964). The Masala Dosa is decent and the coffee is pretty good.
From Chandigarh, we also explored Kurukshetra which is hardly a couple of hours drive. Despite its historic importance, the town and the temples looked rather deserted. We were probably the only outsiders there. The banyan tree which is supposed to have witnessed the “Gitopadesh” is definitely worth a visit. So is Brahma Sarovar in Thanesar.
From Kurukshetra, we moved to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. That meant driving the Yamuna Express Way from Greater Noida to Agra (165 km), which is certainly among the best roads in this country. We were able to easily maintain an average of 100Km/h in this stretch. The Expressway also has decent rest stops and eateries.
Also, you can see some beautiful agrarian sights pass you by and the signs on the road are certainly amusing. More on Agra and its great monuments later.