Why go to Chandigarh they asked? Or if they didn’t ask they assumed I’d be on my way to Jammu & Kashmir. But no, I was determined to go to Chandigarh to see the buildings of French / Swiss architect Le Corbusier.
‘You’re mad’ they said to go north in May / June, ‘it is too hot’. Return airfares had been booked from Bangalore to Mumbai which is in a northern direction, and that seemed to decide the question of what to do at the end of the cricket season. Kerala or Goa, meh. Tom and Kirrily’s season had finished about the same time and they were happy to indulge me.
According to my usual policy of doing no research whatsoever when I travel until the night before and I realise I know nothing, I Googled Le Corbusier and Chandigarh and discovered the Le Corbusier Centre. So the Le Corbusier self-guided tour started there.
Le Corbusier Centre
There are copies of original planning documents and sketches, some original furniture pieces and a letter that made me laugh.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was determined that this new city should project an image of modernity and progress. He wrote to the Chief Minister of Punjab to say
“My dear Partap Singh,
I have spoken to you about Le Corbusier’s complaint about the Cantonment being built on the other side of the Lake in Chandigarh. He has written to me again on this subject and sent me a sketch. I am enclosing these papers.
I do hope that you will not overrule Corbusier. His opinion is of value.
It might be a bit harsh, but my reading between the lines here is that the Chief Minister has a brother in law or other close relative who has a parcel of land to offload on the other side of the lake, and Nehru is pulling him into line.
My love affair with Le Corbusier began in France when I was living in St Etienne and the Cite Le Corbusier was a 20 min drive away in Firminy.
Proportion and harmony are defining features of the LeCorbusier buildings.
At the Maison de la Culture in Firminy the eastern side is a wall of windows, with coloured panels. The panels and the windows are arranged with a musical sense of harmony – not so much the strict design of a keyboard but more to do with repetition and the space between colours and panels.
The High Court in Chandigarh has the same repetition of colours and spaces and clever design. There is a double ceiling. The upper ceiling is angled to funnel the breeze across the lower ceiling to keep the temperatures inside the building down.
The chamber inside the Palace of the Assembly where parliament sits has a similar shape to the Eglise St Pierre. This allows for natural light to be used. But after Chief Minister Beant Singh was assassinated in 1995 by a car bomb the ceiling, which used to be open, was closed in. The main source of light was eliminated and the chamber is now lit by fluorescent lights instead.
We did the 3pm walking tour of the Capitol Centre. It was hot and I had no hat so I substituted my head scarf that I’d made at Jai Texart in Rajasthan (link). Tom and I both wore our Punjabi aviators.
“How hot do you think it is?” I asked Tom.
“Its hot, but no more than 40 degrees”, he replied and I agreed. Yes, we’d both been much hotter in Jaipur, and I’d boiled in Kolkata the year before.
Check the weather app and find out that in fact it is 47 degrees! That’s hot.
On the walkway between the High Court and the Assembly building is another Le Corbusier feature. It is a kind of gazebo that perfectly captures the breeze and the shade and becomes a resting area.
Le Corbusier’s Hand
On the same walkway, but closer to the High Court is the famous Hand. It is styled to be both hand and dove, symbolising peace. It weights 25 tonnes, but is so well balanced that it free wheels in the breeze.
A day later we hit Delhi where it was 48 degrees. That was really hot – I felt like I was being pounded into the pavement.
So yes, its hot. But we coped and the moral of the story is that its best not to look at the weather app.
Information Office – Capitol Centre
Off the roundabout on Utta Marg, at Sector 3 & 4.
There are walking tours in the morning and the afternoon and they are free.
As a gateway city to Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh has a popular airport but it was closed because it is a dual purpose for the military and they were upgrading at the time.
As we were en route from Amritsar so came by train, and the continued by train to Delhi. All very doable, but bear in the mind the usual warnings about trying to book train travel online if you are a foreigner. It is almost impossible and much easier if you have someone local to assist.
We stayed at the James Hotel, which is a decent business-like four star hotel.
We visited in May.
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