I was in Punjab the last week and despite my best intentions and my mother's constant badgering, I managed to see only very little of it. In fact, I would not be surprised if someone were to walk up to me, bang his or her fist on the table and assert that I had not been to Punjab at all. My original destination in Punjab was Ludhiana, but after a few days of the utter boredom of being cooped up in my cell, my laziness was trumped by the craving for the new, the fresh and for anything that did not have four whitewashed walls.
The one thing I had been looking forward to a lot in my trip to Punjab was to get a good look at a few girls and see for myself whether the word of mouth was good to believe. It was. Punjab features, in various varieties of appearances and sizes, everyday girls on the streets, in malls, looking out from the balcony or in somebody's mobile phone. They sashay in a swirl of colour, in their elegant salwar kameezes and in jeans in the more urbane parts of the state, moving like queens of city, head held high and with steps as firm as a mountain goat. Their faces can launch any number of ships and trawlers from any number of harbours as they breeze through the crowded markets in search of Flying Spaghetti Monster knows what. They are ephemeral and almost ethereal, with a quaint and ancient charm upon them. A glow seems to permeate through them, a halo of glory surrounding them. In more realistic terms, they are surrounded by well built, well to do Punjabi brothers who, in all probability, have a few Kirpans on their bodies. You would do well to keep away from them.
A characteristic Punjab shares to a great degree with Kerala is the number of booze shops that dot the streets and even places where there are no streets. For every hundred meters you travel, you are guaranteed to find at least three booze shops, though the three of them tend to be more or less adjacent to each other, a logic that evades me to this day. Unlike Kerala, the government does not seem to be taking any initiative to sell liquor and thus pocket great profits I am sure is to be gotten from the good people of the State. In Punjab, private dealers abound. There is no Beverages Corporation that holds monopoly over sale of wines and spirits. Thus, in the land of five rivers you find thriving in the business the likes of Gill Brothers, Bajaj and Co., Chaddha group and may other small timers. Add to that shops which would rather go with the the plain and straight forward 'English Beer and Wine', the 'Country Beer and Liquor' offering the native style and traditional touch and the all encompassing 'A to Z Liquors'.
If there were any statistic for number of booze shop in a given unit of area, I am pretty sure Punjab will trump all. While the shops in Kerala almost blend in to the background, almost indistinguishable from other establishments but for the long and disciplined queue, Punjabi booze shops make it a point to stand out. They are well lit and neon and other luminary mechanisms are employed to proudly display their names, their purpose and the various brands they happen to possess. They stand out from the rest of the crowd of shops and the very appearance seems to invite every passer by to drop in for a drink, or at least take a bottle or two for the folks at home.
Then I went to Chandigarh.
I went on a long distance route plying bus, part of a bigger scheme of things named PunBus. The bus ride puts on display for you the many features of Punjab, including the wheat fields and the booze shops I have mentioned above. Chandigarh is roughly, a two hour ride from Ludhiana and it is a pleasure to be in the planned city.
Much of the tourism potential of Chandigarh lies in the fact that it is India's first planned city. In a nation which is not exactly famous for planning, being orderly or any other virtue in the same category, Chandigarh comes as a refreshing whiff of fresh air. When one enters in to the city, it is like a whole new world. One feels like Alice, or like those kids in Narnia. It is a place truly apart from the rest of the country, a haven of the orderly and the neat. one gets a feeling of being in a well maintained place, where the roads are spick and span and there is not much traffic, pollution or any sort of hurrying. One could eat of the pavements in Chandigarh. It came as no surprise to me when a signboard told me that Chandigarh was found to be the cleanest and greenest city in India.
One can see Le Corbusier's genius through out the city, in its well planned roads, aptly situated structures and a general look of lush greenery and a spirit of relaxation. Of course, there are spaces at certain points where you can almost see Le Corbusier thinking, "Now what will I do with that 30 cents? I already have three parks. Enough with planting trees. Oh dash it, we will just allow people to park their carriages and horses there. Humph!". The place is a marvel.
Chandigarh has many parks and grounds were people (mostly old people and tourists) can relax, while away time and bask in the sunshine when it is not too hot. There are umpteen gardens and other places that exhibit flora. It is as if when Corbusier was at his charts, plotting out a road here, a legislative council there, a couple of associates came up and said, "It would be nice to have a garden of rose, some acres where there is nothing but rose, in all colours, in full glory...", only to be cut off by the next man who thought there was nothing like bougainvilleas and any city without a bougainvillea garden was not worthy to be called a city. Tired of all these rants, Corbusier seemed to have made each man;s wish come true with various gardens here and there, of roses, bougainvilleas and many other flowers.
One of the biggest attractions of Chandigarh is the Rock Garden, a forty acre expanse built entirely from home and industrial wastes in to a charming and innovative spectacle. The vast maze like structure was built secretly by Nek Chand Saini an was finally discovered by the government in 1975. They had the sense to recognise a good thing when they saw one and took the garden in to their own hands and made it a major tourist spot. It is a breathtaking place, where one wonders about the sheer audacity of the idea, the huge proportions of the place only adding to the bewildering charm.
Punjab is a great place to be in, though it was cold as freezer during the time I was there. I escaped before January set in and Mother Nature really cranked up the iciness. Of course, it is all compensated with the melting heat of the summer. Punjab certainly was a great place to visit, though I am not sure I am ever going up there again.