We had planned a getaway to Nalagarh in Himachal Pradesh this weekend where Friday was also an off day. We wanted a tranquil place, free from numerous tourists or commercialism. The traveller’s guide and internet projected this little town as a paradise for honeymoon couples, a place for long walks and scenic beauty... just what we wanted!
What excited us all the more was no one seemed to know, or even have heard about the place. So off we went on Thursday night. About seven hours later, at about 4.40 AM, the bus dropped us at a deserted junction, “This IS Nalagarh”, the driver asserted.
We looked around doubtfully at whatever we could make out in the dark: a four armed fork shaped junction with a traffic police shelter in the middle. A dimly-lit clearing on the other side meant to be the bus stand. One arm of the junction was an obvious market street, with series of closed shops. A tea shop was open on another arm. That was perhaps the only sign of life that could be seen. We hung around the bus stand for about an hour as the town awoke to life. Auto rickshaws, shared automobiles, school buses, local buses, regional buses, trucks and lorries. Sipping tea, we studied the flow pattern to assess the directions of development and decide on our first plunge to Nalagarh. Our mission was mainly to find a hotel.
Few metres down the junction, we found one. Encouraged, we chose to delve further. It was a straight road with sparse development around. We came across a hotel called ‘Hotel River View’… “There must be a river around”, we inferred. We walked down the slope carrying our bags with us, finally reaching Chikni River, now just a rivulet used mainly for washing of trucks. There was a broken bridge, but the trucks had found a way to reach the water.. and the water was shallow enough to allow crossing. People were also crossing the river effortlessly, although the current was fairly strong. I had a try myself.
We came back to the bus stand and enquired around for Nalagarh fort, which was apparently the only tourist attraction. Well, no one seemed to know what we were talking about, except a policeman. We checked in a hotel, freshened up and caught up on some sleep. A few hours later, we had lunch and went on an excursion to find the fort. It was on the higher part of the city which we reached through a mix of roads sloping up and steep flights of steps. The Nalagarh Fort Complex entry stood in front of us after quite a climb. Inside, a sharp V shaped junction offered two choices of way, but no signage. We went down one, realized that was the wrong path, came back and ventured in the second.
The Fort has now been converted into a heritage hotel. Let us imagine it to be a big beautiful house, and not a fort. With due respects to anyone concerned, I am sorry to say that the flavor of a fort was totally gone. The renovation work seemed to be a confused mix of architectural styles as well as a mere plastering and painting kind of a job. You think of it as a bungalow and you will like the play of levels, use of various elements, planters, lights, etc. Both of us being architects, the feeling of disappointment perhaps had an additional multiplier.
Nalagarh thus turned out to be an industrial town which had the potential but lacked the interest in tourism.. the local people, taxi drivers inclusive, were hardly aware of what was there to see in there, and also the places one could go to. It is a place to drive to, so that you have a car (or any personalized motorized mode) to check out the surroundings as well. The natural landscape is beautiful and would have been great for long quiet walks only if there weren’t trucks and buses brushing past you as there is no footpath. There is no proper restaurant, just dhabas.. no markets other than those for daily needs, vegetables, medicines and likewise.
Next morning, we went to Chandigarh. As architects, this is a city we have studied about since our college days, its buildings, its spatial pattern, perpendicular system of roads, roundabouts… and somehow, neither of us have been there. This opportunity we grabbed, and checked out most of the city, the capitol complex designed by one of the greatest architects, Le Corbusier and the Rock Garden, a major tourist attraction.
I guess criticism was in our minds from the beginning. After Delhi, the luxurious width of roads and literally huge radii of roundabouts seemed to be such a waste. Even Le Corbusier’s designs, which we had attempted to copy as students, seemed as plastic, huge waste of concrete, little respect for land utilization. Rock Garden, spread over 12 acres, seemed to be another plastic effort. But slowly, we realized that the creator was a road inspector, who had an innovative idea to compile the industrial waste into a garden, and the sheer effort is worthy of appreciation. The element of surprise is also amazing. There are places to relax, and no restrictions on how long you spend inside. A gallery of aquariums, camel rides and a court with swings are some innovative inclusions.
We returned home from Chandigarh on Saturday night itself, recharged our batteries on Sunday to be able to join work from Monday with rejuvinated enthusiasm.