The Nek Chand Rock Gardens had been on our radar for a long time before we finally made it there. Located in the city of Chandigarh, at the foot of the Himalayas, the gardens are one of India’s hidden gems. In fact, they largely undiscovered by foreign tourists. Indeed, on our visit, we were the only foreigners enjoying the gardens. Interestingly, although they are largely overlooked by visitors from overseas, the gardens are the second most visited tourist attraction in the country after the Taj Mahal. Around 5000 visitors a day enter the gates of the gardens to experience Nek Chand’s captivating wonderland.
Although the gardens themselves are incredible, the story of the Nek Chand Rock Gardens is even more so. Nek Chand was born in 1924 in Pakistan and moved to India during partition in 1947. Two years later he joined the Highway Department in Chandigarh as part of the Refugee Employment Programme. In 1951, he secured a position as a road inspector at Chandigarh Public Works Department. His job was to supervise the construction of a re-vitalisation of the road system in the city.
Chandigarh – A Modern Metropolis
Chandigarh was re-designed in the fifties to become a modern metropolis. Indeed, the intention was, that it would be transformed into a utopian dream city, taking India into a new era. As a result, it remains markedly different to most Indian cities. Chandigarh is home to broad boulevards, sprawling green spaces and modern architecture along with a grid-style road system. Designed by French architect, Le Corbusier, it has an altogether more European vibe. Compared to the chaos found elsewhere in India, Chandigarh is, in fact, organised and systematic.
It was Nek Chand’s job to supervise the re-vitalisation of the road system in the 1950’s. However, Nek Chand was a man with a vision. It was during this period, that he started to collect unwanted materials that had been discarded throughout the area. These were items that had been abandoned when the city was being re-built, as well as objects that had been thrown away by residents. He searched for rocks, broken crockery, coloured glass, along with tiles and whatever else he could find. With these materials, he secretly built a sculpture garden hidden on government land. It started small, just a patch of land, with stones bordering the area, together with a few sculptures. However, before long, the garden had expanded significantly and various courtyards were added.
For 18 years, he built secretly at night and weekends, so that he would not be discovered by the authorities. During this time, he created an artistic wonderland of whimsical figures. Nevertheless, although he was discreet, the area was discovered by city officials in the early 1970’s. They consequently threatened to demolish the site. Luckily, Nek Chand received much support from locals. In light of this, he was finally given permission for the gardens to open to the public in 1976. Furthermore, the self-taught artist was offered a salary. What’s more, he was given fifty workers to assist him in expanding the gardens. The backing he received also allowed him to experiment with new styles and materials.
The Gardens Today
These days, the gardens consist of forty acres of landscaped gardens. They are now home to over 2000 sculptures set amidst a fantasyland of waterfalls and walkways together with swings, gorges and amphitheatres. Sculptures include all manner of figurines from dancers and musicians to monkeys and elephants.
A Wonderful Legacy
If you have an appreciation for the quirky, as we do, you will love Nek Chand Rock Gardens. We were mesmerised by the number of wonderfully whimsical sculptures, as well as the gardens themselves. It’s incredible to think that everything was created from unwanted, recycled materials. Indeed, the gardens are an example of ecotourism at its best. Nek Chand was a visionary with a dream, which thankfully, he was eventually able to share. He passed away in 2015 at 90 years old, but his legacy will live on forever.
A Few Facts
Chandigarh is situated approximately five hours by road from Delhi and is well-connected by bus.
The Nek Chand Rock Gardens are located at Uttar Marg, Sector 1, Chandigarh.
Opening times: Summer – 1st April – 30th September 9.00 – 7.30 pm Winter – 1st October – 31st March – 9.00 am – 6.00 pm
Adults – 20 Indian Rupees (less than a dollar!!) Children – 10 Indian Rupees
There are stalls and vendors within the park which sell snacks and drinks.
Check out the blog The Incredible Story of Nek Chand Rock Gardens, India – journey-junkies.com (journey-junkies.com)Holy Cow – Back in India, which included our visit to Chandigarh and Nek Chand Rock Gardens!