garden tales from a Brit abroad
It started in 1965 as an illegal development on protected forest land.
Its creator was inspired by Le Corbusier’s use of concrete in the city of Chandigarh, yet what he produced is folk art that stands in extraordinary contrast to Corbusier’s modernist city. For the first ten years of its life, it was entirely secret, its existence known only to the lowly government worker who was behind its painstaking creation. Today it hosts thousands of paying visitors every day, and the site and its creator receive countless awards and regular international press coverage.
It is made entirely of reclaimed, reused and recycled materials.
The creator of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, Nek Chand, is now 88 but continues to develop his extraordinary site in the heart of this northern Indian city. We visited on a rather murky day just before Christmas. Throughout the 10-hectare garden, space is used in sharply contrasting ways, from almost oppressively narrow, steep-sided lanes and tiny Alice-in-Wonderland doorways…
to large, confident waterfalls and open terraces.
Its range of recycled materials is astonishing, from old bricks, foundry waste, broken pots, pieces of tile, crockery, bangles and pebbles to oil drums, bakerlite (plug covers), rags, bike frames, wire, rainwater and human hair.
Phase three, still under construction, seems to me perhaps less successful than its predecessors, with a vast open plaza that offers camel rides, a toy train, swings, and other standard tourist attractions. But the ranks of small folksy sculptures, for which the Rock Garden is perhaps best known and which cluster on terraces and shelves throughout the site, have a character and charm difficult to define but easy to appreciate.
The whole experience of visiting the Rock Garden is extraordinary, disorientating and deeply impressive. And, of course, although these photos are chosen to make it seem that we enjoyed its charms in seclusion and quiet contemplation, just as its creator did for the first ten years of its existence, these days its international fame means it is always packed with curious and appreciative visitors.