Chandigarh and Its Journey from Sleepy to Supercool

I was born and brought up in Chandigarh. I’ve never been in a different city – studied here, worked here. Everything.  So since the age of 5 (that’s when you gain senses), I’ve seen or heard about almost everything that has happened here. Be it about the changing seasons, new Governors, renovation of roundabouts, PU elections, landline numbers turning from 5-digit to 7-digit or the latest Dera Sacha Sauda cacophony; I have been here, seen all.

Chandigarh (City Beautiful – as we all know it) has been known for its well-planned infrastructure, clean and green roads, Sukhna Lake, Rose Garden, Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, PU Student Center, and Sector 17 Plaza for many many many years (almost since the first stone was laid here). 

 

Not anymore!

The city is brimming with new opportunities and an energised vibe flows through its air today. A decade ago, there were some two or three places that would make up for Chandigarh’s nightlife (Score, Down Under and maybe one or two more – I don’t think there were any others at that time). Today, the scenario has transformed drastically. When you enter Chandigarh from Panchkula, the main Sector 26 square on the right is all about flashes and music. Whether you want to go out for a family dinner, a high-power evening with friends or a lazy beer laden weekend, this place is now a hub for youngsters from across the Chandigarh Tricity. And this is not just about one part of the city, it is everywhere, every corner.

Somewhere in 2005, weekends in the city were all about Sector 17, Gedi Route and a Movie at a single screen theatre. I think it was somewhere in 2010 when the city actually started evolving. This was then that the IT sector flourished in the city, entrepreneurship started gaining importance and media became more active.

While in my teens, I was always given a picture that I would have to go out of the city to study or build a career because it had limited opportunities to offer. However, by the time it was my turn to spread the wings, I did not feel the need to step out. The opportunities had quadrupled and the city became livelier and more happening. I never felt the need for relocating. I could earn decently, establish a career for myself, live with the family, shop and party my heart out (I mean those were my priorities so I never felt the need to suffocate myself by going to Delhi or elsewhere – plus cleaner air to breathe is a life goal 😛 )

Just like everyone loves their city, so do I. And, I strongly believe that there is something special about Chandigarh. Here we say, ” Once you live in Chandigarh, you cannot live anywhere else (in India).

So when you are here next, you should know that Lake, Rock Garden and Sector 17 are not the only places to see. I’ll lay down a few really cool things that you can do in this beautiful city.

Pub Hopping

And cafe hopping if you’re the teetotaller kinds. Friday evenings and Saturday nights are the best times to go pub hopping in Chandigarh. Some of the pubs to explore are The Brew Estate, Social, Ministry of Bar Exchange, Shosha, Paara, Boathouse, the Great Bear; I can just keep going. If cute, quirky cafes are your thing, try checking out Cafe JCs, Backpacker, Brooklyn Central, Nik Baker’s, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, The Hedgehog Cafe, and so many others.

Street Food Spree

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Food and Chandigarh have an inseparable relationship. The food street scenario has immensely evolved and post 5 PM every day, you will see markets flooded with food lovers. You’ll find momos counter at one end and a dosa stall at the other. Evening scenes in the markets of Chandigarh are no less than ‘melas’ (I chose that word on purpose to bring the essence of it before you). Mouth-watering chaats to continental finger food, you’ll find all sorts of delicacies here. You can hog all day and not get bored.

My favourites?

Here are a few:

  • Golgappas and Chaats at Sector 23 Chandigarh
  • Bombay Sandwich at Sector 7 Chandigarh
  • Momos in Sector 16 Panchkula
  • South Indian and Chinese in Sector 7 Panchkula
  • Burgers and Fries at Uncle Jack’s Sector 8 Chandigarh (Sector 8 is a food paradise – I mean, there are so many food joints here – most of which I’m in love with)
  • Channa Bhaturas in Industrial Area, Chandigarh
  • Butter Chicken at Pal Dhabha Sector 28 Chandigarh

I can basically write a Chandigarh street food guide someday with all the intel that I have. Pun intended.

Run for the Mountains

The beauty of living in Chandigarh is that it is a hop, literally one hop, away from the mountains. Resting the feet of Shivaliks, the city gives you the freedom to explore the hills whenever you want. I remember a time when it had become a weekly ritual for me. Shimla is only a 3-hour drive away from Chandigarh. That means even if you are short on time, you can easily do a to-and-fro trip to Shimla in a day. Some other places to visit are Kasauli, Dagshai, Solan and Barog.

Here’s what my personal day-trip itinerary looks like:

  • Leave early and stop for breakfast at Timber Trail, Parwanoo
  • Reach Kasauli by 10 AM – Visit the Church, go up to Manki (Monkey) Point, grab a plate of momos and pakoras.
  • Lunch at Dharampur – so many good eateries to choose from.
  • Drive back – don’t forget to stop by at a roadside Maggi and chai stall (there are plenty – choose the one that offers the best sunset).

Shop Your Heart Out

From high-end branded outlets to cheap street shopping, Chandigarh is nothing short of a shopper’s paradise. We’ve got lively shopping complexes and flea markets to explore.

My Pick: 

  • Elante and VR Punjab Mall for branded, high-end shopping
  • Sector 22, Sector 19 and Sector 15 for a Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar-like shopping

Have an Affair with Nature

If you are a nature-lover, this urban gem has some lovely places for you to cleanse the senses. A morning or evening walk at Sukhna Lake is the first thing to do. There are a few nature retreats in Siswan (a village on the outskirts of the city). You can spend some time here. Also, Chandigarh is famous for its beautiful parks. You can basically pick one every day and still not explore all of them. Nagar Van near Sukhna Lake is a new entrant in the list of places for nature lovers in Chandigarh.

7 Days = 7 Day Trips

(We’ve already covered the hills) Another reason why I love the city is that it gives you a window to explore different nearby places. There are a lot of spots around Chandigarh that are 2 or 3 hours away. You can spend a full day or a weekend at these places. If you look closely, you can find some beautiful old forts, nature parks and zoo, nature camps and retreats, luxury resorts – all hiding in plain sight.

I’ll name a few:

  • Chattbir Zoo, Rajpura
  • RDB Fort, Doraha, Ludhiana
  • Virasat-E-Khalsa
  • Funcity Water Park
  • Pinjore Gardens & Naulta

Fairs and Events

A few years back, exhibitions and trade shows would only happen once or twice a year in Chandigarh. That’s changed now. Almost every other weekend, you have lifestyle exhibitions, trade shows, food festivals and mini-concerts happening at different corners of the city.

The most popular ones are:

  • La Feria
  • Grub Fest
  • Vanity Fair
  • A Million Dollar Affair
  • CII Fair

Doesn’t all that sound so much fun? Chandigarh’s journey from Indian Coffee House to Starbucks has been an eventful one. It is rapidly developing on every front – entertainment, education, and infrastructure. Next time you’re here, soak yourself in some of the aforementioned experiences and take back beautiful memories of my city back to yours.

For any questions, suggestions, recommendations, drop in your comments below.

xoxo

Feature Image Source: TravelDigestNews

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