Chandigarh, July 12-13, 2018

We’ve been wanting to go see the Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum in Anandpur Sahib, where my brother Orijit has created a spectacular mural on Punjabiyat. I’ve seen computer and print versions of the mural, and even worked on preparing text for an interactive version that was displayed at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2016-17. But seeing it in its original setting is awe-inspiring. It’s wrapped around the walls of the first hall that you enter, and you go up a spiral ramp that lets you see all of it (it’s five storeys high). The mural is built with raised and depressed panels, and music and lighting bring out different aspects of it, on a cycle the connects phases of the day with the seasons of the year. Photography is not allowed inside the museum, so the best I can do is post this link to a video about the mural, and urge you to make the trip yourself:

The ticket suggested we try and get through the entire museum in two hours’ time, but it took us close to that duration to get through just the first hall. We sort of rushed through the rest of the museum, marvelling at what we saw. I had foreknowledge of my brother’s mural, but had no idea how rich with content and design the rest of the museum was. With spectacular displays using both traditional materials and techniques, as well as modern technologies, it tells the story of Sikhism and provides a glimpse into the religion’s core philosophies. To truly do a fair job of taking it in, the place needs to be visited a number of times, with a couple of hours spent in various different rooms.

The entire complex is designed at a monumental scale by the Israeli architect Moshe Safdi.

As it happens in many places where Orijit has made his mark earlier, several people – some of the police personnel posted at the museum, the staff at the gift shop – felt they had seen me before, and I had to explain why I should look familiar to them despite never having been there.

Anandpur Sahib is about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Chandigarh. We had come into Chandigarh earlier that morning via the Shatabdi Express from Delhi, a comfortable and picturesque three-hour journey. We’d gone from the station to the Glades Hotel where we had a room booked. It had turned out to be a comfortable place, kept in very good shape. I don’t know about you, but I’m always apprehensive when I book hotel rooms online, because what you see on the Web is not always what you get. The Glades, thankfully, was perfectly up to scratch.

We had also, through a recommendation by my sister-in-law Gurpreet (for whom Chandigarh is one of several homes), booked a cab for our trip to Anandpur Sahib, and Sukhwinder (cliché much?) turned up 15 minutes before time. He told us that this was a strong habit of his because, after all, “you only get to make a first impression once”. We struck lucky with him as well – he turned out to be a well-informed, well-mannered fellow with an affable personality and progressive views, and Anjali and he chatted volubly through the drive to Anandpur Sahib and back. I could write an entire post about Sukhwinder, but I had meant for this to be a travel chronicle, so perhaps another day. Suffice it to say that by the end of the evening, he had taken us to the Verka factory (Verka is to Punjab what Amul is to other parts of India) and treated us to his personal favourite flavoured milk and packets of pinni, a sweet concoction of atta and gur in desi ghee. He also entreated us to come home with him for dinner that evening, but we declined as it had been a long and tiring day (at which point he said that if you are feeling up to it in the morning, come have breakfast with me and my family!)

Sukhwinder poses with a quartet of musicians near the entrance of the Alpine Dhaba near Ropar, not far from Anandpur Sahib. The sign above the players touts the dhaba’s makke di roti and sarson da saag.

Among other things, Sukhwinder took us to the Alpine Dhaba on the way back from Anandpur Sahib, where we had some delicious mixed veg parathas, with unlimited ice-cold chaas for free. “Yeh toh har dhabe pe dete hain,” he told us, explaining that with all the butter and ghee that was churned, the buttermilk was produced as a by-product in litres. On a highway where dhabas are ubiquitous, the Alpine Dhaba stands out because of its tableaux of well-crafted scenes from rural Punjabi life. There is even an effigy of a woman in a salwar-kameez on a ladder, thropping cowdung patties on the walls of the dhaba!


By the time we got back to Chandigarh (Mohali, actually, since the Glades Hotel is not within the city, but “in Punjab”, as cab drivers kept saying), it was late evening, and we had dinner at the hotel and retired.

The rains had followed us to Chandigarh, and it was overcast and intermittently drizzling the next morning, but we had planned to see the Rock Garden created by Nek Chand, and weren’t about to let a little wet weather mess with those plans. Though one has seen and read much about it, the garden is quite a revelation when you enter it. The scale and complexity of the place, and the idea that it was largely a single man’s creation, boggles the mind. It was a little tough going for Anjali in places, particularly since the rain had made some of the rocky passages slick and slippery, but it was well worth the discomfort.


We flew back to Delhi that afternoon and, after a hair-raising dash between terminals necessitated by a two-hour delay in the flight, back to Goa the same evening. Even as we were leaving, we concurred that another trip to Chandigarh needs to be planned, to take a better look at other parts of the Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum, as well as to check out the city itself, including the work of Le Corbusier.


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