Jill SinclairThe secret Rock Garden at Chandigarh, India

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.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

It is made entirely of reclaimed, reused and recycled materials.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

The creator of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, Nek Chand, continued to develop his extraordinary site in the heart of this northern Indian city until his death in June 2015 at the age of 90. We visited on a rather murky day just before Christmas.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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…

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

……to large, confident waterfalls and open terraces.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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.

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The Rock Garden at Chandigarh

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Jill Sinclair

About Jill Sinclair

Jill is a British landscape historian, based these days in New Delhi. She studied landscape design and history at Harvard, completed a Masters in garden design at the Inchbald School in London, and lived and worked for a number of years in Paris. Her first book was published by the MIT Press on a historic landscape in Massachusetts, and she now researches, writes about and lectures on designed landscapes across three continents. Follow her blog at Landscape Lover

4 thoughts on “The secret Rock Garden at Chandigarh, India

  1. Linda on said:

    Hi Jill
    I am just planning a trip to India and although I had thought of including the Rock Garden of Chandigarh I didn’t pursue the idea because it looked very rundown in the last photos I saw of it. In your photos it looks so fresh and vibrant that I feel that I really must see it.

    • Was reading your Recent Posts and came across ‘The secret Rock Garden at Chandigarh, India’ by Jill Sinclair.
      A brilliant and concise summary of this garden which has prompted us to make it a priority for ALC Garden Tours.
      we need more idiosyncratic gardens with layers of meaning!
      Sadly, its creator Nek Chand has died and Jill Sinclair has returned to England.
      A double pity for the sub-continent.
      PS – it was only later that I saw that there was another heading stating that this Post, was from, ‘great stories that you may have missed’.

  2. colleen on said:

    I love this wacky garden and the use of recycled bits and bobs, up to AND including human hair!! Thanks for such an interesting piece.

  3. Thanks for the comments. It is to some extent a wacky garden, but something about its size and history also make it thought-provoking and somehow spiritual. The Rock Garden is certainly worth a visit – it didn’t seem at all run down to me although, as I say in the piece, I thought the most recent developments (which you see at the end of the tour) were less interesting than what had gone before.

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