Chandigarh, Punjab/Haryana, February 2016 - The city of Chandigarh is the capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana. It was one of the first planned cities in India post-Independence, commissioned by Jawaharlal Nehru when Punjab’s original capital, Lahore, became part of Pakistan. The city's master plan was designed in the early 1950's by Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (a.k.a. Le Corbusier) and was based on earlier plans by the Polish architect Matthew Nowicki and the American urban planner Albert Mayer. Most of the government, residential, commerical and community buildings in Chandigarh were designed by Pierre Jeanneret (Le Corbusier's cousin), Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry.
Projecting Le Corbusier’s philosophy of functional efficiency, Chandigarh is an orderly city, featuring concrete buildings without ornamentation and a network of straight arterial roads. The original city consisted of 47 Sectors, with each Sector containing its own housing (no high rises), shops, health clinics, schools, places of worship and green space. On a macro level, Le Corbusier envisioned the city functioning like a human body - the head was the government complex, the heart was the main commercial and civic district (town hall, general post office, movie theaters, banks), and a network of gardens down the center of the city was to serve as its lungs. Thebloodstream consisted of discrete types of roads designed to promote a hierarchy of traffic circulation: arterial roads; major boulevards; Sector definers; shopping streets; neighborhood streets; access lanes; pedestrian paths; and cycle tracks. An educational zone was built in the northwest corner of the city, while the industrial zone was relegated to the southeast due to its proximity to the railway station and the tendency of the winds to blow from west to east.
Chandigarh's government complex includes the Legislative Assembly, the High Court and the Secretariat. These buildings were constructed out of reinforced concrete and contain several techniques to control climate without the use of machines, including brise-soleil screens, large openings for cross-ventilation and umbrella-like roofs. The complex also contains a number of interesting monuments designed by Le Corbusier, including the “Open Hand,” which for him was a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and the primitive "Temple of Shadows." In the Legislative Assembly one can still admire furniture designed by Pierre Jennerett while basking in brilliant swathes of color on the walls and floor - yellow, red, green and blue - that were used to add visual interest to the imposing grey concrete.
Chandigarh, Punjab/Haryana, February 2016 - In stark contrast to Le Corbusier's cerebral and rigid capital complex lies the equally grand but playful Rock Garden. Possibly the largest outsider art installation in the world, the Rock Garden is the creation of Shri Nek Chand, a road inspector in the city's engineering department. In the 1950s, Nek began collecting interesting rocks and discarded materials from villages that had been demolished to create Chandigarh. He later began to assemble these materials - broken crockery, light bulbs, electrical fittings, metal wire, soda bottles, women's bangles - into small sculptures and mosaics in a jungle clearing on restricted government land. As the years progressed, his secret project grew to encompass hundreds of human and animal figures set in a fanciful maze of walled courtyards, gardens and grottoes.
In 1975, Nek's garden was accidentally discovered by city inspectors. Many in the Chandigarh government wanted it destroyed, but the local community rallied around this one-of-a-kind treasure. In response, Nek was given a salary to continue his work on the garden, as well as a staff of laborers to assist him. The Rock Garden opened for visitors in 1976, and in 1996 the Nek Chand Foundation was formed to manage its maintenance and expansion and to serve as a liason between the garden and the city of Chandigarh (tension continues to exist between the two groups, as the garden occupies prime real estate in the middle of the city).
One's first visit to the 40+ acre garden is akin to discovering a lost kingdom...you must bow to pass through tiny entrance doors that lead to grand mosaic courtyards inhabited by thousands of human and animal figures - monkeys, elephants, camels, horses, dinosaurs. Or you might come across a moss-covered ravine filled with waterfalls, pools, tree root sculptures and an open air theater. Or a sunny pavillion filled with gigantic swings meant as much for the adults as for the children.
Nek Chand passed away in 2015 at the age of 90. Thankfully, the third phase of his original plan for the garden is still being executed with the help of local and foreign volunteers. No longer a secret project, Nek Chand's Rock Garden has become an integral part of the fabric of Chandigarh, as well as an inspiration to artists all over the world.
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, February 2016 - Major-General Claude Martin arrived in Pondicherry, India with the French army in 1752. Believing that France's prospects in India were limited, he soon joined the British East India Company, rising to the rank of Major-General and amassing a significant fortune along the way. During this period he became a great confidant of Asaf-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh (a.k.a. Oudh), who had recently moved his kingdom's capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. Martin settled in Lucknow at the request of the Nawab, and his presence reinforced the Company's influence within the region. During his tenure in the city, Martin managed the state's arsenal, manufactured cannons, ammunition, bells and coins, and farmed indigo. By 1793, he was the richest European in the city, at one point lending 250,000 British pounds to the Nawab.
Martin was an accomplished surveyor and a self-taught architect, and he oversaw the design and construction of many important buildings in Lucknow. In 1785, he began construction of Constantia, an enormous Gothic château that was to be his country residence. It featured four octagonal towers and an exterior profusely decorated with animals and mythological figures. One of the two cannons on Constantia's terrace was cast by Martin at his arsenal.
Martin died in 1800 and is buried in a basement chamber of Constantia. He never married and he had no heirs. His will endowed three boys schools - one in Lucknow, one in Kolkata and one in his birthplace of Lyon, France. The school in Lucknow was to be located in Constantia. After a protracted legal battle concerning his will, La Martinière College for Boys opened in 1845. In 1869, an affiliated school for girls also opened in Lucknow.
Initially La Martinière was only open to Europeans and Eurasians, but today it serves over 4,000 students between the ages of five and 18 of all backgrounds and religions. Kipling historians believe that it served as the basis for St. Xavier's College, which was attended by Kimball O'Hara, the young protagonist of Kim. It is the only school in the world to have been awarded royal battle honors for the role it played in the defence of Lucknow's Residency during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. For almost five months, teachers and students defended "The Martinière Post" within the Residency from near constant infantry and artillery attacks. On the campus are several tombs of Company officers killed in the conflict, as well as the tomb of Boulone, the Major-General's favorite female companion (below right). The small chapel at Constantia (below left) is painted in French macaroon hues and accented with gold leaf.
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, February 2016 - Prior to my travels in India, I held the unfortunate notion that kebab consisted of chunks of tough, flavorless meat sadly impaled by a skewer and interspersed with the occasional onion or slice of green pepper. The first time I had true Sheekh Kabab, I actually asked my host what it was, for it was incredibly soft and highly aromatic, with a light char on the outside that kept the minced meat together. This was my first taste of true kebab and I was hooked. Kebabs feature prominently in the Awadhi cuisine of Lucknow, which is a wonderland for foodies visiting India. The city's Nawabs were exhuberant hosts and sought out the best chefs in Northern India for their kitchens. As a result, Awadhi cuisine is distinctive and sophisticated, featuring ingredients such as saffron, screw pine essence, rose water, nuts and extremely tender lamb and mutton.
Awadhi cuisine has multiple influences, including Mughal, Persian, Central Asian and Punjabi. The dum pukht style of cooking - the art of slow cooking over a low flame, typically in a sealed container - originated in Lucknow. It is based on Persian cooking methods, and was popularized by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah in the 1700s. A royal meal might consist of several types of kebab (sheekh, tunde, kakori, shami, galawat), korma (braised meat in thick gravy), keema (minced meat curry), rice dishes such as pulao and biryani, nihari (slow cooked lamb shank with bone marrow), breads such as sheermal (saffron naan), tandoori roti (above left), roomali roti and warqi paratha, and sweet dishes such as nimish (saffron pudding, below left), halwa (sweetened grains such as semolina or chickpea flour) and zarda (sweet rice). Biryanis and sweets are often decorated with real silver foil, stacks of which can be found in the old chowks of Lucknow (below right). Savory street snacks such as samosas and chaat (fried dough served with potato, chickpeas, onion and spices and garnished with yoghurt) also hail from Uttar Pradesh.
And now let's talk about mangoes. No other fruit in India is held in as high regard - it is the king of tropical fruits, and its appearance in local markets signals the beginning of summer. While India is the largest producer of mangoes in the world, it represents only 1% of the global trade, as almost all mangoes are consumed locally. Mangoes in India are eaten both ripe and raw. They are used in sweet dishes and spicy chutneys...in powdered form as a spice...as a meat tenderizer in kebab (right)...pickled as a side dish...in yoghurt lassis...or just eaten plain. As a child, celebrity chef Madhur Jaffrey ate hers with salt, pepper, cumin and red chili powder! While hundreds of varieties are grown throughout India, few are as prized as the mangoes of Malihabad near Lucknow. The first mango orchards were planted there 200 years ago by a group of settlers from Afghanistan. Today, the region's mango belt has grown to 30,000 hectares, and it boasts some of the oldest mango trees in cultivation.
The specialty of Malihabad is dussehri mangoes, though chausa, langda, safeda and many other varieties are grown. When I visited in February, the trees had just begun to flower and the smell was divine. The different varieties will ripen between April and July. During my visit I met with Padmashri Kaleem Ullah Khan (below right), known worldwide for his expertise developing new varieties of mangoes. He has even created a single grafted mango tree with 300 different varieties growing at once (below left). He was kind enough to show me his orchard, and invited me back in June for Lucknow's annual mango competition, when the best of the best will be available for consumption.
Mumbai, Maharasthra, February 2016 - India never sleeps. From the smallest villages to the largest cities, commercial and household activities are ongoing. Some of the most interesting drives I have taken in India occurred very early in the morning, before the sun came up. I saw crops being loaded on to trucks headed for the wholesale markets, mothers busy preparing the morning meal, children feeding the animals and getting ready for school. It was thus no surprise that a sunrise walking tour of Mumbai would be eye-opening. Indeed, all of my clients who have taken Mumbai by Dawn found it to be one of the highlights of their trip to India. Your private guide and car picks you up at your hotel at 5:00 a.m., and by 9:00 a.m. you are back, ready for a good breakfast and a long rest.
The tour begins at the Sassoon Docks, where local trawlers unload their night's catch and take on freshly crushed ice for their next voyage. An impressive range of fish and seafood is auctioned to wholesalers and small fishmongers by a hearty group of female auctioneers. After this, you visit a city sidewalk where newspapers are being sorted and loaded on to bicycles for distribution throughout the city. Newspapers are still widely read in India, and in Mumbai you can find them in dozens of different Indian languages. Next up, a stop at a streetside distribution hub for milk products, where goods are again sent off in all directions on bicycle. As evidenced by the city's renowned tiffin (lunch box) delivery service, the use of bicycles to distribute goods to local neighborhoods in Mumbai has been raised to an art form.
But the morning is still young. Your next adventure is a brisk walk through a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, where you will see village trucks being unloaded with fresh produce and local restauranteurs buying their supplies for the day. On to the wholesale flower market. Here streetside vendors procure their blooms and individuals come to buy arrangements for weddings, festivals, and religious rituals. The tour ends with a stop at a local park where active Mumbaikers take their morning exercise - yoga, jogging and mallakhamb, a remarkable form of strength and agility training in which exercises are done on a wooden pole or hanging from a rope. Thankfully the city's enterprising chaiwallahs move from place to place as the day's activities evolve...multiple cups of sweet and spicy cutting chai (the flavor is so strong that the serving size is "cut" in half) helps the workers - and this observer (shown below with one of my young guests) - stay awake for the task at hand.