The story of Nek Chand’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh, is a truly great (and unusual) story of how an underground hobby became perhaps the most celebrated and famous attraction in Chandigarh.
Being from the UK, I hadn’t heard of the Chandigarh Rock Garden before I traveling to India back in 2018. On that first trip to India we traveled all over the country, from Leh & Khardung La Pass in the Himalayas to Kerala and everywhere in between.
It was actually only by chance that we ended up spending a week in Chandigarh (a snow blizzard closed our route out of Leh, so we had to fly to Chandigarh). Once there, we were told about the rock garden, and decided to go and see it for ourselves!
Nek Chand’s Rock Garden was definitely our favourite thing to do in Chandigarh, it’s a lovely, arty place, but it was the story of Nek, and how his rock garden came to be, that really captured our imagination.
In this article I’m going to share the history of Nek Chand’s Chandigarh Rock Garden, and also provide some visiting advice if you are in Chandigarh and looking for something fun to do for the day!
The History of Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, Chandigarh
It’s not that unusual for someone to have a secret hobby or guilty pleasure. I’ve heard of some interesting ones over the years… duct tape art, noodling, samurai sword collecting… the list goes on. Nek Chand managed to keep his hobby, a secret garden, quiet for over 15 years.
In 1958 Chand started turning waste rubbish that he picked up from the streets, into beauty. He was working as a road inspector by day but in his spare time he created a secret garden. Magnificent figures came to light as he used broken bathroom fittings, electric plug moulds, bottles, bangles, cooking pots, and whatever else he could find to create amazing sculptures.
He found a forest clearing in Chandigarh and began to create rock sculptures of queens and kings, beggars, school children, monkeys, elephants, camels. No one was left out.
The ‘Secret’ Garden
For over 15 years, Chand’s secret project turned into a beautiful garden full of extraordinary sculptures, winding walkways, and waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. Nek Chand’s Rock Garden appears to bring life to his mothers’ tales of kings and queens in their kingdoms. As well as recreating Punjabi villages similar to those of his childhood home Lahore, now Pakistan.
It wasn’t until the city authorities discovered the secret rock garden that anyone knew what Chand had been doing!
He had been building illegally on city land and could have been in serious trouble. In fact, the garden was under threat of destruction for some time. Unbelievably, Chandigarh authorities were even threatening to build a road through the middle of it.
Saving the Garden
Thankfully, the garden was loved by the locals and there was enough supporters to save it. Authorities eventually even provided Chand with 50 labourers to work full time and take the garden to the next level. Collection centres were set up around the city. These provided Chand and others with waste to re-use and turn into art.
Chandigarh is now home to the famous Rock Garden, all thanks to Nek Chand. It sees thousands of visitors a day! We visited the garden in the middle of the week and the place was heaving with people. Thousands of families were there from all over India. There were tourists, school children, and even one couple who said they’d seen the garden over ten times!
This just goes to show how even the ugliest of things can be transformed into beauty. Chand survived the brutal partition of India and still managed to turn his experiences into a place of peace. The garden is now a beautiful place for people from all over the world to visit, thanks to this incredible man.
Chand unfortunately passed away in 2015, but throughout his life he achieved the Padma Shri award (fourth highest civilian award in India). His work has been featured in museums all over the world.
Travel Advice for visiting Chandigarh Rock Garden
With an entrance fee of just R30, this place is accessible even for those of you looking to stretch out your travel budget. I strongly advise making a day of it, there’s so many parts of the garden to see. Today the garden is spread over more than 40 acres. Take a picnic and spend the day getting lost in this serene garden.
Since his passing, a Nek Chand Foundation has been opened in London to raise funds for the garden. The once secret garden will remain open as a memorial for Nek Chand. At the time of his death Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his death, saying:
“He will always be remembered for his artistic genius and fabulous creation that is cherished by many. May his soul rest in peace.”
Where to visit next next?
After visiting Chandigarh I recommend staying in India and exploring more of the country. After all, it’s not only a fascinating place unlike any other, but it’s also a fairly cheap country to travel.
If you were interested in learning about, or thinking about visiting, the Chandigarh Rock Garden – I hope you found this article useful!