The right combination of a little ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness can go a long way, and perhaps one of the most striking examples of this is Chandigarh's famous Rock Garden. Also known as Nek Chand's Rock Garden, this vast enclosure stands as a symbol of its creator's brilliance.
The garden was discovered by a team of government malarial research workers, under the direction of Dr. S.K. Sharma, the Assistant Director of Chandigarh Administration Health Services. S.K. Sharma claimed he was, “very impressed to see such a hidden art treasure” and informed Dr. M.S. Randhawa, the first Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh. He was instrumental in the landscaping of Chandigarh as well as securing its art collections. Randhawa recommended that the garden be saved and, “preserved in its present form, free from the interference of architects and town planners”. It was inaugurated as a public space in 1976. It is now run by the Rock Garden Society.
M.S. Randhawa named the site, “The Rock Garden”. In a later interview Nek Chand said that this was not what he had in mind, claiming that he had envisioned it not as a garden of cold rocks but his poetry as well.
The Rock Garden gained immense popularity during the 1980's. Nek Chand received the Padma Shri in 1983 and a sculpture from the garden appeared on an Indian postage stamp. Nek Chand also began receiving attention from outside India and was awarded the Grande Médaille de Vermeil in Paris in 1980. Ann Lewin, the Director of the Children's Museum Washington DC, also requested Nek Chand to construct a garden at the museum. Nek Chand accepted the commission and even imported some sculptures from India.
During the later years, attempts were made to demolish the garden, this time to make way for a road to Kaimbwala village just north of the Sukhna Lake. Bulldozers were sent to start the demolition process but thousands of supporters gathered as “human shields”, protecting the site from being destroyed.
The Garden is built in three phases; with several thousand sculptures set in large mosaic courtyards linked by walled paths and deep gorges, a wonderland of human and animal statues and other fanciful sculptures. The garden proceeds in a chronological order of its creation.
Starting with a few natural forms and objects, like misshapen rocks, to minor landscape modification finally leading to a large scale architectural setting.
In the second phase Nek Chand created open courtyards along with pathways decorated with sculptures, complete with the king's and queen's chambers. The whole garden, in fact, is designed to look like a lost kingdom with doorways and archways constructed out of discarded bags of cement.
One can see a large waterfall, a canal, and even a miniature village. These have now become interactive spaces, where plays and cultural performances are often held.
In the third and probably the final phase of development, large horses and camels were constructed out of waste material.
The garden has come to face problems of maintenance and staff shortage in the recent years. This lack has resulted in some of the sculptures not receiving enough attention and thus becoming susceptible to damage and weakening.
Despite this, The Chandigarh Rock Garden remains one of the modern wonders of the world, and what began as a whimsical flouting of city regulations has fast become one of the main tourist attractions in Chandigarh.