That’s a Wrap–

As I write, the sounds of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival that welcomed me to Mumbai two years ago are coming to life on the streets below.  Music, dancing, celebrating.  If my life were a Bollywood film, this is the part where — like for Ganesh at the end of the festival — my character would be whisked off to the sea in a crowd of people for my return home.  Eighty years ago in the Foreign Service that might have been reality (the sea part…not the crowd to go along), but I get to go by plane!

In what seems like the blink of an eye, my time in Mumbai has come to an end and I’m headed for my next assignment in Washington, DC.  I learned a lot about India and, perhaps even more, about myself.  

To all my friends and colleagues here in Mumbai, farewell!  Keep doing good things.  Stay in touch and come see me in Washington DC!

A Final Mumbai Sunset

A Final Mumbai Sunset

This is what you call Monsoon?

Writing a blog can be a funny thing.  Sometimes you get into a groove and write a few posts one after the other — other times, inspiration is tough to come by.  The last two months have flown by in a blur.  Mostly that is because it is transfer season again and many of my colleagues for the last two years are taking off for other destinations around the world.  It is always sad to see good people go, but at the same time exciting to see them head out on the next adventure in their Foreign Service life.  It comes with the career choice.

Clouds Rolling Through the Western Ghats outside our Window...mostly.  There was a time when I said -- "Oh look, there is a cloud inside."

Clouds Rolling Through the Western Ghats outside our Window…mostly. There was a time when I said — “Oh look, there is a cloud inside.”

The Monsoon rains have come for a second time since I arrived and that means my time in Mumbai is coming to a close as well.  This year the rain came late and has not been very heavy. Last year it would rain for days on end — this year, some rain here and there — heavier in the evenings, but not much throughout the days.  It has had Mumbaikers talking of water shortages since the reservoirs north of the city are still no where close to being full.

The Imposing Cliff behind The Machan property.

The Imposing Cliff behind The Machan property.

This is usually the time of year when Mumbaikers escape the city.  We followed suit last weekend and headed up to Lonovola, the closest hill station to Mumbai.  The Hill stations were created by the British as a reprieve from life down in the city.  At this time of year, going to the Western Ghat mountain range on which Lonovola sits means basically driving up into the clouds.

This little critter was quite wet, but seemed to be enjoying his time up on the mountain.

This little critter was quite wet, but seemed to be enjoying his time up on the mountain.

We stayed at a place called “The Machan” near the Amby Valley area of Lonovola.  The place glass-walled home had a great 180 degree view of the valley down below, dramatic vistas of plateaus and mountains in the distance, and a front row seat for the driving rains and black clouds that rolled through the valley nearly every hour.  Living in Mumbai, it is also easy to forget the world has birds other than pigeons, ravens, and hawks.  Both mornings were were serenaded by the off-beat chirps and whistles of the Malabar Whistling Thrush — let me tell you it is a lot louder than the recording.  At 5AM it had all of us up and ready for coffee.

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Buying Chikki — like peanut brittle — The Best Known Activity in Lonovola aside from walking in the rain.

All in all a relaxing weekend with good friends and great scenery.  Getting up into the hills is probably the best way to recharge for another busy month and some new blog entries! 

The crew on top of our Machan treehouse looking into the Amby valley below.

The crew on top of our Machan treehouse looking into the Amby valley below.

Chandigarh: A Planned City on the North Indian Plain

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Chandigarh Welcomes You With a New Military Airport covered in “Advertise Here” Signs

As a follow on from my post about Shimla and Himachal Pradesh, I would be remiss not to write a little bit about Chandigarh — gateway to the Himachal Pradesh region and capital of both the Punjab and Harayana states.  While the mountains to the north get most of the attention, the city of Chandigarh has its own unique place in the story of “modern” India.  After independence in 1947, Nehru commissioned Le Corbusier, a Swiss architect and urban planner, to create a city on the plains of Northern India that could represent the way India wanted to see itself — cosmopolitan, wealthy, clean, comfortable.  Being an architects dream to build a city from the bottom up; Le Corbusier took the job.

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The Chandigarh City Plan (with all three phases of development included)

Le Corbusier designed a city that had 30 sectors.  Each sector was completely self-contained and separated from its neighboring sectors by brick walls and wide, sweeping boulevards.  Government and civic buildings, education centers, residential neighborhoods, commercial shops, industry, parks and recreation facilities; each on has their specific place in the city plan.  As we drove into town, the newer high-tech compounds of Infosys, Airtel, and L&T Infotech rising from the arid plain (outside the original plan) gave way to the older sector comprising police headquarters and residences (inside the plan).  Then we drove through sector 7 — home to government bureaucrats. According to Le Corbusier’s plan, housing should be arranged such that people doing substantially the same type of work and/or of the same class lived together.  Lower level bureaucrats have smaller bungalows and, as they become increasingly important, are provided with much larger facilities.  Homes and other buildings were to incorporate his five design principles — use of reinforced concrete columns, open floor plans, a freely designed facade with no structural function, horizontal windows, and gardens.

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The High Court for Chandigarh — Primary Colors Offset the Solid Grey of the Building Facade

Crossing over the boulevard, we entered into a wealthy neighborhood where the section plots had been auctioned to the highest bidders.  Each plot is about 2 kanals (roughly 1/4 acres). Homes are elaborately designed, yet maintain uniform building codes set by the original urban planners in the 1960’s.  Residences surround a public park and central commercial district within the sectors — Le Corbusier’s attempt to make a city focused on “human” life.  Like the residences, the commercial buildings are also all chock-a-block similar buildings with small shops, restaurants and businesses.  The only differences on many of the buildings are those of the changing times — 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s each with their own unique design features and colors. 

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The Gandhi Bhaven — Home to a Collection of Reading Materials and other Works about Gandhi

All of this planning has put Chandigarh among the top in terms of livability rankings for Indian cities.  And yet…while definitely a unique experiment…it is surprisingly un-“human.”  Perhaps it is the stark contrast between life lived fast and furious out in the open in Mumbai, perhaps it is the lack of hustle and bustle up and down the empty boulevards and in the parks, but the “modern” city of Chandigarh — not withstanding its architectural interest — is missing something.  Sectors are walled off, homes have walls between them, government buildings are large and designed to be imposing to those that view them, with stark grey, concrete facades.  The plan, probably without intention, actually seems to break down the social connections that people create in everyday life.  It also allows people to be uniquely oblivious to the problems faced in the city.  It was not until phase 2 and phase 3 of Chandigarh were constructed that the issue of where lower- and middle-class urban dwellers would live.  Even today, they tend to be relegated to the outer reaches of the city; living in un-planned settlements that provide relief for the eyes from the monotony of the urban core in Chandigarh.  The city is working on plans to resolve some of the issues caused by the plan; time will tell if they are successful.

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Standing in Front of the Symbol of Chandigarh and a Favorite Image of Le Corbusier’s, the “Open Hand” — standing for being “open to giving and receiving.”

The natural human reaction to overly planned and structured environments — think 1984 — is rebellion.  One man in Chandigarh, Nek Chand, started his own crusade against the city planners in a forested area within a stones throw from the main governmental center of the city in the 1950’s. Initially on a small scale, he began by taking old waste products from the construction of the city to his workshop in the woods.  There he used them to design artistic pieces that he began to place into what he called the “Rock Garden.”  After years of work, it was finally discovered by the government authorities in 1972 who threatened to bulldoze it and return the forest land to its intended purpose within the plan.  Advocacy on his part and people in Chandigarh convinced the local legislative assembly to give the rock garden “heritage” status.  It was a good decision, as the rock garden now forms one of the most compelling reasons to come to Chandigarh for both foreign and local tourists.  Winding lanes, curving landscapes, and uniquely designed sculptures provide a marked contrast and demonstrate subversive human defiance to the planned city that surrounds it.  

Below you can check out a series of photographs from the rock garden —

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Sunset at the Rock Garden

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Broken Bangle Baby

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Scrap Geese

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Say What?

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Old Light Sockets Holding Up The Wall

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Too many to Count…

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At Times it Felt Like You Are Walking through a scene from the Walt Disney “It’s a Small World Afterall” Ride.

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