Monday, May 25, 2009

Problems with the beautifully planned city of Chandigarh!

Enough good things have been said by everyone about the planned city of Chandigarh. The architect of the city was dumb, I would say. You must be wondering what made me say so? Go through the rest of the blog, and you would also probably appreciate this fact.

1)  The biggest problem with the city is that it is all the same! Yes, each sector, each market is of the same construction. For a new person, there is no way to differentiate between two sectors. Imagine going to a place where everyone looks alike! How would you tell apart one person from another? What I mean to say is that in any new place, you tend to look for some unique places or landmarks so that you dont get lost. But here, you would be in a helpless situation as each sector has a park, a market, a chawnk, all identical in construction. So, you are bound to get lost. It is really boring walking along the streets here.

2)    For the first five days until we got accomodation inside CSIO, I stayed in Mohali with a cousin. Without doubt, I used to get lost while returning back. Its then that I realized the second problem that a visitor will face. You would die walking here. People here are extremely helpful. I would ask them for directions and they would guide me, and point towards the next chawnk.The distance between two chawnks here is 1 km. Now here's the thing. From one chawnk, the next chawnk is easily visible. So you tend to think, ' Its close by, why should I waste Rs 5 for such a small distance'. You start walking, and realize that its a long walk. You reach the chawnk, and then you would again be guided to the next chawnk. The same thoughts run through your mind again, and you give in to them. Each day I used to walk 3 chawnks in this manner while returning back to Mohali. Exhausted, I would then decide to sit in an auto finally, only to realize that I was so close to my destination. All this when I would already be tired, as inside CSIO too, the buildings are far away. As mentioned before, each sector has a market. Now, this market covers the whole sector lengthwise. So, it runs from one chawnk to another. Even when we got rooms inside, in the evening we would go out for dinner, and come back tired and exhausted as we had to go from one end of the market to the other for the Dhaba(which was damn expensive, doesnt deserve being called a Dhaba). In short, you need to have a motorised vehicle in this city, else you would die walking.

3)  Now, the best thing about an unplanned city is that you would find every kind of shop at any stretch of the road. Most of the cities in India are unplanned, and I now realize, how friendly these cities are for a commuter. While on those long expeditions, I would so often have my throat parched. But, being a planned city, you wont even find a small stall to have something to drink. You must have enough energy left in yourself to reach the next market, else you are doomed. Interestingly though, at many places, I found liquor shops in the mid of two chawnks at various places, though there was never a shop  ot stall where you could find drinking water. 

4) The city sleeps early. As the clock strikes 8 pm, shops start downing their shutters, and it would be hard to find an auto that will take you to your destination without telling," Reserve karna hoga". If you ask them to pick up more passengers on the route, pat comes the reply,"8 baj gaye hain, ab kahan koi milta hai". With buses plying at half an hour service, you are left with little choice.

     For someone who comes on a short trip to this city, these are the biggest problems he/she would face. I can't explain the relief we would have on days we wouldn't have anywhere to go in the evening. We would be so happy to be in the room, as there wouldn't be tiring away of our legs.

 It would be gross injustice on my part if I dont mention the things that impressed me, and would impress anyone on a visit to this beautiful city.

1) People here are extremely helpful. Be it inside CSIO or outside. One instance I would like to mention is when we hadnt been confirmed accomodation inside. We were resting in a park, and decided to ask a person on an evening walk for any cheap dharmshala or hotels nearby. The person took us to another jogger, who detailed us on such cheap hotels in the nearby area, while the other person even offered to give his phone number, lest we face any difficulty. Now, need any more thing be said regarding the hospitality of people here?

2) Yes, the city is beautiful. What makes it beautiful are the well maintained park that you would find in every sector and are full of activity in the evening. Some parks even had fountains. This coupled with the greenery all around, has a soothing effect on your mind and body.

3) It is heaven for booze lovers. No where in India would you find liquor as cheap as this place. Each market has 3-4 liquor shops, which are always bustling with customers in the evening. Too bad, none of us drink. Beer starts at Rs 35 here!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

From the eyes of a Tourist

With nothing much to do, I was killing time by browsing through the net, one of my favorite pass time, when I stumbled upon this article. It's been written by some foreigner who came to visit India. Its about some of the observations that the author made in India. Titled "Prepare for Culture Shock in India", the author seemed to be a great observer, like me for the things noticed. Though all the points mentione are very true, but it is not the kind of image you would like a traveler to take with him/her. Here's the link to the article, do go through it before proceeding further :

Now, there are a few things that even I have observed, and I have often chuckled inside.
The first one- "Holding Hands" that the author mentions. Well, its so rampant here, men holding each other's hand while walking etc. I read about it in newspaper that in the west, men holding hands implies they are gay lovers. Its a universally accepted gesture there, surpassing the borders.
So each time I see two men holding hands here (and as she points out, its rampant), I just think- how is it that they aren't aware of it? ANd I can only chuckle in my mind.

The other point- "Colour", is another thing that we all must have observed. Its really disgusting to see how Indians ogle at white skinned people, at the same time, make insensible comments on dark skinned. When a person comes to visit your country, the least he/ she could expect is proper treatment at the hands of the native people. Equally disappointing is the fact that the government has hardly done anything to wipe out such discrimination, though it exists on paper. You make some insensible comment based on their skin colour in the west, and you are dealt with strongly. While such jibes are common here, I have never heard of any action being taken. We have got used to tha fact I guess. But, it is a really shameful thing.

After reading the article, I mailed the author, countering each point of hers, trying to explain why she noticed it. But the one thing for which I couldn't provide any explanation was the fixation of Indians with skin colour. I simply wrote- My apologies for what you went through.

So please go through the article, at least you will realize how inconvenient we make others, and how these small things leave a bad impression on foreigners. Surely, you wont like someone to go back with a bad image of your beloved country.
(And if you were too lazy that you didnt click on the link, or if the page didnt open up owing to the pathetic net speed of ISM, I am copy- pasting it here too)

Prepare for culture shock in India
Sunday, May 03, 2009

India packs a big culture-shock punch for first-time Western visitors. Some of what I observed -- begging, extraordinary poverty -- surprised me by being so extensive. Other things I was unprepared for:

Hand holding

Indian men and boys hold hands, or sometimes just clasp pinkie fingers together, in public. It is not a gay thing, apparently, and I'm not sure it even connotes affection, since PDAs are frowned on in India. It was weird the first time I saw it, but I got a lot more used to that than the habit of public urination and public adjustment. This is seen all over the place.

Of all the people out and about on a daily basis, 90 percent seemed to be men who are not working. There are still arranged marriages and boys are coddled. This is from an article in the Hindustan Times by a writer named Samar Halarnkar:

"How do you get your children interested in cooking, especially your sons?

"It isn't easy, given the legion of kitchen-illiterate males our middle class produces. Sons always were -- and continue to be -- willing victims of the mera-raja-beta (my precious son) syndrome of adoring mothers who indulgently serve their sons and watch them eat."

Head waggle

The head waggle is kind of a shoulder shrug, but with the head. It usually follows a request and the closest translation I could figure is "whatever."

I had seen this early on in my trip, but it didn't crystallize until one morning in Jaipur, when we went for a rooftop breakfast at our hotel. My friend Kim, my hostess in India, went to the buffet to ask for cereal for her daughters. The unsmiling young man behind the buffet waggled his head, left-right left-right. And didn't move. (Although we eventually got the cereal.)


Non-Indians are the preferred targets for beggars. Kim said she has seen India natives reach out and smack panhandlers. Travelers are advised not to give, because the result will be more beggars or simply the same one with another hand out (which happened to us in Jaipur).

Many beggars did not seem to be destitute. Firm fleshy cheeks, healthy-looking babies, good teeth. But the deformities are dreadful and rarely seen in the United States.

Only once did I see a beggar get a handout. On the way home with Kim and her daughters one night, at a big intersection, a bearded man with one whole leg and the other amputated halfway up, wearing a thick loincloth, a shirt and a turban, was dragging himself along on his rear end, banging on car doors. Finally, a window rolled down, a hand came out and offered a bill. The beggar stared at it, then showed it around, before dragging himself off as the light changed.


It's clear from the beautiful saris, brightly decorated trucks and ubiquitous flower garlands that Indians love color. The poorest beggar-women wore vivid saris and had jewels in their nostrils.

Skin color is another matter. Our pleasant afternoon at the park-like tomb of Moghul ruler Humayun in Delhi was marred by two incidents.

As we entered the grounds, a group of teenage boys stared and giggled at Kim's black skin. Later, two bearded, toothless old men, turbaned, wearing long flowing clothes and walking with sticks, pointed at her and whispered. These things happened almost every day, and Kim rarely missed an opportunity to call people on it -- especially to remind people that the president of the United States has black skin, too.

When I walked about by myself, I felt stares as well, I could only guess it was because of my white skin. But no one outwardly laughed. It happens to Kim all the time.


Western travelers are advised not to eat fruit unless you wash it in bottled water and peel it yourself. Oh, the temptation is everywhere, though! When traffic stops at intersections, the coconut and watermelon vendors swarm out with delicious-looking wedges. In Paraganj, one man had a cart piled with the most gorgeous mangoes I had ever seen. Finally, on the plane home, I surrendered and ate the rather tired pineapple accompanying breakfast. And a few hours later was rather sorry.

Personal space

Indians seem to have few issues with personal space. One afternoon after shopping, we had stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch so Kim could get dinner for her daughters. (The chicken tastes exactly as it does here!)

When we were done eating, Kim went to use the restroom. As I waited for her, an Indian couple sat down at our table as if I, our trays and drinks were not there.

It was a little awkward.

For me, that is.

Katy Buchanan can be reached at or 412-263-1523.
First published on May 3, 2009 at 12:00 am

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