Does the name Nek Chand ring a bell? Well if you've been to India's own 'The City Beautiful' — Chandigarh, chances are you've had a glimpse of Nek Chand Saini's legacy. The once upon a time road inspector for the Public Works Department decided at some point in the 1960′s to build a garden on a patch of forest land near the famous Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh.
Nekchand began by using rocks and stones to build his garden on the clearing of forest land. He then expanded by using materials from demolition sites around the city. His job as a road inspector aided his endeavour. The only problem was that what Nek Chand was doing was illegal — the area he was using was a land conservancy which nothing was allowed to be built on . The garden soon became Nek Chand's passion and he spent his nights working on it in secrecy for fear of being discovered by authorities.
By the time authorities uncovered the garden in 1975, it was a 12-acre complex of interlinked courtyards with hundreds of sculptures. While the establishment wanted the garden destroyed, public opinion was on Nek Chand's side and with their pressure, authorities decided to open up the garden to the public. Nek Chand was also given a salary, a team of 50 labourers and the full-time job of expanding what was then named 'Rock Garden'.
Today, Rock Garden is a 40-acre maze of rocks, sculptures, waterfalls and courtyards. The entire garden is built with recycled products — from industrial waste to home waste contributed by the people of Chandigarh.
When I first visited Rock Garden a couple of weeks ago, what amazed me aside from the expanse were the various unique ways in which Nek Chand has put together aesthetic artifacts, rows and rows of sculptures and walls — all from those very things that we all routinely dump into the waste bin. Broken crockery, tiles, rags, earthenware, broken glass bangles, sockets, discarded human hair collected from barber shops — these are just some of the raw materials that caught Nek Chand's fancy.
In order to protect the thousands of figurines throughout the garden and make them visible to the public at the same time, Nek Chand has placed them on high sloping surfaces.
Another interesting aspect of Rock Garden is the way narrow elongated passageways divide one area of the garden from another. Visitors have to make their way through them to move about the garden which makes the space seem like a labyrinth and adds to the charm of the garden.
So next time you're in Chandigarh, it won't be a bad idea to stop by Rock Garden and take in a little bit of inspiration from Nek Chand. His 40-acre spectacle is an example of how imagination and creativity can make a modern wonder out of mere trash.