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City Focus: Chandigarh

Several cities in India are named after a powerful Goddess, have a beautiful lake with a promenade, have tree-lined roads, are hosts to unique museums, have been developed with a plan and are very close to hill stations and getaways. But there is only ONE city that has some unique features apart from the ones mentioned above. This city is the capital of two states. This is the only city with its own unique hand gesture. This is the only city where you’ll find areas with no names like Mahatma Gandhi road or Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg or Akbar street or D’Souza lane. No, this city uses only numbers, like sector 17, sector 25, sector 42 and so on. All roads are laid out in neat and straight lines, intersecting at right angles at traffic islands, none of which have statues of politicians, sportsmen and freedom fighters. The city has a unique garden made by a government official who gathered waste material and scrap and turned them into something beautiful. A school in this city has a unique collection of dolls from all over the world and prides itself as the International Doll Museum. The city was built by the French designer Charles-Edouard Jeanneret or Le Corbusier (‘raven’ in French), a nickname apt for the man with a far-sighted vision, a vision well into the future.

Can you guess which city this is? It is the first city that India developed with a city plan after independence (so not counting ancient towns like Harappa or Hampi). It is Chandigarh, a union territory, which is also the capital of both Punjab and Haryana states. We say this with Chandigarh’s unique hand gesture: ‘We Love Chandigarh’. Continue reading

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City Focus: Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Long before the start of Indus Valley civilisation and the establishment of the Aryan race in India, the land to the south of the Vindhya mountains, which we we now call peninsular India or colloquially as south India, was inhabited by the Dravidians. The time origin of Dravidian history is unknown, but the Tamil language is one of the oldest continuously used languages in the world. While major ancient languages like Latin and Sanskrit have no confirmed native speakers today, Tamil continues to be used although now it is in modern form. At the centre of Tamil culture and also right in the centre of the state of Tamil Nadu is the city of Madurai.

Situated by the banks of the Vaigai river and with the four gopuras of the Meenakshi Amman temple dominating the skyline, Madurai is one of the oldest continuously habitated and functioning cities in the world. No one really knows for sure how old the city is. Madurai was supposedly the home town of the three ancient Tamil Sangams or a period of generation of scholars who worked on literature. The original works from the first and second Sangams that predates Aryan history have been lost. The stories of the third Sangam are available to us today. The oldest stories about Madurai may actually be lost in history since the technology of documentation was scarce and unreliable. Continue reading

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City Focus: Vadodara, Gujarat

Which city of India has a major financial bank named after it, but does not belong to the State Bank group? I’ll give you some hints. It is to the west of India and flourishes by the banks of the Vishwamitri river. It is named after the Sanskrit word for a banyan tree. In fact, the emblem of the city is a banyan tree. The British named the city something other than its original name and that English name is more famous. The city is the second most important city in the state of Gujarat. It also has the second most important railway station in the Western Railway behind top-placed Mumbai. The name is Vadodara, while the anglicised name is Baroda. The city is the home of Bank of Baroda. Continue reading

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City Focus: Patnitop, Jammu and Kashmir

Today, we look at a tiny hill station in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The state is famous for its Himalayan destinations such as Gulmarg and Amarnath. But little is known about the town of Patnitop. While most Indians do not know about it, the city of Jammu has been considering this little town a getaway for a long time. During weekends, the entire urban population of Jammu can be seen at Patnitop. This pine tree lined hill station is to Jammu, what Lonavla is to Mumbai / Pune, Nandi Hills is to Bengaluru, Shimla is to Chandigarh and Ooty is to Coimbatore / Mysuru. A convenient one-day or a weekend trip to escape the big city. Let us learn more about this town. Continue reading

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City Focus: Darjeeling, West Bengal

Often called the queen of hill stations, Darjeeling is a dream honeymoon destination for several couples. Nestled in the high Himalayan mountains of Gorkhaland, a Nepali-speaking district in West Bengal, Darjeeling has been a fascination since the British rule. It was built as an escape for the aristocrats of the East India company from the summer heat of their capital Calcutta. Later, Darjeeling evolved as a town with several boarding schools and one premier institution to teach mountaineering. Darjeeling is beautiful, but there is no beauty comparable to the mountain looming from the city’s north. This mountain stands as a backdrop to the busy town, almost watching over it like a guardian angel. It is the third highest mountain in the world — Kanchenjunga. Continue reading

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City focus: Mysuru, Karnataka

Which city has the following things named after itself? A bathing soap, a type of south Indian fast food with stuffing, a variety of silk, a soft and porous sweet dish with a lot of ghee and an erstwhile State Bank subsidiary. The names are: Mysore sandal soap, Mysore masala dosa, Mysore silk, Mysore Pak and State Bank of Mysore. Nestled at the foot of Chamundi hills and watched over by Chamundi Devi or the Mahishasuramardhini, the city of Mysuru is one of the most beautiful, ecologically most balanced and tourism-wise most abundant locations in India. During India 360, Mysuru was one of our most enjoyed cities in India. This was enhanced by the fact that we were at Mysuru right during Navratri and Dassera, when the city is a potpourri of funfairs, performances, flower and food fests. Continue reading