Saris and Samosas: Indian Culture in Atlanta

Last Thursday, May 28, 2015, Go Eat Give brought Atlanta a taste of Northern India, and it was delicious. Over fifty members and guests from the area joined us at Indian restaurant Bhojanic Buckhead location for Destination India dinner. There was excitement in the air as the evening began and attendees mingled over mango martinis and Kingfisher beer, taking the opportunity to purchase exclusive Go Eat Give India t-shirts and raffle tickets before settling down in their seats.

There was much buzz about the raffle, and for good reason: first prize winners received a free plane ticket to India, generously donated by our sponsor Air India. The restaurant gave off an exotic yet inviting feel, warmly lit with hanging Indian lamps and decorated with brightly hued pillows of all colors. Near the end of the long, family-style table arrangement, large carts with intricate designs were loaded with enticing food, adding to the sense that I had been transported to India.

Destination India at Bhojanic

The meal began with a variety of samosas served as appetizers. Some of these tasty Indian pastries were filled with spinach and spices, while others were filled with a combination of spiced potatoes and peas. Guests also enjoyed turkey kebabs with mint chutney. Small cups of mango lassi, a popular yogurt-based drink, served well to offer guests a break from the heat. I particularly enjoyed the unexpectedly delicious combination of spicy and sweet.

Dinner continued with biryani, a savory Indian dish consisting of rice and a combination of vegetables or meats with spices. Traditional Indian street-style chips, known as chaat, were topped with mint and tamarind sauces and made to order from a street food cart.

Linda Harris at Destination India

As guests finished their main courses, Dr. Jagdish Sheth, an esteemed Professor of Marketing at Emory University, treated everyone with his engaging speech. Dr. Sheth was born in Burma to a Jain family and emigrated to India as a refugee in 1941. In his speech, he offered insight to the world’s vast variety of culture, fascinating guests with observations on how geography affects the cuisine, clothing, and habits of many different countries. Dr. Sheth kept guests laughing throughout his riveting speech, and his sense of humor and amiable personality showed through as he regaled us with a story about his children fulfilling his dream of driving a Jaguar with “Jag’s Jag” on the license plate for his sixtieth birthday – with a rental car!

Dr Jagdish Sheth at Go Eat Give

After the speech, guests were treated to delicious desserts. These included rasmalai, made of sweetened milk and cheese flavored with cardamom – Dr. Sheth’s personal favorite. Another treat was gulab jamun, which is essentially a ball of fried dough similar to a donut ball in sweet syrup. It’s safe to say these were a huge hit, as they were gone within fifteen minutes of their first appearance.

The excitement continued as the time for the raffle arrived. The second prize winner received two tickets to the Rahat Fateh Ali Khan concert at the Fox Theatre donated by Café Bombay, and first prize winners of course each took home a free plane ticket to India!

As the evening wound down, guests had the chance to learn more about the culture of Northern India with a video, which detailed the experience of those who travelled with Go Eat Give on the last trip to India. Speeches were given by some of the trip’s attendees as they detailed their favorite memories and experiences. Many guests mentioned how much they valued the opportunity to stay in the homes of Go Eat Give Founder Sucheta Rawal’s family and friends in Chandigarh, an experience that allowed them to see India in a way not possible for the majority of tourists. Guests also enjoyed a musical performance by NINAAD, whose song and instrumentals channeled a fusion of tradition and Bollywood style.

Overall, the evening was a delightful success! You can see more about the event by watching Go Eat Give on WSB-TV Channel 2 Atlanta on Saturday, June 6th at 5:30 a.m. and Sunday, June 7th at 12:30 p.m. on the People 2 People Show.

~ By Sarah Margaret, a student at Emory University pursuing a major in History with a concentration in Law, Economy, and Human Rights. Sarah is an event planning and marketing intern for Go Eat Give. She loves to travel, and she is currently learning Italian to prepare for studying abroad in Florence in the fall. Her other hobbies include hiking, photography, and learning to cook.

Somrus – The Nectar of Gods

Finally, an Indian inspired cream liquor is in the market! Somrus meaning the nectar of Gods in Hindi, is a pure Wisconsin dairy cream and hand-crafted Caribbean rum mixed with the flavors of cardamom, saffron, almonds, pistachios and rose. Already, spirit and wine enthusiasts are raving about this new cream liquor, naming it in Top 50 Spirits List of 2014. This decadent 750 ml bottle has an attractive gold coating and look more expensive than it is.

somrus

Somrus tastes like spiked up rasmalai, a creamy Indian dessert made with milk and similar spices. The alcoholic cream is great to add to dessert, top fruits, or simply make a toast to after dinner. I enjoyed it chilled in a shot glass, in lieu of dessert.

Here are some recipes from the makers of Somrus to try yourself…

THE NIRVANA

Ingredients

  • 2oz Somrus
  • 1oz Chambord
  • ¾ oz Green Chartreuse
  • 2 x Raspberries

Directions

Add all ingredients to a Boston shaker. Shake vigorously with ice. Serve in old fashioned or rocks glass over 3 x 1inch by 1inch ice cubes. Garnish with raspberries.

The Nirvana

PRONE TIGER

  • 2oz Somrus
  • 1.5oz Aged Rum
  • 1oz Espresso
  • 1oz Amaretto
  • Garnished with cinnamon stick
  • Served in rocks glass

Add all ingredients to shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with cinnamon stick stirrer.

Prone Tiger

SOMCHAI

Ingredients

  • 1oz SomruS
  • 3oz Chai Tea
  • 1oz Milk
  • 2 dashes rose water

Directions

Boil water. Brew black tea for 3-5 minutes. Heat milk to just below boiling. Strain out tea leaves and add tea to serving utensil. Add SomruS, milk, rose water and then serve in a handled punch cup.

Somrus can be purchased online for only $29.99.

Fashions of the Traditional Indian Sari

Upon going to India, I was not nearly prepared enough for the bombardment of smells, spices, colors and culture that struck me as being so different from any of the ones I had ever seen in the United States. One of the main differences that caught my eye and immediately piqued my curiosity was the Indian sari. The sari, which can be spelled sari, saree, or shari, is a common garment worn by women in south Asia. The term itself is derived from the Sanskrit language and its meaning translates to ‘strips of cloth’. This form of clothing has been worn for thousands of years in this region and can be seen depicted in various historical texts, art, and holy writings. The sari is commonly worn by women in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka as a symbol of grace, beauty, and cultural pride.

sari in New Delhi IndiaOn our recent trip to India with Go Eat Give, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit a sari shop in Chandigarh. There, we learned quite a bit about the styles and ways in which saris are worn, in addition to the many different kinds of fabric and pattern. Upon entering the shop, we were surprised to see wall to wall saris stacked to the ceiling. The shop owners, although male, demonstrated how to tie a sari, and the different articles of clothing that you need in order to wear a sari properly.

The typical sari seen on the streets of India and southern Asia is about 5-9 yards in length with a width of at least 2-4 feet. The fabric is usually cotton, chiffon or silk in most cases, but varies from region to region. It is draped across one shoulder, sometimes revealing part of the torso. The reason why the navel or midriff is left bare in many sari styles is due to the belief that this is the location from which comes life and creativity. This area is to be left uncovered in order to pay homage to this belief.

When visiting India or your local sari shop, you can see sarees in every fabric, color, style and shape. Most saris are detailed with incredibly intricate patterns or embroidery. Being a student of design, I quickly became obsessed with the trends and styles of these beautiful cultural gowns. I came to notice that not only are there countless ways to wear these traditional outfits, but that the design varied according to the region, climate, and state.

In addition to giving it unique style, the coloring of saris also holds meaning. Red saris are typically seen during Indian weddings, for the color red is thought to bring good luck to the bride and to her marriage. Orange is also a color you see frequently because it signifies luck, and is representative of saffron, a commonly used spice in India. Green overtones are symbolic for festivity and celebration. Below, you can see an example of the numerous colors of saris as well as a model of how they are worn.

sari store in India
An assortment of sarees, cholis, and other traditional Indian dresswear displayed at a storefront on the streets of Chandigarh, India.

While there are countless variations of how to wear a sari, there are a few styles that are commonly seen, such as Uttariya, which is the part of the wrap that covers the upper body and many times the head. The typical sari is made up of a large piece of cloth and a blouse and petticoat, which must be tailored. The fabric that goes over the petticoat and blouse is versatile and is made to fit most sizes. Another common style is the Kerala mundum neryathum, which is a traditional two-piece sari. The one-piece sari is typically seen as a more modern invention that borrows from western culture.

The blouse that is worn under the sari or shawl on the other hand is called a choli. The common choli is short and somewhat tight fitted, revealing the midsection. Historically, cholis used to only cover the front of the body and leave the back open. This was as much due to India and south Asia’s hot climate as well as past stylistic preferences. This particular kind of backless sari can still be seen in parts of the state of Rajasthan today.

A shop owner explains embroidery details while displaying various styles of sarees.
A salesman explains embroidery details while displaying various styles of sarees.

As for sarees that are worn for special occasions, the wedding sari remains not only the most interesting but also the most popular. A traditional Indian wedding sari is red in color and made of the finest silk. It is complimented by ornate amounts of jewelry, such as bangles, necklaces, nose rings, rings, and exquisite gems and jewels that are designed or hand-sewn into the sari itself. Indian wedding saris are typically very expensive and ornamental due to the fact that Indian weddings are some of the biggest events thrown in India, if not in the world. The typical Indian wedding can easily consist of over a thousand guests and a designer wedding sari can set you back a few thousand dollars.

An Indian wedding is a much bigger deal than it is in the United States because Indian culture believes that a wedding between two people is more than just a legally-binding affair. It is a sacred bond that must be honored, respected, and blessed by the Gods in order to bring both families honor, peace, and happiness. It is partially due to these beliefs that typical Indian weddings run so large, and also why the bride’s sari is the most ornamented and elaborate of them all.

I have to admit that at the end of the day, one of my favorite experiences of India was having the opportunity to see and study saris and the way they are worn. They are a beautiful representation of Indian tradition and it was refreshing to see so many women walking around with such a beautiful display of their culture. The Indian saris were so stunning, that every member of our Go Eat Give group bought at least one – myself included!

Scenes from the Women’s Shelter in Chandigarh

Chandigarh remains a vivid memory of mine especially our visit to a women’s shelter.  A few pictures cannot adequately describe the emotional reaction to seeing and hearing of the plight of these women (plus two little girls living there with their mother). To give you a sense, I chose these four pictures and will tell you a little about each one. savera women's shelter in chandigarhThe women introduced themselves to us (as we did to them). The lady in blue and pick appeared to be very shy and quiet, perhaps even in shock, and yet she did make it through the introduction.
go eat give india
 The two little girls were doing what children do all over the world — vying for a turn at an object.  Imagine what a novelty the camera was to them.  Compare it to the very young photographers we see every day in the United States, who completely take the camera/cell phones for granted. The teenager in the picture with the little girls had yet another sad story.  She is 16 years old and has neither a mother nor a father. In other words, she is on her own in life. How wonderful that she is in the safe arms of the shelter.
savera chandigarh
In the lower left picture, look more closely at the little girl’s right hand.  How has that hand become so distorted and lost its pigmentation?  I’ll let you think about that.
elizebeth volunteering at savers india
The last lady, pictured with me, was longing for human contact and warmth.  She put her arms around several of us and just held on – not saying a word – looking up at us with those soulful eyes.
These images and narrative provide a good sampling of our Go Eat Give visit to the women’s shelter in Chandigarh in November 2014.
Although the shelter’s matron (she called herself the “warden”) referred to the women at the shelter as “inmates,” I came away from our visit feeling cheered that this small group of women and children have found a refuge and safe harbor where they live in modest, close quarters, receive assistance in resolving their (mostly) domestic situations, and show a fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend.
Click here to make a donation for Savera women’s shelter in India.
~ By guest blogger, Elizabeth Etoll, a retired IBM executive who lives in Atlanta, GA. She visited Cuba and India with Go Eat Give in 2014. 

Sati – An Ancient Hindu Practice

Sati, meaning “good wife” in Sanskrit, refers to a very interesting and ancient Hindu mourning ritual, which generates quite a bit of attention due to its historically radical means of an end. Sati is a ceremony that was practiced after the death of a woman’s husband, during which the mourning woman was required to be burned alive in order to show mourning and devotion to their lost spouse. It began around the 10th century B.C. The ceremony was first practiced by the wives of kings, until it gained popularity in the Hindu religion and was practiced by other regional groups.

It use to be part of the Hindu religion that if a married woman’s husband was to fall ill and die or perish in battle, the spouse was expected to immolate; or end her life as an offering, to the spirit of her deceased husband. When this act was being carried out, the woman would also have to do so on top of the husband’s funeral pyre. If a woman refused this act, she was typically sought after, and more or less forcibly convinced to agree to its completion. After a woman went through this ritual, she was then revered and idolized by her community as a holy woman, as well as an object of worship.

source: Wiki Commons
source: Wiki Commons

A Greek geographer by the name of Strabo who traveled to India with Alexander the Great noted that the majority of these women were in fact, happy to burn in sacrifice of their husbands. The few who did not see this act as honorable and refused to die, were shunned and seen as outcasts of their community. According to historical data, the practice of sati came about because marriages were typically formed by love (as oppose to arranger marriage) in ancient India. When these marriages would take a turn for the worst, the woman would often poison the man and continue on to find a new lover. To put an end to the murders and to protect the women’s virtues, a law was enacted that stated that a woman who was left without a husband was required to burn alive in order to join him, or to be cast out of the community and live out the rest of her days as a widow.

"Sri Rani Sati," an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960's
“Sri Rani Sati,” an oleograph print published by S. S. Brijbasi, Bombay, c.1960’s

While this bit of ancient history seemed desolate and painful, it was done out of respect for the sacred bond of marriage and love. In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacred bond that binds two souls together for more than one lifetime. Even the Hindu gods and goddesses lead married lives and respect the duties and bonds that come with the Hindu concept of love and marriage. Although this ritual seems violent in our Western culture, it originated out of love, respect, and dedication between spouses.

The act of sati was banned in 1829 in India, and as late as 1920 in Nepal. This practice was also not necessarily limited to India, but was seen widespread throughout Asia, and remote, bordering parts of Europe.

The Culture of Chai in India

While a lot of you out there are frequent chai tea drinkers, I’ll bet you didn’t know that chai originated in India. In fact, India consumes more tea than any nation in the world! Historically, ancient Indians used teas as medicinal herbal remedies to cure a variety of ailments.

Some of the Masala Chai mixes, or Kahra, were taken from ancient Ayurvedic medical writings. Although chai (translates to tea in Hindi) is not as frequently used for herbal remedies today, some chai makers prefer to add certain herbs or spices that have been scientifically proven to improve certain aspects of one’s health, such as turmeric or cumin, which is said to aid the sickly with rising fevers.

Workers taking a break for tea
Workers taking a break for tea

Typically chai tea consists of a boiled mixture of black tea leaves, milk, sugar, cardamom, peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves and various spices native to India. One of the most popular chais in India is Masala chai, the term ‘Masala’ simply meaning ‘mixture of spices.’ Chai, typically Masala chai, is so popular that is offered as a complimentary beverage to welcome guests, at meetings, shops, home visits, dinners and for breaks throughout the day.

Go Eat Give group that went to northern India got to experience this firsthand upon entering almost every business and home.

DSC_0489
Our Go Eat Give group having chai and cakes for Amanda’s birthday with one of our host families in India.

While in India, Go Eat Give visitors had the pleasant opportunity to learn more about the process of how chai is created. This process begins with harvesting tea leaves, typically grown in higher plateaus of north India, southern slopes of the Himalayas, and Nilgiri hills in the south. Like wine, the flavor, strength, and acidity levels of the tea leaves depends on when they are harvested. Following the plucking of the tea leaves, the chlorophyll begins to break down, releasing tannins. This oxidization causes the tea to darken. This darkening is then stopped at desired stages that will determine certain qualities by heating the leaves.

With black tea, which is the tea used for chai, the leaves are heated as well as dried at the same time in order to lock in flavor. The caffeine in black tea is about one-third that of coffee, making it less acidic and easy to digest.

Shopping for teas at the spice market in New Delhi
Shopping for teas at the spice market in New Delhi

Once the leaves are dried, they are either bagged or sold to tea stores as loose-leaf tea. Most of the time, authentic Indian chai is prepared by using a decoction, or loose-leaf tea. The recipe is as follows – bring 1 cup water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for every cup prepared. Add 1/2 cup whole milk (skim and 2% are newer options now found in India), as well as a combination of spices or tea masala. Let it come to another boil, then turn off heat. Use a strainer to pour the liquid into a cup. Add sugar as needed.

This generally takes more time than the quick tea bags that are mass-produced in most other places of the world. However, it does add a homemade touch to the preparation of this drink. However, for a short cut way to enjoy Indian chai, get the Tetley Masala Chai tea bags found at most specialty grocery stores around the world. (Go to smile.amazon.com and a portion of your purchases will be donated to Go Eat Give)

The Story Behind the Sikh Turban Wrap

When most people think of India, they think of temples, spices, and a land rich in color and religion. One of the five main religions in India is Sikhism. Sikhism developed in the fifteenth century and is native to the Punjab region of northern India. The term ‘Sikh’ itself originated from Sanskrit words meaning disciple, student, and instruction; which are some of each members most prided devotions. The main beliefs of this religion are depicted by the following the ‘Five K’s’ which consists of ‘Kesh’ (unkempt long hair), ‘Kangha’ (a small wooden comb), Kara (a steel or iron bracelet), ‘Kacherra’ (undergarment), and a ‘Kirpan’ (short dagger). For the followers of the Sikh religion, all of the aforementioned things must be kept on or close to the person at all times.

I learned about one of the five K’s, the turban, from a local host while on our tour of northern India with Go Eat Give. The size of the turban, which can be seen in all different colors and fashions, is directly related to the age of its wearer. For example, if an elderly man is wearing a turban, it will be quite large. A Sikh man adds another yard of fabric to his turban for every year of his age. This is why when you see a small boy who follows this religion, his turban may look more like a hair wrap with a small knot on the top. The reason the turban is worn is to contain their hair, which is never cut.       Khalsa sikh

The Sikh person who was our host in Chandigarh explained that to twist the long pieces of fabric into a perfectly created turban, the hair is braided from the neck up above the head, and then carefully tucked under a separate hair net, which goes under the turban. This hair net ensures that the hair will not slip out of place while also adding sturdiness to the headpiece. After this, the long pieces of fabric are carefully wrapped around the head in a layered, circular fashion to ensure support and neatness. This is done every day in the morning at least, sometimes multiple times a day. The process takes on average about forty minutes each time.

sikh kids at khalsa orphanage in Amritsar

As for the meaning behind the colors of the turban, most people choose a designated color to match their clothing or to fit the current fashion. However, there is a special meaning behind the bright orange head wraps that seem to be most popular. Orange color is representative of the spice saffron, which is one of the country’s most common spices and has a long connection in the past to the Sikh religion and its following. It is also the official Sikh color to represent wisdom and clarity of the mind.

Taking into consideration how much time Sikh followers spend each day maintaining and wrapping their turbans and head wraps, it is very clear that they are a very devoted and dedicated people that pride themselves on daily commitment and hard work in order to demonstrate their faithfulness and love of their religious beliefs.

Sikh students

How to Prepare for a Visit to India

The first visit to Asia is always the most memorable. All of your senses will be blasted the moment you get off the airplane and arrive in the land of a billion plus people. Each year, I take a group of travelers for a cultural and volunteer journey to North India, where they first hand experience authentic food, people and projects. Here are some tips I have put together for the first time travelers to north India to help them mentally prepare for an experience of a lifetime!

Indian chai in Kolkata

1. Follow the chaos – One of the first impressions people have in India is of having little to no personal space as there are people everywhere. You will see hundreds of people, cows, dogs, cars, cycles, motorbikes, pushcarts – all sharing the same streets. The smells, sounds and sights can be overwhelming for the first time visitor, but one gets accustomed to it. Often times, you will be in small spaces with lots of people, thinking there is a fire hazard. Also, there is no custom of forming lines or taking turns anywhere. My advise – follow the chaos, or wait forever.

Chaos in the streets of India

2. Dress conservatively – Someone once told me, “I don’t tell Indians how to dress when they come to the US, so why are they telling me what to wear in India.” Blending in with the locals in any part of the world would not only attract less attention, it would also give you respect. Remember that as a foreigner who looks different from everyone else, you already draw some attention. On top of that, you don’t want to wear shorts, mini skirts, baseball hats and stand out more. While big cities in India are more tolerable with their attire, North India (New Delhi, Punjab, etc.) demand a more conservative approach.

3. Eat everything – Food is a very important part of Indian culture. You will be served chai (tea), soda or water at shops, offices, homes, etc. often accompanied by a small snack. It is impolite to decline food or drinks offered by your host, no matter what time of the day. Even if you are not hungry, you have to accept it, thank them and at least take a bite. If someone invited you for dinner or a visit, they will make sure you eat until you cannot move, offering second and third helpings of food. Saying no means you didn’t care for the food and an insult to the chef.

Indian curries

3. Ignore the beggars and street peddlers – This is hard to do as you may have never seen such adjunct poverty before. Indian streets are full of beggars and it is very difficult to look away from the innocent kids asking for pennies or trying to sell boxes of tissues so they can feed their younger siblings. How these kids come to work on streets and if supporting them is ethical, is a topic of controversy. As a tourist, it is better not to indulge in giving alms on streets as it would result in hundreds of more people surrounding you.

4. There is no fixed price – Haggling is part of the shopping experience and very few shops offer fixed prices. This would comprise of high end boutiques or shopping malls. Everywhere else, you will be quoted a price based on how you look and speak (tourist trap). The general rule is to offer 1/3 off the quoted price and settle in the middle. You will see that no two people walk away from a store paying the same for the exact same item.

5. Partake in the gift change culture –  In India, it is customary to bring a hostess gift when visiting anyone’s place (whether for a meal or not), such as sweets, cakes, flowers or gifts. Although everything is now available for sale in India, the locals still appreciate items brought from abroad. If you take a small gift such as souvenirs, chocolates, make up, toys, clothes, etc. for your hosts, maids, drivers, etc., they would appreciate it more than cash. Often times, your host will give you gifts as well, simply for visiting their home in India.

6. Act like a celebrity –  If you have fair complexion, blonde hair or light eyes, prepare for a lot of stares, especially from kids. They will look at you as a specimen they have not seen before, and may approach you with curiosity. Be friendly and smile back, acting like a well mannered celebrity. And don’t be surprised if an entire class of high school students, along with their teachers, want to take photos with you as the centerpiece.

gina in india

7. Keep the clock, lose the time – Concept of time in India is different from what we are use to in the West. If someone says they will see you at 9am that does not mean at that exact time. You never show up for a party until 1-2 hours after the invited time. Flight, buses and trains mostly stick to the schedule, so don’t be late for them.

8. Respect everyone – In Indian society, we hardly address people by their names, unless its a professional environment. Anyone elder to you is your “aunty” or “uncle”, anyone around the same age as you is a “bhaiya” brother or “didi” sister. An older person can call a younger person by first name or “beta” son or “beti” daughter. This approach follows though daily interactions in shops, restaurants, homes,  etc.

The tips mentioned above are not meant to be “rules” that you must follow, but suggestions that would significantly improve your experience during your travels.

How India’s Most Planned City Came About

Chandigarh, know as The City Beautiful, a Union Territory, and the capital of Punjab and Haryana in north India is also named as “the best place to live” and the “most planned city” in India.

The city of Chandigarh was conceived immediately after India‘s Independence in 1947. With the partition in the subcontinent, Lahore, the capital of undivided Punjab fell within Pakistan, leaving East Punjab without a Capital. It was decided to built a new Capital city called Chandigarh about 240 kilometers north of New Delhi on a gently sloping terrain with foothills of the Himalayas the Shivalik range of the North and two Seasonal rivulets flowing on its two sides approximately 7-8 kms apart.

Nehru’s Vision

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India’s first Prime Minister, laid down the founding principles of the new city when he said “Let this be a new town, symbolic of freedom of India unfettered by the traditions of the past….. an expression of the nation’s faith in the future”.

The Perfect Site 

To select a suitable site, the Government of Punjab appointed a Committee in 1948 under the Chairmanship of Sh. P.L Verma, Chief Engineer to assess and evaluate the existing towns in the State for setting up the proposed capital of Punjab. However, none was found suitable on the basis of several reasons, such as military vulnerability, shortage of drinking water, inaccessibility, inability to cope influx of large number of refugees, etc. The present site was selected in 1948, taking into account various attributes such as its central location in the state, proximity to the national capital, availability of sufficient water supply, fertile soil, gradient of land for natural drainage, beautiful site with the panorama of blue hills as backdrop, & moderate climate.

chandigarh map

French, Swiss & American Architects

An American Firm, M/s. Mayer, Whittlessay and Glass was commissioned in 1950 to prepare the Master Plan for the new City. Albert Mayer and Mathew Novicki evolved a fan shaped Master Plan and worked out conceptual sketches of the super block. The super block was designed as a self-sufficient neighborhood units placed along the curvilinear roads and comprised of cluster type housing, markets, and centrally located open spaces. Novicki was tragically killed in an air accident and Mayer decided to discontinue. Thereafter, the work was assigned to a team of architects led by Charles Eduard Jeanneret better known as Le Corbusier in 1951.

le corbousier & nehru

He was assisted by three senior architects, Maxwell Fry, his wife Jane B Drew and Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret. These senior architects were supported by a team of young Indian architect and planners. The major buildings designed by these architects are the important landmarks in the city

Chandigarh-The City Beautiful

Picturesquely located at the foothills of Shivalik hills, Chandigarh is known as one of the best experiments in urban planning and modern architecture in the twentieth century in India. Chandigarh derives its name from the temple of “Chandi Mandir” located in the vicinity of the site selected for the city. The deity ‘Chandi’, the goddess of power and a fort of ‘garh’ laying beyond the temple gave the city its name “Chandigarh-The City Beautiful”.

The city has a pre-historic past. The gently sloping plains on which modern Chandigarh exists, was a wide lake ringed by a marsh. The fossil remains found at the site indicate a large variety of aquatic and amphibian life, which was supported by that environment. About 8000 years ago the area was also known to be a home to the Harappans.

The Capital City

Since the medieval through modern era, the area was part of the large and prosperous Punjab Province, which was divided into East & West Punjab during partition of the country in 1947. The city was conceived not only to serve as the capital of East Punjab, but also to resettle thousands of refugees who had been uprooted from West Punjab.

In March, 1948, the Government of Punjab, in consultation with the Government of India, approved the area of the foothills of the Shivaliks as the site for the new capital. The location of the city site was a part of the erstwhile Ambala district as per the 1892- 93 gazetteer of District Ambala. The foundation stone of the city was laid in 1952. Subsequently, at the time of reorganization of the state on 01.11.1966 into Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pardesh, the city assumed the unique distinction of being the capital city of both, Punjab and Haryana while it itself was declared as a Union Territory and under the direct control of the Central Government.

The Open Hand

Le Corbusier conceived the master plan of Chandigarh as analogous to human body, with a clearly defined head (the Capitol Complex, Sector 1), heart (the City Centre Sector-17), lungs ( the leisure valley, innumerable open spaces and sector greens), the intellect (the cultural and educational institutions), the circulatory system (the network of roads, the 7Vs) and the viscera (the Industrial Area). The concept of the city is based on four major functions: living, working, care of the body, and spirit and circulation. Residential sectors constitute the living part whereas the Capitol Complex, City Centre, Educational Zone (Post Graduate Institute, Punjab Engineering College, Panjab University) and the Industrial Area constitute the working part. The Leisure Valley, Gardens, Sector Greens and Open Courtyards are for the care of body and spirit. The circulation system comprises of 7 different types of roads known as 7Vs. Later on, a pathway for cyclists called V8 were added to this circulation system.

The Capital complex comprises three architectural masterpieces: the “Secretariat”, the “High Court” and the “Legislative Assembly”, separated by large piazzas. In the heart of the Capital Complex stands the giant metallic sculpture of The Open Hand, the official emblem of Chandigarh, signifying the city’s credo of “open to given, open to receive”.

Chandigarh open hand

The city centre (Sector 17) is the heart of Chandigarh’s activities. It comprises the Inter-State Bus Terminus, Parade Ground, District Courts, etc. on one hand, and vast business and shopping center on the other. The 4-storey concrete buildings house banks and offices above and showrooms/shops at the ground level with wide pedestrian concourses. The Neelam piazza in the center has fountains with light and water features. Proposal to set up an eleven storey building in Sector 17 is in the offing. Sector 34 is another newly developed commercial sector.

Parks and Sectors

Ample areas have been provided in the master plan of the Capital for parks. Out of a total area of 20,000 acres acquired for the first phase, about 2,000 acres are meant for development of parks. Leisure Valley, Rajendra park, Bougainvillea Park, Zakir Rose Garden, Shanti Kunj, Hibiscus Garden, Garden of Fragrance, Botanical Garden, Smriti Upavan, Topiary garden and Terraced Garden are some of the famous parks of Chandigarh. Sukhna Lake, Rock Garden, Government Museum and Art Gallery are major tourist attractions of Chandigarh.

chandigarh gardens

One unique feature in the layout of Chandigarh is its roads, classified in accordance with their functions. An integrated system of seven roads was designed to ensure efficient traffic circulation. Corbusier referred to these as the 7’Vs. the city’s vertical roads run northeast/southwest (the ‘Paths’). The horizontal roads run northwest/southwest (‘The Margs’). The intersect at right angles, forming a grid or network for movement.

This arrangement of road-use leads to a remarkable hierarchy of movement, which also ensures that the residential areas are segregated from the noise and pollution of traffic.

Each ‘Sector’ or the neighboured unit, is quite similar to the traditional Indian compound. Typically, each sectors measures 800 metres by 1200 metres, covering 250 acres of area. Each Sector is surrounded by V-2 or V-3 roads, with no buildings opening on to them. Each Sector is meant to be self-sufficient, with shopping and community facilities within reasonable walking distance.

Though educational, cultural and medical facilities are spread all over city, however, major institutions are located in Sectors 10, 11, 12, 14 and 26.

The industrial area comprises 2.35 sq kms, set-aside in the Master Plan for non- polluting, light industry on the extreme southeastern side of the city near the railway line, as far away from the Educational Sectors and Capitol Complex as possible.

Tree plantation and landscaping has been an integral part of the city’s Master Plan. Twenty six different types of flowering and 22 species of evergreen trees have been planted along the roads, in parking areas, shopping complexes, residential areas and in the city parks, to ameliorate the harsh climate of the region, especially the hot and scorching summers.

~ Published by Chandigarh government

How to Pray for a Husband in India

Traveling, for me, is not only beautiful and enriching because of the deep histories, architecture, gastronomical culture, languages, and myriad of landscapes and climates; it is beautiful as you are exposed to so many people in the country, while you are journeying to the destination.  Through the people is how we are able to break down barriers, share stories and ideas, identify commonalities and transcendence, and find a sense of openness, excitement and inspiration yet accompanied with a sweet humility and peace. The people are where the real “heartbeat” of travel, and for me, where the real enchantment lies.

My journey and encounter with India was no different. The moment when I stepped on my connecting flight from Qatar to India, the aroma of curry and spice, the long grey beards, the traditional Indian dress, bindis, and more importantly the abundance of turbans, made it crystal clear that I was on my way to India. I was traveling solo and on my way to meet Sucheta and Dipak who were coming from USA. I was one of very few non-Indians on the Qatar Airways flight and curiosity quickly overcame me. At the time, I had been living in Spain, and certainly was no novice to travel, yet, for me India brought such an array of thoughts and feelings, as it was my first voyage into the eastern world, one perceived to be exotic, mystical, and very complex. I felt like little Ms. America in the midst of the unknown.

gina shopping for sari

On my flight, I came across a jolly old Indian man with bright pearly whites, a turban and a beard who just kept smiling at me.  I felt welcome as he started to communicate with me in Hindi (he quickly realized I was clueless) and even more grateful as he began attempting to teach me some of the local language.  He did it with such enthusiasm and such support as I stumbled across the words and the pronunciation so much so that three rows of seats in the airplane were laughing.  The passengers would all nod with encouragement as they saw me desperately trying to connect with them.  We shared snacks and smiles and it was then that my angst turned to comfort.

Arriving in New Delhi was fascinating and overly stimulating especially at 3:00 am in the morning.  My senses were on overload because of the entire aroma, the taxi company ripped me off, and I felt like an actress walking on the red carpet as I exited the airport.  My hair was blonde at the time and well the Indian’s didn’t see people like me very often so they looked at me in complete fascination and wonder.

Gina & Sucheta at a wedding in New Delhi

Upon awakening on the first morning, I was greeted by a serene and kind Indian grandmother who had prepared an authentic meal and later she and her friend took me to purchase my first Salwar Kameez and for my first ricksaw adventure.  We followed the afternoon sharing our ideas of love and they shared with me their love stories and the Indian culture and arranged marriage over chai.  Seriously, I thought, someone please pinch me.  I am halfway across the world speaking to two lovely older women about love and life.

And the Indian hospitality continued to unfold throughout my stay.  The people that I encountered along the way not only opened their homes, they opened their hearts.

The majority of the rest of my stay was with Sucheta’s grandmother, an absolute beauty, in Chandigarh.  She shared authentic meals, chai and conversations, and more importantly she integrated me into her morning routine where we feed the roses and the birds.  She persistently encouraged me to pray to god for a husband and assured me that god would listen.   Not sure where they came from, but I wasn’t going to argue, I rolled with it.

Gina with Sucheta's grandmother

My experience also included being invited to an authentic Indian wedding and to prepare, I received the full induction of the sari and accessory shopping experience.  The vibrant colors and array of textiles, patterns, beautiful bling, and intricate details to the parties and the weddings, the Hindu ceremony and the feeding of the fire, the food, the family, and the friends were certainly all elements to make ones spirit soar.   The Bollywood dancing and actually wearing a sari, a sleeve of bling bangles, was purely icing on the cake.

The stories are endless, the prayers of the tour guides, the countless picture taking with the locals, family meals, shopping and learning about the countries trends and natural resources and most importantly what makes India go round.

gina with mehndi

It was indeed a vivid country, with a plethora of religious and economic contrast, world-renowned tourist destinations, rich traditions, customs, and history. My writing could certainly go on for days about my humorous and embarrassing culture shock moments, the perplexity of seeing the stark and heartbreaking divide between the rich and the poor, to describing the elaborate details of the Golden Temple, going solo to the Taj Mahal and getting prayed over, (again for a husband), to a “How to dance Bollywood guide” as all of those created an amazing experience for me, yet, I do believe what is everlasting, was the hospitality and care of my local friends, and whom I would refer to as teachers.  I am eternally grateful for having gone to the land of enchantment with a native, as the insights and authenticity were invaluable. We shared perceptions. I was able to challenge ideas and opinions with those with deep cultural awareness and insights, which proved to be very thought provoking and at times, quite enlightening.

For the intellectually curious and spiritual seekers looking to experience India, I would recommend really integrating yourself into the culture via a local as the experience will be richer and more rewarding than you can imagine.

 ~ By guest blogger, Gina Cooper. Gina traveled with Go Eat Give to India in November 2012.