Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of India, a land that is a treasure trove of iconic marvels like the ethereal Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, and the imposing Red Fort Complex in New Delhi. However, beyond these well-trodden paths lies a hidden gem waiting to be discovered – the whimsical Nek Chand Rock Garden nestled in the heart of Chandigarh.
This enchanting haven of art was brought to life by an unsung hero, Nek Chand Saini. A government worker by day, Saini transformed into an artist under the veil of secrecy, starting the construction of this garden in 1957.
Not surprisingly, Chand took immense pride in his creation. During a conference he attended in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, back in 2000, he was asked to share his thoughts on a local folk art environment. With a twinkle in his eye, he responded, “Mine is bigger.”
Today, Nek Chand Rock Garden is known as the largest folk art environment in the world. It spans approximately 40 acres.
Nek Chand Saini arrived in Chandigarh after he was displaced from his homeland in 1947 when India gained independence from the British Empire and separated from Pakistan.
After relocating, he eventually became a road builder and inspector. When the workday was done, he would carry away pieces of city debris on his bicycle to build his rock garden.
As a self-taught environmental artist, Nek Chand utilized a wide range of materials in his project, including broken pottery, tiles, cement, broken glass, and even electrical fixtures. He worked on the garden for over a decade.
The garden has faced many threats of destruction over the years, but the local government now protects it. In 1972, it was brought under government supervision, and Chand was hired and given oversight of over 50 employees to help him complete it. It opened to the public in 1976, but Chand and his team continued their work.
In recognition of his remarkable contribution to the arts, Nek Chand was honored with prestigious accolades. The city of Paris bestowed upon him the Grand Medal of Vermeil in 1980, and four years later, in 1984, his native country of India celebrated his distinguished service by presenting him with the esteemed Padma Shri award.