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An un-Indian surprise

Escape the chaos of other Indian cities when you come here, and indulge in the local dhaba experience

Traditional Sikh martial art experts perform at Anandpur Saheb Gurudwara, near Chandigarh, March 28, 2006

Traditional Sikh martial art experts perform at a gurudwara © AFP

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Chandigarh, as umpteen visitors to the City Beautiful have said, is the most un-Indian city in the subcontinent. The country's first "planned" city - it was designed by master urbanist-architect Le Corbusier in the first flush of post-Independence idealism in the 1950s - it is spacious, green, geometric. And paradoxically, it continues to fuel debates on organic cities versus planned ones.

While that discussion rages, travellers could well be excused for enjoying Chandigarh for the aberration that it is. The roads are straight and clean, cutting across each other at right angles. The traffic is the most orderly in the country, the roundabouts are planted with flowers and well maintained, the residential houses rarely exceed a genteel two or three storeys. Unreal as it may seem to anyone familiar with the chaos of other Indian cities, Chandigarhians, justifiably proud of their home, are arguably the most civic-conscious people in the country.

In keeping with its global vibe, the city is now redefining itself from being just a bureaucratic hot spot - Chandigarh is the administrative capital of two states (Punjab and Haryana) and a centrally administered territory in itself - to an IT destination. The characteristics of the city spill over into Haryana as the suburb of Panchkula, and into Punjab as Mohali, which is home to the PCA Stadium, just across the border. However, the better options for accommodation and entertainment lie in Chandigarh.

Weather

Just like the rest of the country, in Chandigarh too temperatures are at a high during the summer months of April and May. During the day it's between 32 and 37°C, while evenings range between 28 and 30°C. Cottons are the way to go during this season in India's north.

Getting around

Chandigarh is a fairly prosperous city, where every resident family has at least a couple of vehicles, so public transport isn't a strong point here. Cabs are your best bet for getting around. Call EasyCabs (Tel 91-172-43434343), preferably an hour before you need one. If you feel adventurous enough for a pink auto-rickshaw, there's India's first radio rickshaw service (Tel 91-172-42424242).

Where to stay

Apart from a couple of stray options in Mohali, Chandigarh offers a variety of accommodation across budgets. Traffic being not too bad, no place is too far away.

High-end The best hotel here is undoubtedly the Taj Chandigarh (from Rs 8400), and highly recommended despite being some distance away from the stadium. The other option in this category is run by the Chandigarh administration: Mountview (from Rs 8300) has elegant rooms and pleasant views, as well as what they claim to the best bar in the region.

Mid-level The other government-run hotel, Shivalikview (from Rs 5500), promises good facilities and a location in the heart of the city. Hometel (from Rs 3500) is a new hotel with good rooms and excellent dining options, about 8km from the stadium. In Mohali, Hotel Majestic (from Rs 3300) is a stone's throw from the stadium.

<i>Poori</i> and <i>chole</i>, an Indian meal of fried puffed bread and spicy chickpeas  curry, Amritsar, September 30, 2009

Poori and chole: a Punjabi breakfast and snack of fried puffed bread and spicy chickpea curry © AFP

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Budget Also run by the Chandigarh administration, Parkview (from Rs 1900) has a few rooms in this category. Hotel White Palace (from Rs 1700) promises all the basic facilities and is not too far away from the stadium. Hotel Pankaj (from Rs 1090) is centrally located and offers decent accommodation.

Where to eat

Short of heading further north to Punjab, Chandigarh is probably your best bet for sampling hearty North Indian food. What's more, a good meal is very affordable.

High-end There isn't much of a choice in this category. Black Lotus at the Taj offers arguably the best Schezwan cuisine in town. And the restaurants in the CITCO hotels offer the regular multi-cuisine fare.

Mid-level This is where Chandigarh spoils you for choice. Try Copper Chimney (Tel 91-172-5087373) for great Indian food. Ghazal (Tel 91-172-2704448), in the shopping and entertainment hub of Sector 17, is a long-standing favourite for its dal makhni. Swagath (Tel 91-172-3045678) is a chain restaurant serving Mughlai and South Indian dishes.

Budget Sagar Ratna (Tel 91-172-2707710), part of the Swagath family, offers great South Indian dishes at bargain prices in a clean environment. Among dhabas, you won't go wrong with Pal Dhaba or Sher-e-Punjab dhaba (Tel 91-172-2660222). Or try Noor at Hotel Pankaj (Tel 91-172-2709891) for a reliable multi-cuisine spread.

Where to party

Nightlife is vibrant in Chandigarh, especially over the weekend.

High-end The Orchid Lounge (Tel 91-172-2624990) has live entertainment in a superb atmosphere. The S Lounge (Tel 91-172-5000444) has a great collection of single malts and a cosmopolitan look. Lava Pub at the Taj is also highly recommended.

Mid-level Zinc (Tel 91-9914449022), with its subdued lighting and retro/lounge/trance music, is a great place to put your feet up. Another popular hang-out is Score (Tel 91-9988448811), a sports bar that screens cricket, hockey and football matches and F1 races.

Budget Chandigarh's oldest dance club, Aerizzona (Tel 91-172-2740622), is still going strong in Sector 17. While they could certainly do with more women customers, Wild West Pub (Tel 91-9815159686) at Khyber restaurant in Sector 35 has enough character to guarantee a good time.

Must-Dos

Go for a walk around Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh's pride and joy. The picturesque 3km-long man-made lake gives you an insight into the city's rhythms. Pick up a snack from the adjoining eatery and join the city's health-conscious in a brisk walk - or do it the other way around.

Visit the Rock Garden, local artist Nek Chand's innovative garden created from waste - picture frames, forks, broken bangles and the like. The weird and wonderful figures are testimony to the artist's ecological awareness long before the environment became a buzzword.

Visitors explore the Rock Garden, Chandigarh, March 26, 2010

The Rock Garden: only in Chandigarh © Getty Images

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Drive up to the Himalayas. Kasauli, a charming Raj-era hill station, is just two hours away. Moments after leaving the city limits, the air develops a clean, cold nip. Stop for a fabulous lunch at Giani da Dhaba (don't miss the lemon chicken).

Admire Rose Garden, Asia's largest, where 50,000 bushes of 1600 species bloom in splendour. The Rose Festival is celebrated every year in February-March.

Try the unpretentious, calorie-rich and distinctly delicious north Indian dhaba cuisine. Go to Swarn Dhaba (Tel 91-172-2654323) for the best mutton curry in town.

All information is accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication, but please make sure and confirm it independently as required. All prices mentioned are in Indian rupees. Hotel prices are for double rooms. Prices are indicative and subject to change