Introducing Chandigarh

The joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh is officially a Union Territory controlled by the central government. Travellers are more interested in its history as the first planned city of independent India. When the Swiss architect Le Corbusier was commissioned in 1950, he conceived a people-oriented city of sweeping boulevards, lakes and gardens and grand civic buildings, executed in his favourite material, reinforced concrete.

So Chandigarh came into being; turn the clocks forward 60 years and the parks, monuments and civic squares are still there, albeit aged by decades of tropical rain. Whether Le Corbusier achieved his goal of a city for the people is open to debate – the ostentatious prosperity of Chandigarh's wealthier inhabitants stands in stark contrast to the poverty of its poorer residents, who eke an existence begging in Chandigarh's neon-lit shopping precincts.

For travellers, Chandigarh is a place to see India as it would like to be seen – prosperous, comfortable and cosmopolitan – and to explore the city-sized modernist sculpture created by Le Corbusier. This is also the best place to eat, drink and shop in Punjab and Haryana.

Each sector of the city is self-contained and pedestrian-friendly, but marooned from neighbouring sectors by busy multilane highways. Most visitors concentrate their attention on Sector 17 (for shops and restaurants), Sector 22 (for hotels) and Sector 9 (for museums and galleries). Buses depart from Sector 17 and Sector 43; the train station is 7km southeast of the centre.