'Foolish' Idea: Collect waste materials and build them into a magical city.
Sales: The Rock Garden of Chandigarh has been visited by over 12 million people from all over the world.
While the Taj Mahal is India's most visited tourist attraction, the Rock Garden of Chandigarh is the second. For in the middle of a tangled jungle sits a magical kingdom created by Nek Chand - from rubbish.
Now 74, when Nek was in his thirties, he dreamt that a glorious paradise once inhabited by gods and goddesses had rested on the jungle site near his home. On awakening, he was convinced it was his life's mission to recreate this nirvana in miniature.
Nek was not an artist, but he began collecting waste materials and making walls and then sculptures of people and animals. It was just a hobby, Nek had no plans to make it large. Besides the land belonged to the government, not to Nek. Despite this, he went ahead trusting everything would work out.
The nearby city of Chandigarh was being designed by the great French architect, Le Corbusier. Nek was working on the new roads and he watched Le Corbusier at work, as he skillfully made cement curve and flow during building. Nek never spoke to the architect, because he was the boss while Nek was one of the workers.
During Nek's leisure time he visited scrap yards, collecting old bicycle frames, rubble, interesting stones and smashed plates. He also collected hair swept up from barber floors and used it on the heads of his figures. Their skeletons were often made from bike frames. The broken plates, were used mosaic style to create shirts for his statues of the Royal Army.
Every evening Nek would work on his garden, wearing old slacks to protect himself from the mosquitoes. A hand held flaming tyre acted as a torch to light the path and keep the snakes away, as he walked back home, often late at night.
The garden was still Nek's secret, because he feared once the government found out he was using their land, he might lose his job.
The Garden's Discovered
However, his secret was discovered in the early '70's' by a government malaria research party. Clearing a trail through the jungle, they were amazed when the path opened up into rows of figures made from rubbish and walls from rubble and stones.
Although many officials were outraged, the wave of worldwide publicity resulted in admiration and support for Nek's project. Finally, he was awarded a salary and given a work force of 50 so he could continue building his project full-time.
In 1976 the garden was opened, a maze of twisting paths for visitors to explore. A new kingdom of terraces, gorges and mountains, peopled with 2,000 life size statues of men, women, children and incredible creatures.
Since then, the Rock Garden of Chandigarh has been visited by around 12 million people from all over the world.
Nek Chand has been awarded the Padam Shri - the Indian equivalent of a knighthood - for his creation of Chandigarh's stone city in the middle of the jungle.