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Movie majra

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REEL APPEAL: (From left) Tom, Simona Macorova and Jack Mitchell, all tourists, discovered Manimajra thanks to 'Zero Dark Thirty'.

After the success of 'Zero Dark Thirty', Manimajra - shown as Abbotabad in the film - has become a tourist destination.

Jack Mitchell, a 31-year-old British backpacker, is simply in love with north India. He has travelled to almost every corner of this region but the recent terror drama, Zero Dark Thirty, introduced him to a destination he had not even heard of - Manimajra, a Chandigarh suburb which still retains the old-world charm of a typical Indian small town.

In Zero Dark Thirty, Manimajra features as the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad where al-Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden was shot dead by US Special Forces in May 2011. The narrow lanes, overcrowded markets, traditional houses, street food and local crafts made for a believable imitation of small town Pakistan. Now that the film is high on Oscar nominations list, Manimajra is pitching itself as a Hollywood-grade destination for travellers.

Manimajra is over a 100-years old. Although it is around 600-km away from Abbotabad, the two towns share a similar topography. Bigelow could not shoot in Abbotabad for security reasons.
"Chandigarh is like a second home to me but I have never visited Manimajra. Last month a European friend, who has done a small role in the film, told me about the town, " says Mitchell whose hails from Somerset in the UK.

The film crew had camped here for more than ten days and director Kathryn Bigelow's decision to feature the town may just have turned its fortunes around. Till now the town's biggest claim to fame was its second-hand automobile spare parts market and cheap living accomodation.

"I read about the town in the film's review in a US magazine and that piqued my interest. I Googled it but did not find too many details but then the Incredible India website helped me locate it. This old town is amazingly good. It is unexplored, untouched unlike most American and Europe destinations. It reminds me of the narrow lanes of Old Delhi - the spicy street food, the sprawling old temple, mosque and Sikh shrine, all standing cheek by jowl, " says Tom, British tourist who likes to be referred just by his first name.

Travellers say they love Manimajra's manic energy, a counterpoint to Chandigarh's fetish for order. "Chandigarh is well-planned and rule-bound like any European city. But Manimajra is bubbling with energy and maddening crowds like some old medieval town. My friends plan to visit the town this summer, " says Pete Hardy, a tourist from Israel.

The town's star attraction is the nearly 300-year-old Manimajra fort. Made with 'Nanakshahi' bricks - small, pale pink bricks, baked in wood which were used in Punjab before the British Rule - this fort boasts of an impressively huge iron door. Deepa Mehta too has shot a song sequence at this fort for her film Videsh, Heaven on Earth. Besides this quite a few Bollywood films have been shot here - Namastey London, Singh is Kinng, Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Buta Singh, Jab We Met and Veer Zaara, for example.

Manimajra's connectivity to central Chandigarh and the rest of the state, and other conveniences such as affordable hotels make for an ideal film and tour destination. Says Chiguru Prashanth Kumar, media advisor to the Union minister for tourism: "Many filmmakers from Hollywood and India are keen to know more about it. So, we put a link to Manimajra town on our website. " The Chandigarh administration, too, is planning a single window to clear all the 70 licenses required by any international filmmaker to shoot here.

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