A Travellerspoint blog

In the Loins of Punjab

AmritsaR - DAY 1

Amritsar railway statioN

Amritsar railway statioN


It had been more than three years since I’d travelled by train; almost missed this one too. The train was scheduled to leave at 6.40 a.m, I fell asleep only three hours before. And for some confounded reason, we decided to take the metro as opposed to a cab which would have dropped us right at the entrance to New Delhi Railway Station. Thankfully, we found our coach just as she started chugging. Phew! And the first thing I realize as we sit down panting is that I’ve forgotten my contact lenses. I’m going to see Amritsar through an extra pair of eyes. Cheers to better vision. Yikes!

The plan was to doze off on the ride, be well rested and refreshed on the other side. But that plan went right out the picturesque window. The Indian Railways offer gastronomical diversity, both pleasant and unpleasant. I enjoyed most of it. “Bread Omlette” and “Vegetable Cutlets” are a breakfast staple. We got off at a couple of station and tried the grub. The Chole Kulcha’s are nice and spicy. Be wary if you have a sensitive stomach.

Our train was dot on time at 3.15, surprising considering the Railways’ record in recent times. We headed straight to the Panther Officer’s Institute at the Amitsar Cantonment. Like all defense establishments in our country, our quarters at the Retreat were ancient, spotlessly clean, sparsely furnished and equipped with every element for a comfortable stay. We got our own little backyard as well. Also like every other defense establishment in this country, they are punctual to the T, meaning we were too late for lunch and too early for tea.

Self-explanatorY

Self-explanatorY


Starved thus, we had to leave immediately to catch our first date with the city. It’s a 45 minute drive from the city to the border with Pakistan, the Wagah border as it is more popularly known. It is a pleasant drive with the legendary rice and mustard fields in the “pinds” of Punjab. We also discovered that the Indian side of the border is called Attari. Yet strangely, even in India it is referred to as the Wagah border. The gates opened just as we reached at 4.

I can’t really explain the feeling, patriotism perhaps, perhaps not. The crowd charged forward in an unexplained frenzy towards the border like racehorses after the gunshot. Almost halfway across the kilometer long walk (although run is definitely the more suitable word), we realized there was a separate line for women. And that line had, mostly men. That should’ve been our first sign of complete disregard for women but we ignorantly walked on.

The entrancE

The entrancE


The legendary border gateS

The legendary border gateS

Crowds on either sidE

Crowds on either sidE


"Can u click our picture pleasE ?"

"Can u click our picture pleasE ?"


The border gates are surrounded by two semi-amphitheatres, one on either side. There are separate areas for women and men. So if you’re visiting with yur boyfriend, you’re screwed. There is also a separate VIP enclosure closer to the gates. The music was loud to the point of being abnoxious, patriotic numbers belted out by popular playback singers, some even from bollywood movies. It was a ridiculous bid at invoking nationalism. Then came the women and kids only relay with the national flag: well endowed aunties gasping for breath as they ran till the gate and back holding on to the flag for dear life. By this time I was already cribbing about what a farce the whole thing was.

Runnin runnin an' runnin runniN

Runnin runnin an' runnin runniN

Dancing for the countrY ??

Dancing for the countrY ??


And then there was more….the dancing. Again, women and kids only. It was ridiculous with random music and people grooving and grinding. I could not for the life of me understand why this was happening. I got to know from one of the security guards that this was done to signify that India was a country where women enjoyed equal rights and were free to express themselves unlike our neighbors across the border. Who would’ve thought !

The actual ‘ceremony’ starts at 5. It is a daily military practice followed jointly by the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers since 1959. It is a highly aggressive theatrical parade that symbolizes the primal enmity between the two nations. This is followed by the lowering of the flags on both sides of the border. As the sun sets for the day. the flags come down together at precisely the same time and speed. The gates are kept open only during this time.

We left around 6 covered in a layer of dust and searching frantically for our cabbie. There is little or mostly no coverage of cellphone networks in the area. But we eventually found him after a good half hour. We drove back to the city accompanied by our loudly grumbling stomachs. We had barely eaten anything all day. We were forced to abandon the plan of visiting the temple and were drawn instead by the mouthwatering aromas of Bharawan ka Dhaba, a place widely covered by travel and food networks.

Ah ! fooooD !

Ah ! fooooD !


The food was heavenly. Punjabi cuisine is known across the globe for its rich textures, and overload of ghee. The layered paranthas with their famous maa ki dal, black lentils cooked with ghee and spices for a whole eight hours and kadai paneer were bliss. Punjabi food is always accompanied by fiery green chillies and freshly sliced onions. One cannot come to Punjab and not have lassi, sweetened yoghurt beaten with a little milk to make a thick luscious drink. The lassi in Punjab is so heavy the two of us shared a glass lest we get too full. And although we were stuffed, we had to have dessert, chilled kheer and phirni. Oh! The contentment of a full belly.

BurrrrrrrrrP

BurrrrrrrrrP


As we walked out, we had a chat with some of the locals and realized the temple was near by. It was around 8.30 and we weren’t dressed appropriately but we still decided to catch a moonlit glimpse of the place. Cycle rickshaws are a widely popular mode of transport in Amritsar. After depositing our shoes, covering our heads with one of the community headpieces and washing our feet, we walked inside the holiest temple of the Sikhs in our tracks covered in a long day’s worth of grime.

In all it's dazzling glorY

In all it's dazzling glorY


The first vision of the temple is indeed magnificent, further enhanced by it’s moonlit reflection in the waters surrounding it. The temple is a gold plated structure standing in the middle of the holy Sarovar. The Sikhs believe it to be the divine nectar of the Gods, coming from far and wide to partake of this Amrit. Most of them even take a dip in the belief that the water is all purifying. We took a walk around the pond in silence, the water so serene in spite of the hundreds of fishes splashing about inside.

The temple is open at all times of the day and night and it was a pretty crowded Sunday night as we walked around the pond. There are marble slabs with information at regular intervals explaining the history and significance of every little structure within. Even at this hour, there was quite a long line to enter the sanctum sanctorum. And of course there was the rich and powerful family who did not have wait in line but simply shove us around and walk straight in, all twenty of them ! Inside it is blazing like the sun shining at midday. But, alas, the light does not last. After the long wait, the men inside trying to fleece you in the name of God is simply off putting. There is no place inside for one to sit and find one’s peace. In all its golden grandeur, the temple is merely a beautiful piece of architecture and I will not remember it for much else.

Headgear n alL

Headgear n alL


Outside, there is space to sit around the temple with the moon reflecting off the surface of the water. It is indeed beautiful but somehow, it does not invoke any feeling of peace, it didn’t touch my soul; maybe I was expecting too much after Bangla Sahib (http://ailesdeliberte.travellerspoint.com/3/). The temple has been immaculately maintained inspite of the infamous Operation Blue Star and two years later, Operation Black Thunder.

Then came sign number two, catcalls from a couple of kids. It was an instant of disbelief, we were too stunned to even react. And before we realized it, they had disappeared. We left after having Kada Prasad around quarter to 10. The area around the temple remains crowded late into the night and public transportation is available. The weather was pleasantly chilly. Once back in our room, we realized how completely exhausted we were. After a nice hot shower, we fell asleep watching local television; the newest Punjabi kids on the block. Hilarious ! The Punjabis can get away with anything.

Posted by ailesdeliberte' 11:37 Archived in India Tagged food temple religion india train village indian golden holy border pakistan god peace railways amritsar sikh butter wagah punjabi gurdwara sikhism ounjab parantha attari pind lassi paneer sarovar patriotism nationalism Comments (0)

And then there was love....

GurdwarA BanglasahiB

OutsidE

OutsidE


Sometimes, when the going gets real tough, I wish I cud go there for a while. It was the first time, the only time I’d been there after living almost three years in the city. And it was for the first time , as far as the memories etched in my head go, that I felt so much at peace with the world and more importantly at peace with myself. Winter was setting in and after the perfunctory washing of the feet outside, the cold marble made them numb.

Inside, it was warm. For some strange reason, the first thing that struck my mind was how much the place, rather the ambience resembled a mosque; Hazrat Nizammudin to be specific. Maybe I’m watching too many movies. The musicians are seated in the centre of the hall and the music is, since I cannot use the word perfect, absolute. It touched a part of my soul, whose existence I had never even been consciously aware of up until then. There is an uncanny sense of balance about the place. It’s like those chemistry experiments from school, when that one drop of base completely neutralizes the acid.

And the smell! Oh the smell!! The entire inside smells of flowers, the beautiful fresh fragrance of wet flowers. And then I took a deeper breath and there it was, the unmistakable scent of something ancient, something primal, almost as the first air to ever be enclosed within these walls had never left. Something like the scent of a dog who no matter how much you shampoo and perfume, will always have his inherent doggy smell. Like the scent of a woman if you will.

The Granth itself is enclosed in a separate shrine at one corner of the hall. There were people scattered across the large hall, some with families, others alone. Just sitting there brought so much peace inside. It opened up my heart and made me believe in love again. Love is happiness. Love is peace. Love is acceptance. love is contentment. Love just is…

The sarovaR

The sarovaR


Upstairs, the little balconies offer magnificent views. The cool breeze coming in from the windows all around, a view of the pond, the Sarovar, it’s dark waters glistening in the moonlight. The Sikhs believe it to be the divine nectar of the Gods, coming from far and wide to partake of this Amrit. Most of them even take a dip in the belief that the water is all purifying. We took a walk around the pond in silence, the water so serene in spite of the hundreds of fishes splashing about inside.

The kada Prasad at the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib is like no other. Drenched in pure desi ghee, the whole wheat halwa just melts in your mouth. One can also buy the Prasad and donate to the Gurdwara. We then moved on for langar, dinner at the community kitchen. Langar is available throughout the day and is free for anyone and everyone. It is simple, staple. North Indian fare – rotis, rice, sabzi(vegetable) and dal. The food grains and vegetables can be sponsored by anyone, the kitchen always remains well stocked. The food is cooked and served by volunteers. Anyone can volunteer to do these things. One can also volunteer to wash the cutlery, keep the Gurdwara floors clean or even work at the gates where the footwear is kept.

Both men and women have to keep their heads covered at all times. But if you don’t have anything, that’s alright; they have a basket of head covers for everyone to use as long as you return them. The Gurdwara is at a walkable distance from the Patel Chowk metro station. It is best visited by moonlight.

Posted by ailesdeliberte' 14:00 Archived in India Tagged night lake love moon delhi peace bangla gurdwara gurudwara langar sahib Comments (0)

NeemranA

underplayed

As I switched off the lights and locked up for the night, I couldn’t help thinking
For all the palaces and penthouses galore
Home is where your heart you moor
For all of sound and all its sense
There’s naught better than the sound of silence

Overview

Overview


This was somebody’s home a long long time ago. Did the people who lived here ever visit all the corners of its vastness ?

It was a long needed day off. She was picking me up at 7.30. I had only got home a couple of hours back. It was a lovely night, catching up (over drinks) with some good ‘ol friends from a long time ago and a late night calorie overload of butter laden paranthas (courtesy Convergys Dhaba, Gurgaon) also from a long time ago. Man, I really needed the day off. Thank God she was a half hour late. Interesting tip : Always eat something before you leave home, especially if you don’t knw when your next meal’s going to be.

We had to pick up a couple of other friends and were headed out of Gurgaon by 9. Once we crossed the fire emitting monstrosities of the outskirts, the drive to Neemrana is quite pleasant on the eyes with green acres spotted with the bright yellow flowers of the mustard fields.
We reached the village in less than 2hours. It’s the quintessential Rajasthani village, with it’s bony women in their colourful ghagras and cholis; the dupattas covering their heads hitting your eyes with the light of a thousand splendid suns. The posters on the derelict walls speak of a “Jaadugar Shivkumar”, the patriarch of the dead, the flyer of women. We were already transported to a different era in time.

With a little help from some friendly locals, we found our way to the Fort Palace in no time. It’s not the first place on your travel itinerary being overshadowed by the more popular cities of Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur and Pushkar. The first glimpse of the fort is overwhelming. A sense of something so much bigger, larger, taller, wider, enchanting….Just standing there in front of those humungous front gates to the palace makes you feel so insignificant. Me in my little three bedroom apartment with a view of the street below. This was somebody’s home a long long time ago. Did the people who lived here ever visit all the corners of its vastness ? I, for one, cannot imagine that possibility.
The Royal Ride

The Royal Ride


The journey to the reception area and the rest of the palace is a steep climb. If you can’t manage it on your own, they offer you a palanquin carried by 4 bearers. Now if that isn’t royal treatment!

Just about in time, we headed straight to the Flying Fox office to start off with our zipping. Bikini harnesses - check, stinky leather gloves - check, a good dollop of Banana Boat – check, signing a form that said Flying Fox was in no way responsible for any accident or loss of life – double check! We set off cheerfully for the half hour hike uphill. The group of slightly older women also in our zipping group didn’t find it too cheerful. After a quick security briefing and trial run, we were off to zip across the mountains.large_CIMG2590.jpglarge_CIMG2591.jpglarge_IMG_0077.jpg

It was beautiful. For those of you don’t know, zipping is cutting across two mountains on a string of rope; string of rope meaning steel zip lines. There are five lines in Neemrana. The second and the last one are the best. The first one , I was mostly trying to make sure I remembered all the instructions, hands and feet at the right places holding the right things. The second one was my first glimpse of the sky. WHOA ! courtesy my cK aviators, I suggest you carry your sunglasses because the vision is just WHOA! The other lines offer a good aerial view of the palace with its bright blue swimming pool, By the time we reached the last zip line, I was ready to let go of my hands and just enjoy the wind in my face. Wheeeeeeeeee……song for the moment – Elevation by U2.

After getting out of the harness and a quick photography session with the rest of the group, we realized we were famished. Lunch was a beautiful table on one of their balconies soaking in the heat of a warm winter sun. The buffet itself was an adequate spread without being over the top, I like trying everything on the menu. The meat was tender and juicy. But overall, the food was very oily and not in that rich luscious way that Punjabis add ghee to everything. Even the salads were too heavy. Dessert, on the other hand was pleasing. A melange’ of fresh fruit, contrasting yet complementing banana cheese pie, good ‘ol kheer and the traditional something chocolaty. I would not recommend the homemade ice-cream.
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After lunch, in that dazed stupor of a filled tummy, we finally saw the palace in all her majestic splendor. Outlined by the setting sun, the distinct terraces and old world architecture provide for a spectacular view from the front patio. The restoration of the fort has been immaculately done with After a quick visit to the gift shop, we left around 5 which is a very good time for the drive back lest you want to be suffocated between the loud, noisy highway monsters of late evening.
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Posted by ailesdeliberte' 11:10 Archived in India Tagged desert flying india fort palace adventure jaipur fox rajasthan zipping neemrana harness Comments (0)

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