Saturday, December 6, 2014

Amritsar - Day 3
(Hope you have read Day 1 and Day 2 in Amritsar )

We decided to start our day 3 with kulchas. The much talked about Punjabi kulcha. And so off we went to Maqbool road to try out the kulcha at the All India Famous Kulchawala.

Most people do not know the actual difference between a kulcha and a stuffed paratha.
The former will have layers and will look flaky once taken out of the tandoor, with a very light layer of stuffing on the top most layer. A stuffed paratha will be stuffed to the gills ... read the end ... with only two layers, the top and the bottom. Both are served hot, with a big dollop of butter on the top.

It was a long wait at All India Famous. Not because for a long waiting line but because a lot of people were taking away parcels.
B tried his hand at  kulcha making while we waited.
After around 30 minutes, we finally got a plate of kulcha each. The place is small with even less number of tables and chairs. We had to share our table with a couple.
The kulcha was hot and served with chole on the side. Not much to write home about.
It was more of a stuffed paratha with almost no stuffing, smeared with a yellow coloured stuff that was being passed off as butter ... which I am sure was not. It did not have the beautiful aroma of butter on a hot paratha.
The chole had a lot of soda in it. No salt. No spice. And definitely not slow cooked as authentic Punjabi chole is. A total disappointment.

We had wanted to look around the city. But were again in for disappointment.
While a lot of sites on the internet list a lot of places to visit, in reality, most places are either kept shut or are inaccessible to the tourist.
Like Ranjit Singh's summer palace. Only the museum was open ... and held nothing worth seeing.
The summer palace stays closed, we were told. Always.
This photograph, in the museum, shows Ranjit Singh supervising the the Harmandir Sahib being covered with gold plating.
Similarly, we had wanted to take the Village tour conducted by Punjab Tourism  and had been trying to call them up since a week before we actually started. Either no reply or a lady picked up , takes our request, says that we need to give an advance notice of one week and promises to get back to us.
Never calls back.
The Khalsa college too is not open to tourists. 
The Heritage walk was also not conducted as promised. Punjab Tourism is a complete let down.

We returned to the hotel and decided to spend the day shopping.
So scoured the Katra Jaimal market and picked up a lot of hand worked suits and dupattas, both for myself and family.Shopping in Amritsar is a wonderful experience.

We skipped lunch;  thanks to the soda loaded chole at All India Famous we were both feeling uneasy;  and  went to visit the Jallianwala Bagh, mute witness to one of the most brutal massacres during the freedom fighting era in India. The building has been kept the same, made of bricks.
A monument has been built in memory of the martyrs.
The walls, where the silent protesters were cornered to, still bear bullet holes all over them.
 There is the martyr's well, all covered and closed. The actual ground  has been converted into a garden/park.While it all looks pleasing to the eye, I felt it takes away the seriousness and the importance of the place. There is an air of festivity and people are lazing in the lawns all around. I wished there was a little more quiet, at least in reverence to the departed souls.
Coming out of Jallianwala Bagh, we walked towards the Golden Temple, which is actually only a few meters away from the place. This time, we took a small lane on the right, in front of the Temple and found the very famous Amritsari Brothers shop, famous for their kulchas. 

We actually liked the kulchas there and found them much better than the ones at All India Famous.
Right in front was a shop selling hot samosas , paneer pakodas, kachoris and bread pakodas. We sampled the Punjabi samosas and loved them. But the ones at Shri Krishna, just 5 minutes walk away, were much better.

We had made plans with the hotel people for a cab to take us out in the afternoon .. rather late afternoon. 
They had wanted to ensure that we were going to the Wagah border ceremony. But we had other plans. 
Firstly, I was initially very enthusiastic about visiting the border. But the more we researched, the more we got convinced that it would be a waste of time ... especially a beautiful evening in the Punjab countryside. 

And I was absolutely not interested in watching mock anger displayed by the guards of the border. What with enough animosity around, we were sure that whatever it would be, it wouldn't be mock at all.
Secondly, B is not comfortable in a crowd. 
Thirdly, I was more interested in an actual historical place ... Attari ... than in Wagah. 
So after much discussion and ensuring that none of us are giving up Wagah for the other, we reached the unanimous decision to skip Wagah.
Our driver was initially surprised but confessed there were other tourists too who have shown lack of interest in Wagah. And almost as a consolation to himself than us,  assured us that the drive to Attari would anyway take us very near to Wagah.

We took the Grand Trunk road and  I felt I was already being a part of history.
This wonderful roadways was built by the great Sher Shah Suri, connecting many important cities. And as we sped down on it, our driver mentioned that if we kept going straight, we would end up in Lahore .... "yeh sadak seedhe Lahore jaati hai, par beech mein kitni paabandi. Sadak ek par adhi adhi; visa chahiye agey tak jaane ke liye!" How true.
Just as we started, I had mentioned my wish to see the real Punjab ... at least a village and the fields of Punjab. And a canal. And mustard fields.
And Attari.
I have always been fascinated by Attari, for its historical importance and it being witness to one of the most dare devil freedom movement activities.
Our driver smiled and said "Pehle kyon nahi bataya!" Saying so, he pulled off the road, picked up his mobile phone and called up someone. After a few minutes of conversation, he said " Chaliye Madam, aap ko pind Punjab dikhata hoon. Mere dost ka kheti hai ... wahin le jaaunga."

He had called up his friend, who had some fields in a nearby village and had readily agreed to be there to show his friend's guests around.
As simple as that.
My wish was to be fulfilled.
And I had one of the most beautiful evenings of my life.
If you are in Amritsar, or anywhere in Punjab, and not visit a village and fields, you have not seen the real Punjab.
You can feel the warmth and the freshness both in its people and the land.
With winter setting in, the fields were lush with freshly sown vegetables of all kinds.
There were cauliflowers, carrots, fenugreek, spinach, garlic. And mustard.
The soul of Punjab.
Lush mustard fields, full with fresh leaves and flowers.
We were taken around the fields, shown a real tube well that pumps gushing water into the fields, happily encouraged to enter the fields and take photographs to my heart's fill, break off baby fresh green peas from the creepers and taste them, given a ride on a tractor whose owner stopped working without a grumble and looked on with amusement while B tried his hand at tilling with a tractor.
 My wish of seeing a full canal was fulfilled too. Our driver mentioned that this canal too goes all the way to the border, running in parallel to the G.T.road.
 At the cost of sounding repetative, I say I had one of the most beautiful evenings of my life there, in the outskirts of Amritsar, in a small village, amongst warm, happy people.
Our driver Mani Singh and his friend, walking through his fields.

After thanking the man, we drove on to Attari.
But not before facing a SWAT team and a checking of things and the car like I had seen never before.
Even our driver's lunch box was not spared.
Their obvious question was why were we not at the border. I said "Mujhe Attari dekhna hai."
And could see a slight flicker of smile in the huge gun toting man's otherwise serious, cold eyes, as he waved us on.

When I set my foot on the ground in Attari, all that I had read came rushing back to me.
I was standing in history ... that was all I could feel. It was a quaint little station; belying the violence it has witnessed in bygone times.We spoke to the station master there and a few people around, each narrating a new anecdote that involves the people, the current situation of the place.
This line goes straight to Lahore.
The only railway station in India to have a fence to divide the two railway lines ... one going to and the other coming from Pakistan.
The doors on the over bridge were locked too ... so that nobody can enter the other side frivolously.
We walked around in the quiet little station for a while, the setting sun throwing a soft light on the whole place, making it even more beautiful. It radiated nostalgia.
Having soaked in Attari to the full, we returned to the highway to go to Sarhad, the beautiful restaurant on the G.T road.
 The wonderful smell of food wafted out and Sufi songs played into the cold, late evening air. 
We realised we were famished as we sat down in the chairs out in the courtyard, overlooking the highway, where the patrols were just relaxing, after a tiring day of vigilance, as the rush towards Wagah diminished. Soon, they will close the road for the day and no other vehicles would be allowed in the night.
We decided that coming so close to Lahore, it is only fitting that we have a Lahori meal.
The man serving us warned that it will be mild ... almost sweetish, but we were sure we wanted Lahore food.
He mentioned that people coming here usually do not like that and insist on spicy stuff. B and I agreed that it is this attitude of people that do not allow a restaurant to stay authentic ... they eventually have to alter the taste of foods to cater to people who are not bothered about quality.
We had a wonderful meal of Peshawari naan, Lahori dal, also known as Bade Miya ki Dal, Lahori kofte and  some plain naan.
See the dry fruits stuffing of the Peshawari naan? It was awesome!
Later, we asked for some tea and were served the best masala tea ever ... the flavours of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger came through beautifully.
Sitting there, sipping the hot tea, watching darkness set in, listening to the man serving us talk of numerous stories and anecdotes of the place and the people of the border, with an ocassional car whooshing by on the  highway, I felt our trip to Amritsar could not have had a better end. 

Our bill came in this little truck.

Attari station beyond the trees.
A road to a village in Punjab.

A quiet place near a canal, where we spent some time.

It was already night when we reached Amritsar. We needed to finish our pending shopping of Vadis and Papads and here, Mani Singh again came to our help. 
He took us to a good shop and we picked up the most wonderful varieties of papad and punjabi vadis. 

After this hugely soul satisfying day, we were too tired to venture out and thought of resting. 
But early into the night, we set off for some lassi at Giani's. 

Tomorrow will be out last day in Amritsar. 

Stay tuned. 


  1. Wow! Loved this post....had both my and travel :)

  2. Thank you Rakhee for hopping over! :-)


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