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Travelogue- Into Punjab

It’s been a while since I wrote on these pages. Let’s just say another move is still under way and RoadsWellTraveled patiently waiting for its conclusion. In the meantime, however, I have been on the road. I’ve spent the last months shuttling between Berlin, Seattle, San Francisco, Delhi and Bangalore. The past ten days though have been the most satiating to this wanderlust-stricken soul. I accompanied my 90+ year old grandfather from Bangalore to Delhi, but then ventured further into Punjab with my backpack which I’d last traveled with when I returned from Costa Rica (2008).

I’m a Punjabi. Those in the know call me a pseudo-Punjabi, since there’s little Punjabi about me save how I look, and my love for Punjabi food. If it were only the latter detail, even Sebastian would qualify as a Punjabi!

This 10 day long trip was a visit into that aspect of my heritage that took a back seat ever since I started speaking Kannada, German and Spanish; punctuated my daily speak with ‘aiyooo’ ; and included idli, sambhar, arroz con frijoles, schnitzel and bratkartoffeln to the regular menu; made place for huaraches and espadrilles by throwing out old juttis; and found use for those retired dupattas as voluminous scarves for the brutal German winter.

The journey started with an early morning train ride from Delhi to Ludhiana. I had a seat on the fast train (Shatabdi) that terminates at Amritsar, the holiest city for the Sikh. About 100 of my fellow passengers were part of a ‘Sangat’ (Punjabi for ‘a religious group’ and Hindi for ‘company’) and were on a merry pilgrimage to the Harmandir Sahib, Golden Temple to the most of us. While to the remaining 35 of us non-Sangat travelers, the cacophony (I can’t think of a better word) of this group was acutely annoying, there was something endearing about it. That they didn’t differentiate between them and us when bringing out scrumptious dhoklas, kulcha chola, barfi and kheer (what’s a train ride without all that food anyway?) or that they were some of the politest people I’ve come across, is what distinguishes the eternal benevolence of the Sikh culture. I’ll elaborate on it in another post soon. But someone had to complain about the blaring loudspeaker perched atop the luggage rack. And complain she did about the brutal assault on our ear drums. I, for one, found amusement and interest in the elaborate arrangements of this 6 hour journey by the group, replete with a decorated compartment, a videographer, microphone and unending supply of fresh food and off-tune songs. However, this group pulled all stops when they set up a small ‘stage’ (you read it right!) for 3 ragis that joined us at the Rajpura station. Ragis chant shabads and kirtans (Sikh hymns) at Gurudwaras, the Sikh temples. I remember oscillating between my compartment and theirs with my camera when someone casually mentioned “We’re setting up a stage too! Come by later”. “Are you serious? A stage in that tight space?” I wondered aloud, still startled. “Please, please come and get me when it’s set up?” Sure enough someone came to get me. The warm familiarity that I had developed with this group over the few hours I walked between the two compartments paid off when they made way for me to the middle of the compartment where the ragis had been accommodated. I had front row seats to one of the coolest concerts ever! The moment only asked for some cigarette lighters!

Love and peace, Minu

p.s Keep checking back here for the rest of this journey.

p.p.s. it isn’t easy taking pictures on the violently rocking Indian trains. Please be kind.


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