Friday, January 27, 2017

Traversing across Land of 5 Rivers- Punjab

Destination Ladakh but we were in no hurry to reach. We wanted to explore places on the way, savor the slow travel experience and planned our road trip via Punjab, Jammu, Kashmir Valley and then head to Ladakh. Our tryst with Punjab made our love for road trips even stronger.

Punjab- The Land of Five Rivers has so much to offer to a traveller. The highway with lush green fields on either side and amazing weather welcomed us when we started our journey from Delhi to Punjab. A road trip to this part of India is perfect for rejuvenating, if you are bird lover you would enjoy spotting many of them. If romance is on your mind, early monsoon would be a good time to hit the roads with your loved one, listening to your favorite music plus slight drizzle creating it's own rhythm on your vehicle's windshield.

The journey was fun, 30 km into the ride and we experienced heavy downpour and after an hour or so we continued with our ride only to stop every few hundred meters as the rain continued in spells for most part of our journey. We were completely drenched but our spirits were high and though we had rain gear with us, we did not think we would need it until we hit the mountains and so with "our impeccable packing" our rain gear was neatly folded and set right at the bottom of our saddle bag. We decided to enjoy the rains, stop at small dhabas, sip chai and laugh at our foolishness.

We got to experience rural Punjab and her fertile green lands when we took a deviation from the Delhi - Amritsar highway towards Patiala. As children we remember being taught in school that agriculture is the backbone of India but it was here in Punjab we saw people relentlessly working on their fields and not letting simple things like rain come in between their daily routine. These hard working farmers need to be treated with great respect but sadly in our Nation we have misplaced priorities where we idolize bollywood stars and sports personalities. As masses we are not even slightly concerned about the alarming pace at which we are losing fertile farm lands that are being replaced with real estate projects.

Of course when you enter Punjab how can one not get excited about food. The best part about the Delhi - Haryana & Punjab belt are the numerous Dhabas that serve lip smacking desi food glazed with white butter. We started our road trip by digging into amazing hot aloo paratahas at Rasoi Dhaba. Parathas with dollops of butter are so tempting that you cannot stop until the plate is wiped clean and the best part is that it does not even feel heavy unlike the store bought pasteurized butter. We also had amazing kheer and kulfi at Sanjha Chulla just before reaching Jammu and it was rich and lip-smacking.

We were bowled over by Punjabi's love for food especially chicken and lassi, their kindness, hardworking nature, dedication towards sports and attachment to their motherland.

 We experienced their acts of kindness in every Gurudwara that we went to and their dedication to serve food free to everyone who comes to the Gurudwara without any discrimination speaks volumes about their pure hearts.

We saw how committed they are when it comes to sports in Polo ground Patiala. Every morning the ground is abuzz with people warming up, exercising and playing the sport they love.

They love to appreciate everything that is beautiful and Ludhiana can be considered a shopping hub as they have countless shops selling clothes jewellery, all at affordable prices. It is the one stop place for everything that one would require if there is a wedding in the house.

Of course everyone also knows their love for Royal Enfield- Bullet. Punjabis and Royal Enfield ka love story is better than any Sharukh-Kajol love story. Punjabis love their association with this machine and they know how to take care of it as well. The streets of Punjab are filled with this mean machine and they are squeaky clean and very well kept. The local songs have lyrics that shows the romance between the men and machine. We were told by a local, an engineer turned teacher and a die hard RE fan that bullet is mentioned in most of their local punjabi songs and the most famous line being "You might not take a bath but will never forget to give your bullet a wash."

We saw and met a lot of bikers on the highway.  This belt is filled with a lot of bikers since it is the time when the passes to reach Leh are open. This belt gives you opportunities to meet bikers and of course conversations take their own course and we end up exchanging itineraries, travel tips, crucial info and bond over the most beautiful things in life i.e bikes and travel. These few minutes of conversations with complete strangers ended with wishes of safe travel and riding and a beautiful bond is automatically created.

While riding from Patiala to Ludhiana we felt over whelmed and proud when an older gentleman on his motorcycle overtook our bike and seeing us all saddled up, he understood we were on a road-trip and gave us a broad smile and a big thumbs up. This act of appreciation from a stranger and of that age made our day.

If you are a fan of Indian Air Force, then do head to Pathankot. The best part about Pathankot is that one gets to see several Indian Air force fighter jets sortie throughout the day and the thundering engine of these jets resonates around the town.

Also, Chandigarh is one of the best planned cities with brilliant roads and infrastructure. There are many more places in Punjab that are equally amazing and we hope we can come back again to this beautiful land of beautiful people.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Splendid Food Trail In Amritsar

Punjab celebrates life and an integral part of that is certainly yummy and sinful food. Amritsar is known for it's Golden temple but it is also famous for the finger licking food that it offers and there are so many eat outs to explore that it definitely required a stand alone post dedicated to food.

We extended our stay to taste the best of Punjabi food that took us to a century old dhaba in the narrow lanes of Amritsar- "Kesar Da Dhaba." This eat out established in 1916 serves only vegetarian food and it was one of the most soul satisfying meals. We ordered butter Missi roti, a massive crispy roti beautifully garnished with coriander seeds and a rich dash of desi butter and Kadai Paneer which beautifully complimented the roti. The paneer was super soft and the gravy not too spicy. Their simple yellow dal fry is a must try, it was very well done and topped with rich desi ghee. They also serve Thali and all dishes are available in half portions as well and one must certainly try their amazing thick ice cream like "Kesar Lassi." All of this costed us Rs.370.

Post the sinful and heavy dinner we went out for a short walk and returned to Kesar Da Dhaba to try their "Phirni"- a dessert served in matka. This was just amazing not too sweet and just tasted natural. Priced at Rs.15 only, the Dhaba is open from 11am to 11pm. Their seating arrangement here is very home like or old school style. Their service standard is just commendable, the guys here were very cordial and helpful. They patiently explained us how they preparpe their dishes and what ingredients are used, answering all our questions with a smile. Though we were on a road trip we opted for a auto-rickshaw to reach Kesar da Dhaba as it is near impossible to find a parking spot in the narrow lanes for a two wheeler.

Among many other things Punjab is very famous for its thick lassi and one place that stands out is Ahujha's Lassi near Hindu college. A massive glass of lassi is priced at Rs.35 and it could very well be considered as a full meal for an average adult. Their namkeen lassi too is out of the world. Apart from lassi, they also serve sweets and snacks.

Another famous and must try Lassi spot is Gian Di Lassi wala, this is on the way to Hindu college. Any local would be able to guide you to this shop. This is again a century old place that has carved out a niche for itself. They serve sweet and namkeen Lassi priced at Rs.35 and a smaller portion is available at Rs.20. The amazing Lassi is topped with Malai and desi butter. In case you are a fan of namkeen lassi, it is available only till early evening.

After trying the much famed Ahujha's, Gian Di Lassi and Kesar da Dhaba's lassi, the trophy definitely goes to Kesar Da Dhaba and close second finishes Ahujha's. Both Ahujha and Gian Di Lassi undoubtedly serve amazing Lassi but nothing compared to/our personal favorite was the rich and creamy Kesar Dhaba's Lassi.

While in Amritsar, it is an absolute must to try the "Amritsari Machhi" and the perfect place would be "Beera's Kitchen" in White's Avenue, the road parallel to Lawrence Road. Their Amritsari Machhi Fry is accompanied with freshly diced onions and thick pudina chutney that adds a good punch of flavor to the fish and a dash of lime adds the extra punch to the dish. The fish had no bones in it and melted in our mouth, cooked to perfection, sprinkled with chaat masala. The fish is served by weight and the minimum is 250 grams. We had also ordered for their very famous "Roasted Chicken," very mild and tender chicken cooked to absolute perfection. They serve very generous quantities. Though we avoid carbonated drinks, we took an exception here and ordered a bottle of thums up which was the perfect way to finish a heavy meal. All of this costed us Rs.520 which is an absolute value for money.

For a heavy Punjabi breakfast, Puri Channa does come to mind and "Kanha sweets" on Lawrence road undoubtedly has the most amazing hot and fluffy puri that was very well complimented with mild spicy channa and tangy aloo curry. A glass of lassi and sinful gulab jamun made perfect desserts. This was by far one of the best fulfilling and yummy brunches that we have had. All of this costed us Rs.230. They have a good and comfortable restaurant.

"A1 Kulfa" in Amritsar is less of a dessert joint but more of a landmark or identity of Amritsar. The much famed Kulfa joint has a few outlets across the city. We hit the one on Queen's road. One plate priced at Rs.60 is an amazing blend of Kulfi, falooda, crushed ice, rabdi and topped with flavored essences. All of this together tasted amazing. If you have a sweet tooth, don't feel shy to ask for an extra dash of rabdi. This place serves only Kulfi and commences business post sunset till midnight.

The love for food that people of Punjab have can be clearly seen in any of these A1 Kulfa outlets. Even on weekdays post dinner, you can see a fleet of cars eagerly awaiting to be served and you mght have a tough time placing your order.Almost every eat out in Amritsar can be found selling food sans the gloves and A1 Kulfa was no exception. People who are very particular about gloves and caps might find it hard to digest the food from such places. We personally felt that the gloves would not make any difference and would recommend you to shed your inhibitions and savor the yummy food the place has to offer.

If you are very particular of people wearing gloves and handling your food, be warned this place is not for you. If this is the only reason you want to skip this pace, you are certainly missing on a delightful dessert. Even on weekdays, at night you might have a tough time placing your order. There is usually a fleet of cars eagerly awaiting to be served.

On Queens road diagonally opposite to A1 kulfa there is a treasure trove of street food. Several shops that sell different Indian delicacies have set up stalls that come alive post sunset. There are way too many options to choose from- chaat, chinese, South Indian, Sandwiches and much more. If you are a fan of street food this place is a must visit.

If you prefer to have only vegetarian food "Sagar Ratna" restaurant on Queen's road is just the perfect place. We tried paneer butter masala, missi and butter roti. The restaurant also serves South Indian food. The dosa is ok and the chutney is refrigerated and served cold. Undoubtedly the food was amazing and service equally good. The total bill was Rs.324.

Friends dhaba on queens road would be an ideal restaurant for a good meal at a decent price. They have a wide variety of veg and non veg delicacies to choose from. We ordered a chicken biryani that was very flavorful, mild in spice and the tender chicken was cooked to perfection and had generous portion accompanied by fiery gravy. The very humble dal fry was also done very well with neatly sliced ginger and good amount of flavors. It went really well with roti topped with generous amount of butter. All of this costed us Rs 350. The service standard is pretty ok.

 Crystal restaurant at crystal chowk is a good restaurant if you prefer great ambiance over good food. Steeply priced menu clubbed with moderate food and service standards welcomed us. We had ordered chicken biryani and mixed raita that costed us Rs 686. Just that for a fraction of this price we have had better biryani. Crystal resto  and lounge on Queens road serves amazing and wide variety of ice creams. We tried the bubblegum flavor and casatta and it was quiet good though the quality of the cone could be better. The generous scoop of softy is priced at Rs 25.

Best Of Amritsar Sightseeing

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Amritsar- Heartland Of Punjab

A tour of Punjab is incomplete without a visit to Amritsar. Amritsar is the spiritual hub for not just Sikhs but people from other religions as well who are equally enchanted by "Harmandir Sahib" or popularly known as the "Golden Temple." The Golden Temple attracts more visitors than Taj Mahal in a day. Amritsar is also known for the Ramtirth temple which is believed to be the ashram of Valmiki, author of the mythological epic Ramayana.

Though neither of us are religious, every time we enter a place of worship it tends to have a soothing and calm effect on us.  It was an even better and amazing feel to visit the Golden Temple. It is very rare for us to spend a lot of time at crowded and jam packed places and we find reasons to quickly pack and leave from such attractions. But at Golden Temple it was very different, we enjoyed spending a lot of time here and not once did we even realize that we were in a crowded place. We guess that is what makes this place so special.

The amazing and beautiful temple sits pretty in the middle of a Holy Pool and is one of the Holiest places for Sikhs. The temple was constructed with the idea of welcoming people from all religions and faith for worship. The four entrances signify the openness of the temple towards other religions. In fact, the foundation stone of the temple was laid by a Muslim Sufi Saint who was invited by the then Sikh Guru.

There are two queues at the main temple. One takes you to the inner sanctum plus the first and second storeys of the Golden Temple. The other queue just gives you a glimpse of the inner sanctum and leads you to the exit. We highly recommend you visit the inner sanctum and take a complete tour of this beautiful and calm temple. The inner sanctum is a very busy place and one needs to fall in a queue to get inside. Unlike other popular temples one cannot just pay to jump queues and have his/her way through the inner sanctum. Irrespective of who you are everybody has to follow the procedure. There are several volunteers who very politely manage the crowd.

Once past the inner sanctum, one has to go clockwise and on the other side there is a staircase that leads you to the first and second storey of the temple. Here it is very calm and quiet with very few people meditating. Unlike other popular places of worship, there are no bouncers to send you packing. One can spend as much time as he/she wants without disturbing other devotees. Post this we took Kanha prasad that is made with wheat flour and ghee.

We sat by the holy pool with views of the Golden Temple beautifully lit up and the brightly colored massive fish in the pond is a big attraction. Early morning or late evening is the perfect time to visit the Golden Temple. The view of the sunset behind the temple is mesmerizing. While visiting the temple, make sure you try the Langar here and one could also volunteer here. This is one of the Holiest places so please maintain decorum and respect the sanctity of the place irrespective of your religious views.

The locality around the temple has changed drastically compared to what it was back in 2010. There seems to be a world of difference on the outside from then to now. Large scale commercial activities have come up. If you are not on a spiritual tour, it would be best to not stay around the Golden Temple. The narrow lanes and by-lanes are way too over crowded but fortunately not a thing has changed inside the Golden Temple.

Just a few hundred meters from the Golden Temple is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre site. A dark day in Indian history marked by bloodshed of several hundred people caused by one psychotic britisher General Dyer which shows how coward, ruthless and spineless the britishers were to open fire at unsuspecting, unarmed civilians who were protesting in the most civil and Gandhian way possible. Thousand of rounds were fired with absolutely no escape route for the innocent people gathered. Desperate to escape the firing, most of them jumped into a well and several of them had a miserable and painful death.

Even today bullet ridden walls stand testimony to this gory incident and the main conspirator was never punished by law for his actions. At a ripe age without an iota or shame or guilt Dyer passed away due to prolonged illness. One young Sikh who was present at Jallianwala Bagh on the fateful day, survived the gun fire and was determined and motivated to avenge the death of fellow Indians and a National Hero was born that day. Several years down the lane he traveled to London, shot and killed Michael O'Dwyer, the then Governor Of Punjab in broad day light as he had supported the massacre. This Son Of Soil was Shaheed Udham Singh.

There is Amar Jawan Jyoti at the site in Honor of the innocent victims. The colonial occupiers who are so called champions of 'Democracy and self righteousness' did not have the basic courtesy or decency to apologize for their heinous acts. Not just this incident, they have been directly responsible for several such incidents across India and other parts of the Globe. If they were to return all the stolen exhibits, The Grand Central Museum in London would have almost nothing to display.

Ram Bagh Palace was earlier the Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and was later converted to a Museum housing some rare artifacts and interesting collection of coins. The massive park surrounding the palace in the heart of the city is a perfect place to take a leisure evening stroll and is usually buzzing with activity. There is enough in the park to keep kids, youngsters and older folks occupied. The amazing part of the park were the antique looking speakers that were playing yesteryear's melodious Hindi numbers. The park houses a skating ring, jogger's /walking track and there are a lot of vendors selling snacks to fill your tummy.

We stayed at "The Grand Galaxy" hotel in hotel lane 2 on Queens Road and it was one of the best budget hotels in Amritsar. Their spacious rooms were very clean and came with all modern amenities. The best part was the amazing soft mattress and clean and comfortable quilts. They also have bike parking in their basement which helped us to a great extent as we were on a road trip. Plus there are plenty of good eat outs around the hotel. They also have WiFi which can be very comfortably accessed from their spacious lobby but it might be a little disappointing for people who need to be online 24x7.

Punjabis celebrate food and sports. We have dedicated an exclusive blog of must eat places in Amritsar. Food here is sinful and worth multiple visits.