I have to confess (sorry Shibani!) I was mildly apprehensive about the Amritsar trip. I have never travelled with a group of strangers before, mentally relegating it to the kind of thing that scarey cat people did, who were nervous about dealing with new things and places, whereas I liked to see myself as an intrepid traveller who ventured forth and did things.
However, I had always wanted to go to Amritsar and see the Waga border. And frolic amidst the mustard fields of the Punjab, which have always seemed a different country, known only through hearty images in films and ads. And the timing was perfect. And maybe I am a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to travelling with my son, so I signed up.
We all met at the station—four sets of mothers with accompanying children (the fifth set was flying in from Mumbai). And Shibani turned up—bulging minorly in front as she had Krishna, her one-plus son, in a sling and majorly at the back from a gigantic rucksack about four times the size of Krishna. The children, ranging in age from about six to twelve, eyed one another cautiously and decided that they would not be mortal enemies. The mothers sighed and put their feet up as the Shatabdi chugged out of early morning Delhi.
Many pretty mustard fields later, we reached Amritsar (the Shatabdi turns into a bit of a local train beyond Chandigarh) and hauled ourselves into taxis on the road to Punjabiyat, a drive punctuated by a fabulous meal at SK Dhaba. The butter naan had pools of butter; the alooparatha had pools of butter; the chholey had pools of butter—we knew we were in Punjab!
Punjabiyat is five quiet rooms—built as separate buildings—and a couple of common spaces, set amidst the farmland. It was almost eerily quiet for us city types, and almost equally beautiful in limpid green during the day and in the quiet pools of lamplight at night. There was a quick bullock cart ride for the kids after we reached, and a disco tractor to admire. And tea and pakoras. The rooms were gorgeous, with high beds, and the bathrooms were dreamy. The children bonded by the bonfire and in sessions of dark room, and the mothers drank quiet whiskies and wines and ate gargantuan meals. Yes, we were strangers but I guess women who go on holidays with their kids have a certain amount in common—financial independence and a disposition to travel on their own—and we bonded and laughed together after the kids went off to bed.
The following day was a buzz of activity. We went to the Golden Temple, ate at a dhaba and went to the Wagah border for the evening lowering of the flags, a bizarre and slightly disturbing ceremony.
The third day was a delightful slump of inactivity. We sat around, read, chatted. The children flew kites and made cow patties and ran through the fields. Desultory badminton was played. Random art happened. A few naps here and there. We luxuriated in doing nothing in the winter sun—surely, there is no greater pleasure!
And then a massive lunch in the woods later, it was sadly time to go back—on the Shatabdi with a bunch of very aggressive fellow passengers.
The trip was a perfect mix of activity and inactivity. Shibani organized enough stuff to keep us all entertained, but also left lots of time for us to hang around, which is surely the most delightful part of the holiday. The stay and food were gorgeous—and her impeccable handling of the red tape at the Wagah ceremony made our visit very smooth and trouble free. And I loved my fellow travelers—it was a great and entertaining group—and would love to go on holiday with them again!