Waking up to the sounds of early morning stirrings in a village in Punjab was something that was totally unfamiliar to my ears which are so used to the sounds of city life. The subtle sounds of prayer from the neighbourhood gurdwara (a place of worship for Sikhs), cows mooing, and cockerels crowing were just a few of the many sounds I could hear. The smell in the air was so unusual too. That was my first morning in Khumber, Haryana, a tiny village on the border of Punjab, where many of my relatives, mostly farmers with acres of agricultural land, reside.
Having visited this same village some 17 years ago, it was great to note that modernisation had come into this village, with tractors and other machinery making life easier for this lot of people who toiled in the fields, Fields planted with wheat and mustard are a common sight in the winter months. A sight to behold are the fields of yellow mustard flowers dotting the landscape. Besides these cash crops, vegetables are planted for the daily consumption of the farming community who are mostly vegetarians. The fresh produce from the fields cooked with homemade butter is simply out of the world!
After a couple of days in the village, we ventured to Amritsar, to pay homage to one of the world’s wonders, Sri Harmandir Sahib or popularly known as Golden Temple. Travelling there took us further north through the countryside passing through farmland as far as the eye can see. Another common sight is rivers and dams used extensively for irrigation purposes. Now I could understand how the state of Punjab got its name. Punjab, which means five rivers, has five rivers flowing through it.
Amritsar was buzzing with life, with loads of tourists from all over the world. It has been acknowledged that the Golden Temple attracts the most number of visitors compared to the other wonders of the world. The temple building was initiated by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan, and completed in 1601. Gold leafed copper sheets were laid on the central dome of the temple and upper half of the walls by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1830. Prayers are continuously recited and hymns are sung throughout the day by the various priests appointed as well as volunteers.
Amritsar is also known for its shopping areas around the temple. The retail outlets get a high turnover of business with the constant flow of devotees pouring into the city.
Heading off to Ludhiana and Anandpur Sahib was next on our travel itinerary. We passed through the countryside as well as the Macchiwarha Forest where we sighted lots of unusual birds including peacocks. Peacocks in the wild were a breathtaking sight as they spread out their beautiful feathers in the morning sun and paraded in the forest. Parrots heard from afar with their noisy chatter were aplenty too.
The Keshgarh Sahib Gurdwara in Anandpur Sahib is another important landmark in Sikh history. Perched at the top of a hill, a beautiful structure in white, it has devotees paying homage throughout the year. Displayed in the cabinets of the gurdwara are items belonging to the gurus of the Sikh religion. Ludhiana, the next city we were headed for, was basically a commercial town – a shopping destination that was an exciting stopover for our all female group.
Upon our return to Khumber, the starting point of our visit, we again enjoyed the lovely vegetarian fare and the company of close family members before concluding our trip in Punjab. For the last leg of our tour, a visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra was not to be missed.
Taj Mahal, another great wonder of the world, simply looks magical in the setting sun, with the white marble looking so pure against the setting of wheat and mustard fields in the background. Even though I have visited Agra before, I feel one never tires gazing at this mausoleum dedicated to Mumtaz by her husband, Shah Jahan, the Moghul ruler. Visiting the tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan and listening to the evening prayers being recited made this last stop of our trip so poignant.
Now, on recollecting my trip, I feel blessed to have spent a good three weeks on such a memorable adventure, visiting most of Punjab’s cities and towns within a fairly short time and during such lovely cool weather.
All’s well that ends well as we headed home to Kuala Lumpur.