“Love is a very Western Concept.” Six words uttered on a cool Edinburgh evening, walking beneath Marchmont’s towering tenements, and a brooding sky.
In India, falling in love prior to marriage is viewed as disruptive - dangerous even - an act considered entirely antisocial. Ironically - love happens to be exactly the the reason I find myself in India during a swelteringly hot July. Can you really say you have lived if you haven’t been to an Indian Wedding?!
My thoughts on where to go, what to eat and what to pack for a 3 week stint in Punjab!
Unless you wish to brave trains, or have a local guide and weeks to explore, stick to one area at a time - India is large and often overwhelming - particularly in 40 degree heat. Whether visiting Mumbai, Delhi or Amritsar you are promised inspiration and surprises at every turn.
I'm in Punjab, home to Sikhism and often referred to as India’s breadbasket due to its fertile farmland and arguably India’s finest food! And since you asked…
What to Eat
Forget fine restaurants, the best food is found in humble homes and street stalls - yes, really! Kulcha, Paratha, Paneer, Besan ladoo, the food in India is hearty and delicious with plenty to choose from whether a meat eater or a vegetarian. I always pick food up on the go from street vendors who serve staples and seasonal favourites. In the winter, my go-to drink is Cane Juice freshly pressed and squeezed. In the summer however, I couldn't resist the Doodh (milk) Soda - creamy, sweet, shockingly pink and deliciously cooling, and the Falooda - a dessert made from layers of vermicelli, rose syrup, sweet basil seeds, nuts and rich ice cream - served roadside!
Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention Chai. Forget coffee, in India it’s all about sweet hot chai! Black tea boiled with milk, sugar and aromatic spices for a comforting pick-me-up! Served in every home, chai is to India what tea and biscuits are to the UK!
Where to Go
I never visit Punjab without a trip to The Golden Temple in Amritsar. Famous for its full golden dome, it is one of the most sacred pilgrim sights for Sikhs. Built on a 67ft square piece of marble surrounded by water on all four sides, the Temple itself is a two storied structure built using 500kg of 24 carat gold. The pool surrounding the temple is known as the Amrit Sarovar which is considered sacred by Sikhs who often bathe in the clear water of the Sarovar before offering prayers.
With four entrances symbolising openness to all devotees regardless of religion, caste or creed, the Golden Temple is open to everyone. It is also recognised as the largest free kitchen in the world, serving langar - a free hot meal - to around fifty thousand visitors daily. A simple meal consisting of roti, daal and kheer enjoyed cross legged on the floor of the langar hall. The food is prepped by thousands of volunteers daily, using ingredients bought with the donations of devotees around the world.
It's also well worth getting out of the city - if you have ever seen a Punjabi film it’s all about communities and village life. I'm lucky enough to be village based when in India however if you aren’t, I'd recommend visiting Sadda Pind for a true taste of Punjabi life. See artisans at work making traditional clothes, shoes and food. See what villagers experienced before shopping malls and city life became so accessible - when mobile cinemas would travel village to village and communities would gather around the community oven to exchange gossip and cook roti!
One of the best things we squeezed into our trip - even if it was just because of the 10 degree temperature drop - was going to Himachal Pradesh. Situated further north, in the Western Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh is famous for its beautiful landscapes, hill stations and Bhuddhist Architecture.
What to Pack
What to pack will vary depending on time of year and place of travel, however even during Winter, Punjab can go into the mid-twenties. I lived in floaty linen and cotton dresses - colourful, cool and comfortable - which, believe me, you need when surrounded by the delicious food!
Part Two Pam Polka Coral Dress - £149.95 | Pearl & Caviar Dress - Sold Out |
It would be rude not to indulge in a spot of retail therapy, and when fabric can be bought and outfits tailored to your measurements for such great prices, I'm hard pressed not to invest in some traditional clothes. For women, tradition dictates the Salwar Kameez - a three piece suit consisting of trousers, a long blouse and dupatta (scarf). Shops sell both stitched and unstitched suits with as much beading and embroidery work as you want - whereas in cloth shops you can buy fabric by the metre and a plain dupatta which you can get dyed by a street vendor to the exact shade of cloth purchased - a real art!
And as for a the wedding - if you get the chance to attend a Punjabi wedding - go! It's an experience you will never forget - a week filled with laughter, dancing, food, tradition, music, happy tears and truly beautiful clothes!