Leaving hundreds of early morning squatters behind in the suburbs of Delhi, our train to Amritsar made its way swiftly into the heart of lush green Punjab where miles and miles of farmland spread like a butter soft quilt over the landscape. Villages dotted the land for as far as one could see. Well fed cattle grazed tranquilly and red and blue tractors chugged their way through fields. Our coach carried a mixed bag of passengers. There was a large group of elderly military veterans – both men and women. Most men in this group sported snow white handlebar moustaches that were quite the rage amongst military men a few decades ago. The women were sleek and fit despite their ripe age. They spent their hours on the train debating convivially about current affairs like the recent OROP bill, tension at the Indo-Pak border etc. It was nice to see them as it reminded me of my own parents who would have felt right at home with these gentlemen and ladies.
Then there was the quintessential Indian-American family on their annual vacation to India. The kids were armed with iPads to ward off an ailment that seems to assail the young very frequently these days – Boredom. They spoke in thick accents that no one but their parents seemed to understand. The parents, on the other hand, were well equipped to battle an Indian menace of another kind altogether – Germs! With swathes of disinfectant wipes and bottles of scented hand sanitizers, Indians who come back after years spent abroad, try to annihilate all generations of germs around them by furiously scrubbing and wiping every surface that they might deign to touch.
And then we had the nauseatingly love-struck newlyweds. This is in fact a unique subsection of mankind. The male and female counterparts are so engrossed in each other that they look like one giant glob instead of two separate individuals. The excessive love that is oozing from each pore on their bodies aids in this fusion. Braving the sharp lacquer work on the girl’s twenty two dozen glass bangles and the skin-repelling fabric of the guy’s shirt, the two remain firmly glued to each other.
Keeping Abu entertained and busy throughout the 7 hour journey was not a big challenge. There were many sights that kept him peeled to the window. Stacks of large shipping containers that looked like life-sized Lego blocks, baby goats frolicking by a gurgling stream and a gaggle of geese merrily waddling away were just a few of them. The excitement of being inside the womb of an actual train made him even more gleeful.
Having heard endless tales of the delicious food that Amritsar has to offer, we were eager to sample some of its famous wares. As our train pulled into Amritsar Junction right around lunch time, we happily scooped up our meagre luggage and our not-so-meagre toddler and headed straight to one of the most iconic eateries of Amritsar – Makhan. It is here that we had our first taste of the much talked about – Amritsari Fried Fish. Crisp and mildly flavoured with salt and chaat masala, the fried fish at Amritsar is not like anything I have tasted before. The thin and crunchy outer layer is a perfect encasement for the succulent fish inside. Even though it is fried, there is no oily after-taste in the mouth upon eating it. The Amritsari Fried Fish is a must-try if someone is visiting Amritsar. The naans and the kulchas at Makhan are to die for too as are the chicken ra-ra and the paneer tikka masala. After eating at Makhan I can safely say that if I were to place the same order at any popular eatery in Delhi, it would taste half as scrumptious as it did here at Amritsar.
From Makhan we could think of nowhere else to go but our comfortable hotel room where a large bed awaited us. All those carbs that we had ingested at Makhan were beginning to have a stronger effect than any prescription sleep medication and soon all three of us were out like lightbulbs...to be continued