“We are going to the khet!” quips my Punjabi husband as we finalise our very selective travel itinerary for Amritsar, having only four days in hand. That joy of visiting one’s homeland is evident on his face even though he is very much a Delhi boy, born and brought up in the capital city. He has paid extra attention this time to all the planning and booking of properties, probably because it’s his pind or to ensure that nothing from his wishlist of ‘things to do in Amritsar’ is missed. For one night we pick a farm stay to experience Punjab’s pristine beauty.
“Yes, khet it is! Living in the fields in the middle of nowhere. Just you and me,” I add, dreamily. Courtesy our Bollywood flicks, panning shots of Punjab’s mustard fields run in my mind. It seems surreal to have actually found a farmstay to match our idea of picture perfect, and that too a very good looking one. In fact Airbnb has interesting farmstay options near about Amritsar, but Punjabiat instantly wins our vote with stunning pictures of traditional mud houses amidst lush green fields, promising a secluded countryside experience but with the comfort of modern luxury.
Run by Itmenaan Lodges, who also have boutique resorts and experiences in Uttrakhand, Punjabiat is about 100 kilometres away from Amritsar towards Gurdaspur, roughly clocking 90 minutes. The well-maintained highway makes the drive to the property enjoyable until the navigation leads us away from it into the farm area. The path thereon is bumpy with deceptively narrow, untarred roads.
“Are you sure this is the way?” I ask my husband who has no doubt been intently following Google Maps, but then again it is not always 100 percent accurate. It’s hard to picture the car being able to drive through the narrow path.
“The map shows we are heading the right way,” says my husband, rechecking the route. “Oh, there! There’s a signboard,” he points out. Strategically placed indeed! We follow the arrows that guide us through tall, sugarcane grass fields to finally reveal our destination. And as we had imagined, in the middle of nowhere is Punjabiat with just a handful of mud cottages sans boundary walls or fences.
A turban-clad guard sporting a big moustache greets us at the entrance with a warm Sat-Sri-Akal. The path further narrows to lead us to the common area where the staff welcome us and help us settle down in our tastefully done up mud cottage. The polished, solid wood furniture is hard to glance away from, as well as the wooden ceiling. I admit, I have a soft corner for good wood work. We notice that there are only four standalone cottages in the property for stay, making the experience even more exclusive.
Living the Farm Life at Punjabiat
Sitting at the front porch of the mud cottage, sipping honey ginger tea and overlooking the sprouting wheat fields, a sense of calm overwhelms me. My husband and I lounge around for hours together, soaking the sun rays and having no care of time or the world around us. There’s no one to interrupt either.
At a distance, a farmer dedicatedly waters the field while a dog sniffs his way around, joyfully wagging his tail as though he too approves of the greenery around. I look up at the bright blue sky with playful clouds, a sight that’s hard to come by in Delhi. The sun rays envelop me in a cosy snuggle and lull me to sleep.
I don’t remember when I fall asleep, but I wake up to a sinking sun. There’s still some time left until sunset, and so we decide to head out for a stroll. It’s chilly now and the mist slowly but steadily starts to wrap around the fields. I breathe in the cool air, as though to cleanse my lungs from Delhi’s pollutants. We walk through the sugarcane grass. I stop to capture pictures of the towering stems and the spike-like leaves, while my husband struggles but succeeds to pull out a stem to bite into the sweet, juicy flesh. It makes for a great snack as we continue walking aimlessly, mesmerised by the beauty around.
Feasting on Punjabi Dinner
Most Punjabi restaurants across the country present a cuisine that is far from what the locals actually eat at home. Being married to a Punjabi, I now know that their food is neither greasy nor cooked in excessive spices as commonly assumed. It is in fact very flavourful, and a little dollop of ghee works wonders to make it a lip-smacking affair. The food at Punjabiat is a perfect case in point. Unlike the famous restaurants in Amritsar, the dishes here are light, made by sourcing the ingredients from the farm. They take pride in their tandoori dishes as well as the barbecued snacks.
The dinner table is laid out for two of us, and piping hot dishes are served, which include Jeera Aloo, Paneer Capsicum, Rajma, Chicken Curry, Phulka, Rice and Doodh Seviyan. Our favourites are the Chicken Curry and Doodh Seviyan even though the other dishes are delicious too. “Good that we picked Doodh Seviyan rather than Gajar Halwa and Banoffee Pie. It’s so good!,” remarks my husband as he wipes clean his third helping.
Morning at the Farm
We wake up early to a misty morning. The air is chilly yet we gear up to explore the fields with enlivened spirits. There are bicycles parked, which guests can use for free to ride around. There’s also the option of a tractor ride for a more local feel. I can’t help but smile at the thought of following Airbnb’s tagline quite literally – #livethere. It is rightly said, to truly experience a place one needs to live like a local. So we try it all – bicycles, tractor ride, posing like Shah Rukh Khan amidst sarson ka khet, eating parathas topped with dollops of white butter, uprooting sugarcane stems and biting into it, dancing Bhangra, as well as taking pictures and boomerangs to capture those moments.
I had picked up Khushwant Singh’s book titled A History of the Sikhs: Volume 1 to read during my stay at the farm. He had beautifully described Punjab’s countryside and the changing seasons in the first chapter, which read as, “The countryside is an expanse of mustard yellow, broken by solid squares of green sugarcane with its fluffy pampas plumes. If the winter monsoon has been good, a crop of wheat, barley, gram, oilseeds, and tobacco will cover the land with lush abundance. Peasants supplement the rain by canal water, or, where there are no canals, by Persian wheels turned by bullocks or camels. Around the wells grow vegetables: carrots, radishes, cabbages and cauliflower. Branches of Jujube trees sag under the weight of their berries..”
I can happily say that we witness all the above and more by choosing to stay at Punjabiat. It is indeed our picture perfect – 24 hours of being disconnected from the rest of the world. As I pick my bag to head to the car, I look to the fields through the glass window to capture that spectacular view of the fields one last time. I promise to visit again.