We left Delhi around 3:00 pm. It took almost an hour to reach the city limits but I was delighted to see that we had a modern divided highway to travel on. A short time later, we left the State of Delhi and entered the State of Haryana. Before long we were travelling through fields of wheat and acres of sunflowers. The harvest is almost complete and many farmers are burning the stubble in their fields in preparation for planting a summer crop of rice. It was a feast for the eyes after the busy city and we sank back in our seats for the five hour drive to our first stop, the city of Patiala in the State of Punjab. Unfortunately, Ajay is the only one of the four of us licensed to drive so we promised to stay awake and not doze off after our big lunch.
The drive was uneventful and I watched as the sun sank lower in the sky and the beautiful dusk that I have always loved in India settled in.
Not long after passing through the city of Ambala, we turned off the main highway and entered a picturesque two lane country road. It was quite dark by this time and Ajay was disappointed that I wasn't able to see the fields and the small villages as we drove along. He likes to take this route whenever he travels to Patiala to visit Neeta's relatives. He assured me we would return on the same road in daylight on our way back to Delhi on Sunday.
About halfway along the rural road we suddenly came upon piles and piles of gravel on either side of the road. There is a major project underway to revitalize the road and our "short-cut" ending up being a "long-cut". I didn't mind because it meant that we drove much slower than we would have otherwise and this nervous passenger spared her nerves a little as a result.
We arrived to a warm welcome from Neeta's step-mother, Mrs. Kashyap and the young man who works for her in the house, Anil. I wasn't feeling too well that day - upset tummy from something I ate, so I lay down for a rest and the others caught up on all the family news. We had a wonderful supper, Mrs. Kashyap went all out to make Ajay's favorite dishes and we all ate well as a result. We had a tour of the spacious house, I loved it for all it's old-world character. The ceilings in the rooms are at least 14 ft high, the walls are white-washed and all the wooden trim is painted sky blue. The outside temperature reached 40 degrees that afternoon, but the house, with its thick walls, stayed remarkably cool. Just the same, we were relieved to learn that our room had AC so we knew we would sleep well and be fresh for the next day's journey to Amritsar.
After a wonderful breakfast of alu paratha and yogurt, we headed off for Amritsar, another five-hour drive away. Our plan was to see the "changing of the guard" at the border with Pakistan and visit the Golden Temple and Jalianwalla Bagh. I have done separate entries for these places as they are each so amazing. We spent one night in Amritsar and then returned to Patiala for a second night with the Aunties. About halfway to Patiala, as we passed through the town of Ludhiana, Ajay felt there was something wrong with the car and pulled to the side of the road. It appeared that the clutch was gone - a major problem and a major job to have repaired. We looked across the highway and couldn't believe our eyes when we found we had broken down in front of a Maruti dealership. We were driving a Maruti "Wagon R", and we were just where we needed to be to have it serviced.
It was now 4:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon and we knew we couldn't get the car fixed right away. We arranged to hire a taxi to take us to Patiala and the dealership would repair the car and have it brought to us by noon the following day. That seemed to be the best solution. We moved all our bags to the dilapidated Indica car that came calling itself a taxi and headed off down the highway at great speed. The car was supposed to be air-conditioned, but it only worked intermittently and we suffered in the afternoon heat. The driver was a kamakazi driver, driving too fast and recklessly. I was frustrated that neither Anil nor Ajay said anything to him about his driving. Suddenly, we had a very close call while passing a car and we all started yelling at the driver to slow down and smarten up. We finally arrived at the Aunties house and I hurried off for a shower - hoping to cool off my body and my temper. Once again they spoiled us rotten and we shared lots of love and laughter.
Editor's Note: The final of the World Cup of cricket was to be televised that night starting at 8:00 p.m. Because of a rain delay (in Barbados) the game did not begin till 10:30 p.m. Anil and his brother Ajay stayed up till the wee hours of the morning cheering for Sri Lanka. Sadly the Aussies won. While several million Indians watched this game, my wife slept through the whole thing. Hence this minor omission on her part!!!
The dealership sent the car as arranged and before leaving Patiala we took a spin around the city and visited the Sunday market in the old town. Another amazing meal and it was time to head back to Delhi if we were going to reach the city limits before it became too dark. Along the way, I asked Ajay to stop several times so that I could take pictures of the incredible structures that the farmers build to store the feed for their water buffalo and the dried dung that they use for fuel. Each and every place we stopped, the farmers we more that pleased for me to take pictures and all offered us cold water, milky tea or lassi (yogurt shake). Their willingness to share their food and drink with strangers is legendary.
I was sorry to have missed Baisakhi, the Harvest Festival held each year on April 13th or 14th. By mid-April most of the wheat harvesting is done. The fields are full of stubble or cut-wheat waiting to be thrashed. Everywhere we looked, farmers were piling the bagged grain, storing the cut straw or burning the fields in preparation for a summer crop of rice. Once the charred field is finished burning, it is flooded with water and then plowed. The rice seedlings are then transplanted and another season's crop is on its way. We have heard for years that India is now self-sufficient in cereal grains and this tour of the Punjab was a validation of this fact. However, once we were back in Delhi we read in the paper that India is once again having to import wheat for domestic consumption. It seems more and more farmers are giving up the land or turning to other crops. The government will surely have to take action to provide incentives for farmers to continue on the land or the price of the tasty chappati will pinch everyone in the northern states.
Baisakhi is celebrated in a big way by the Sikh community. There is music, dancing and non-stop feasting. We would have liked to witness the celebration first hand, but we were across India, high in the Himalayas at the time. Maybe next year!
As we drove down the "country road" I snapped a picture of the trees almost touching above us. Just before we joined the National Highway once again, we were stopped at a level crossing while we waited for the train to pass. At last I could see it coming, but I was not prepared for the speed at which it passed. All of India is moving full steam ahead, and this was a strong reminder of the fast pace of life in the cities, especially Delhi our destination for the end of the day.