Punjab: India’s overlooked travel destination

Westerners made to feel very welcome in the land of the five rivers

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By David Smith

Although often overlooked by travelers, the state of Punjab in Northern India offers an experience so rich in hospitality it won’t soon be forgotten. Upon arrival, explorers are often overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the locals: if you don’t drink Chai tea already, you will by the time you leave as it is difficult to go 10 yards without being pulled into a home or storefront to enjoy a cup and a visit.

And if not persistent you will end up a more permanent fixture, settling in as a house guest for an undetermined length of time, or perhaps finding yourselves as the guests of honour at a Punjabi wedding (true story!). With Punjabis found around the world, (close to 1 million live in Canada alone), you can expect to be bombarded not only with kindness, but also requests to contact cousins, uncles and nephews upon your return home.

Meaning the land of five rivers in Persian (the five tributaries to the Indus river from which India gets its name), the Punjab is an arid yet fertile plain which provides much of the agricultural production and commerce for the entire nation. It contains one of the world’s oldest cultures, boasting a very complex and sophisticated history. To many it is well known as the homeland of the Sikh religion, the fifth largest faith in the world and the dominant ethnic group found in Punjab, comprising over 65 per cent of the population.

In addition to Sikhism, Punjab is well known for perhaps its biggest international export, Bhangra music. Often adopted by western musicians and producers, its infectious sounds are indeed heard throughout the state, accompanied with beautifully complex dances. Both have been popularized in Bollywood films and have come to represent India as a whole to the rest of the world.

The capital city of Chandigarh offers a polarity to the rest of the country with its high standard of living and per capita wealth. It is one of the most beautiful cities in India, boasting ample green space, well maintained roadways and considerable urban organization. Recently it separated itself from the rest of the country by taking a forward thinking stance and being the first city to pass “smoke free” regulations.

Despite the many interesting things to see and do throughout Punjab, there is one sight which cannot be skipped: The crown jewel of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, rivaling the Taj Mahal in its grandness and beauty.

The Golden Temple is at the heart of the Sikh faith, with a pilgrimage there being a lifetime achievement, equivalent to an Islamic devotee traveling to Mecca. True to its name, the Temple is a majestic structure studded with precious gems and capped with a giant inverted Lotus flower gilded of gold. Inside is found the Adi Grantha, the most sacred scripture for the Sikhs. Pilgrims flow through one of the four entrances (the four entrances signifying openness and acceptance to all) throughout the day and night, free to spend as long as they wish basking in the temple’s religious glow.

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