I was prepared for a chilly January stay in Chandigarh but when I reached the city what I got was plenty of warm sunshine and an unexpected tractor ride. The mere mention of winter and most of us start to daydream about all kinds of delicious food to eat. Whatever happens after that has nothing to do with how much one ate just because it was cold outside...I blame the winter. All year round.
So my recent trip to Chandigarh was one that revolved quite heavily around food. Because I moved around food. With the residual winter hovering around, I decided to check out the outer fringes of Chandigarh city. More because we were invited by a kind farm owner. My guide asked me "Do you know what's farm in Punjabi?". To which I replied with a head shake that indicated my lack of knowledge in all things Punjabi. "Faram" came the reply from my guide. Okay then. My stay in Chandigarh was starting to sound like a happy one.
Before we began to get all hot and bothered on that fake winter day in January, we were on our way. A little outside Chandigarh, we stumbled upon a sugarcane field and there we saw few people standing near a fire pit with one very big vessel. When you spot something like this, the mind gets curious. Curiosity was good in this case because I got a chance to witness the preparation of gur or jaggery
for the first time.
A typical scene of a vast ganne ki khet (sugarcane field), a huge pile of ganna (sugarcane) on a tractor, right next to it stood a machine that pressed the juice out of those canes...in Bollywood movies one would expect a love story budding, one cane at a time. But I stood next to a roaring firepit and someone stirring tirelessly a huge vat of boiling sugarcane juice. Right after the juice was reduced to a desired consistency, it was transferred to a large pan for cooling. There it was, right in front of me, fresh organic gur. While tasting it scalded my finger, it was completely worth it.
When in Chandigarh, gur is one thing you can't and should not miss. Be it plain, with fennel seeds, with sesame or with groundnut, anything that touches gur becomes a delicious sweet treat. Winter is the time when locals enjoy rewri (made of sesame and gur) the most as sesame keeps the body warm. Also a popular winter choice is moongphali ki patti (peanut brittle). Now armed with gur in one hand and peanut brittle on the other, we headed to our destination—the farm.
Because it had to happen that way, I completed my journey to the farm on a tractor. No one was more happier that day than I was, sat tight behind the tractor driver and noisily driving through yellow fields of mustard. Finally I was in a typical Punjabi village. Our host for the day, the generous farm owner, welcomed us with large glasses of lassi
(buttermilk). The pleasant noise of a nearby pump brought my attention to a bunch of freshly washed fresh-from-the-farm vegetables. Without much ado we sat down for a lunch of typical Punjabi food. Everything on the plate came from the nearby fields, from makke ki roti
, melt-in-the-mouth sarson ka saag
to urad dal ki pinni
and a salad of radish and carrots, I knew I was eating good food as soon as I took the first bite. This time around, the fields around us had green sarson (mustard) and one could taste how fresh the vegetables were. Do tell me again why we insist on living in cities choked by pollution and eating dispair-laden processed food? What made the radish and carrots so crunchy and sweet? Was it the time of the year or the fact that the food that day was straight from the fields and the loving hands of those who tended them fields. I like to think both. Though the air was not that cold that day, but the breeze outside and the lunch out in the open was the perfect way to spend a winter's day in Chandigarh.
Getting there: There are various carriers like Indigo, Spice Jet and Jet Airways among others, flying to Chandigarh from different cities in India. Otherwise, driving down from New Delhi is always a welcome treat. Chandigarh is about 250km away from the Capital. Taking a Shatabdi from Delhi is also another way of reaching the city. Don't worry if you don't get a ticket on the Shatabdi, IRCTC has other trains too.