Travelling around the country has given us the opportunity, which we greatly cherish, to stay with hospitable and friendly villagers across different states. While certain experiences are the same, there are differences that are unique to a certain cultures or traditions, in the way of life or the food or the language. We must admit though, that as different as people are from Tamil Nadu to Punjab to Arunachal, the bottom line is almost always the same. People in villages, smaller towns and remote areas are incredibly kind and generous, welcoming us into their homes and sharing whatever they have with us, with no judgement or prior misconceptions. There is a hunger to learn and understand what people are like from different parts of this amalgamation we call India, and wherever we have been, people have been somewhat the same in this regard. Our curiosity matched only by theirs.
Punjab was no different, and the couple of different villages we stayed in were awesome experiences. Of course being in the wheat bowl of the country meant experiencing a farmstay in punjab was high up on our agenda! Interestingly we went from villages in the eastern most corner of the country to the westernmost, from the small and slightly reserved Nagas to the gregarious and towering Punjabis, from a hilly state with bad roads and stunning vistas to a flat and dusty one with lovely green and yellow fields. Life in a Naga village begins with the sun and is busy with field work and family time spent around the kitchen fire, and in an agrarian society like Punjab, life isn’t very different. Though we were happy to note that the sun rises a little later than 5am and the day, especially in winter, starts a little later.
Not far from Amritsar is a small town called Gurdaspur. A half hour from Gurdaspur is a tiny village of no more than 50 – 100 homes called Nawanpind Sardaran. It is here in this tiny village surrounded by wheat and mustard fields on one side and a low canal with rows of trees on the other side, that we spent a couple of days at the home of Mrs Satwant Kaur, the matriarch of the house, and the host of a beautiful Punjabi farmstay called simply.. The Kothi. The old Kothi was built over a hundred and fifty years ago, by Mrs Satwant’s husband’s great grandfather. His ancestors had moved to the region in search of a new land to call their own and founded the village of Nawanpind Sardaran. They brought with them families that practiced a specific trade, from cooks to farm hands to carpenters and builders and even a goldsmith. Many of the descendants of these families still live in and around the old mansion and work with the family.
The Kothi, as everyone calls it, was as we imagined and quite honestly not different from what one sees in the movies. A large sprawling mansion in red brick built around a central courtyard, where the kitchens were the center of activity. Granted there is no one singing and dancing around the place dressed in all colours of the rainbow, but you do get large glasses of yummy lassi whenever you want, the best rajma chawal for lunch, sarson ka saag and makki ki roti made from their own fields and paranthas dripping with white butter. We ate our meals in the warm kitchen with fantastic and mouth watering smells swirling around the place, as the cook whipped up the many delicacies. From the roof of the two storied mansion there are fields in all directions and you can see farm hands and village folk going about their business. In the evenings we saw them gathered around their homes, sharing tea and stories of the day, the latest topic of gossip being the impending wedding of one of their own. We were a bit sad we wouldn’t be there for the wedding.
The Kothi, apart from being the home of the Sangha family, is also now a Punjabi farmstay and yoga retreat, started by one of the 5 daughters of Mrs Satwant, the very enterprising and friendly Manpreet. The house had sprawling gardens in front and a massive courtyard in the middle. The courtyard used to be bigger we were told, but one section of the house has been walled off; it was done when the house and land was divided among children several generations ago. And while there might be walls and separate section, internally the homes are all still connected. The part that we stayed in was a little more modern, with the required amenities for weary travellers, but otherwise largely unchanged for decades. Despite the changes, the British style dining area and modern amenities, the house and surroundings have retained traditional character of a Punjabi kothi, which you can tell from the black and white photographs around the living room. The courtyard had a low seating area around a fire pit, which was lit in the evenings, complete with charpoys made with rope.
Our time in the Kothi was spent the way we like it, easy and relaxed, with lots of conversation thrown in and the occasional activity. Mornings were spent cycling along the canal or walking in the mustard and sugarcane fields, afternoons involved lazing in the courtyard with a good book and evenings meant exploring the village and or chatting with Mrs Satwant. After travelling around the state for a couple of weeks, exploring the many majestic forts and former princely states, we were thoroughly enjoying the slow life in the village and our pampered stay at the Kothi.
Life in a Punjabi village is hard, not unlike any other village across the country, but as we heard time and time again, there is a certain satisfaction to be had from living the simple life and doing things with your own hands, far away from the hustle and stress of the city. There is much to be done, from tending to the fields to taking care of cattle and other farm animals, to taking care of the home and people. The Punjabi’s are extremely hardworking and enterprising folk, and have built a state that is the most fertile in the country, growing wheat, barley, rice, mustard and other crops, from a land that was at one time marshy and barren. They are also an extremely warm and hospitable people, every ready for conversation and are highly opinionated about most things. While life in rural Punjab might not look like a Bollywood movie, it is an experience we highly recommend, complete with awesome food, much laughter and perhaps the chance to drive a tractor.
Some Useful Information:
Where to Stay: There are a number of villages across Punjab where families are opening their homes up to travellers who are looking for a rural tourism experience. Gurdaspur, about an hour and a half way from Amritsar has a couple of options. We stayed at The Kothi run by the lovely Sangha family, an experience we wholeheartedly recommend.
How to Get There: From Amritsar there are regular buses to Gurdaspur which is about 80 Km away. The Kothi will arrange a pick up from Gurdaspur to take you to the village of Nawanpind Sardaran (where the farm stay is located) which is a few kilometers outside the main town.
Don’t Miss: If you find the time, make a quick stop at the Takht – I – Akbari in Batala, where a young Emperor Akbar was hastily crowned in February 1556 at the age of 13, following the sudden death of his father, Humayun.