I boarded the bus to Gurdaspur from Amritsar Bus Stand, it looked like there are frequent buses to Gurdaspur as I did not have to wait for it. The drive to Gurdaspur is through well tarred roads flanked by the Safeda tree on either side and green fields stretching endlessly from it. I could already feel the rustic Punjab village as the city dwellings were reduced and only farms stretched across. A representative from The Kothi picked me up from the Gurdaspur bi-pass road, you do not have to enter Gurdaspur town to get to the property. Upon diversion, the road starts to get narrower, tractors start to appear and the canal carrying the teal colored water from Beas river follows you along.
The Kothi – Punjab Village Stay
The gates of The Kothi opened up to what looked like a Zamindar House. A sprawling garden just watered, a front sit out area, a British colonial styled living room, an open courtyard with charpai to rest, waft of brewing tea coming out of the kitchen and then upstairs were the big comfortable bedrooms. The house looked convenient for the modern traveler in spite of it being a 150 year old. In Punjabi, Kothi simply means a luxurious home with lot of rooms, gardens, courtyard, verandahs and backyard. Well it was true to its name. Looking down through the fluttering curtains into the courtyard, I was expecting a flash mob of bhangra to break out at any moment! Bollywood has spoiled me I say 🙂 The property has now been been divided among the siblings, so a wall runs separating the house, one side of it being The Kothi.. Standing on the terrace, one gets to see the vastness of the property, the houses around, Punjab village life and the people carrying on with their farm work. Hot Chai and home made snack served up in the garden was waiting for me! I did not have any shame and finished up the yummy snacks along with the tasty chai. Just then the elegant lady of the house Mrs. Satwant Kaur Sangha dropped in.
It was evening time and just when we sat for a chat, the Granthi (Sikh priest) walked in to perform rituals. Having watched from a distance at the Gurudwara on what they do and how they perform the rituals, it was nice to see it up close. Mrs.Sangha briefed me about Sikhism which by now I was familiar with and got my doubts clarified. And then the discussion veered towards how her fore fathers built this village called Nawanpind Sardaran and this heritage property. It then dawned on me that I was amidst things that has been through times immortal. There was yet another story she told me that shook me a little. It was about the massive massacre of Sikhs called Chotta Ghallugara.
The tiff between the Sikhs and Mughals is a known story. If you don’t know the gist it, the mughals were converting everyone into Islam. The Sikhs were not ready to convert, so they were tortured to convert, killed if not and many wars were fought with the Sikhs to capture their land and massacre them. During one such time the Sikhs had taken shelter or rather were hiding among the marsh lands of Kahnuwan in Gurdaspur district by river Ravi. Knowing that majority of the Sikhs were present here, the Mughal diwan who was already on the mode to wipe out Sikhs to avenge his brother’s death, decided to attack them. Diwan Lakhpat Rai besieged the marsh land with his army and attacked them with weapons. Though the Sikhs were no match to the army or the weapons, they still managed to fight against them and somewhere forced to flee the lands, had to cross the river to the upper mountains of Himalayas. The Sikh forces used guerrilla kind of attack where, in the night they would attack the army camps, steal the rations, weapon and animals and disappear before the army could attack. But the marsh lands were lit on fire, some died in the fire, some while crossing the swollen river, some were attacked while getting on to the mountains, some even though managed to reach Lahore they were captured and were killed. Nearly 7000 to 11k Sikhs were killed during this two months war that went on from April-June 1746. This my friends, in spite of the staggering number of 7000 people, is called Chotta Ghallugara meaning the lesser holocaust! There is one more story called Waddaa Ghallugara where nearly 20k people were killed. But am not getting into that story as it happened else where. After listening to this story I decided to go to the Chotta Ghalugara memorial the next day.
I woke up to the pleasant sound of birds and warm rays of sun peeping in through the color tinted windows. This windows are like a mini balcony in itself. If I build a house one day I will make use of this style. It opens up for the tree branch to lean in and say hello to you yet the branch is not on your face. It was not winter in Punjab and so the mustard farms were not up yet. I went on a stroll along the canal, the mist was just setting in the water even though it was already 8am. It is a pleasant sight to see. The day was just beginning and the tractors were on their way to the farms. The village itself is a small one that you can just walk around. By the time I was back to The Kothi, there were curious friendly kids who wanted to know what this aunty was upto in their village 😀 The Kothi itself was gearing up for the day. Dry leaves from the garden cleared, front yard swept, the gardens watered, birds pecking on food and the smell of parantha made me go straight to the dining hall. Home made pickle and ghee laden mooli ka paratha was just too yumm and heavy for breakfast.
Chotta Ghallugara Gurudwara & Chotta Ghallugara Memorial
Driving through narrow roads that turn into fields after fields, I arrived at the Chotta Ghallugara Gurudwara. Built to honor the martyrs of the massacre, the Gurudwara stands right on a small canal across the fields. It is a small one compared to the Gurudwaras that I have seen across Punjab. This is more like the small Ganapati temple you will find in every other street that you can visit to sit in peace as there will be no crowd, no show or no pomp. However I was told it gets crowded too on weekends and on the martyr memorial day. The serenity and calmness that prevails in every other Gurudwara was found here too. There were not many visitors and so there was a generous serving of Khada prasad to me 🙂 I love this sweet that they offer in Gurudwaras, made of coarsely ground wheat and plenty of ghee. I sat there for few minutes and then walked around the Gurudwara to feel the breeze from the fields before heading out. Langar will be served only during the lunch and dinner time here.
Just a kilometer away from the Gurudwara is the memorial constructed by the Government of India for the martyrs. The memorial is constructed right on the Khanuwan village. It is a little surprising to imagine it to be marsh lands once upon a time considering how fertile it is now. The memorial needs a little maintenance. It is huge and there were just couple of caretakers to weed the garden and wipe the floor. The entry to the memorial reads about the history which was what the hostess had told me too. Walking towards the memorial, there stands a tall tower with the symbol of Sikhism on top. There was a door and the top of the tower seemed to have windows so one should be able to climb it like light houses. But the door was locked and sweltering heat prevented me from even looking for the care taker to open the doors. Coming here around sunset time would be a better idea. The memorial is definitely worth a visit.
Shri Pindori Dham
The other attraction that was suggested to me by the driver was to visit Shri Pindori Dham. It is a Vaishnavite temple dedicated to Lord Ram. The moment I was told that it is an age old Ram temple, I nodded my head in excitement. It was established by Shri Bhagwan Ji. Initially it was just a thatched roof temple where Shri Bhagwan Ji would pray and meditate. The powers of this swamiji was wide spread that the Mughal emperor Jehangir wishes to meet him. However, every time he comes to meet the swamiji, the swamiji would burrow through the ground and go off to different places to avoid all the pomp and show. There are some caves connecting the cities and places as a proof to this theory. One day Jehangir catches hold of his disciple Narain and interrogates him to know about the whereabouts of the swamiji. However, the disciple is on a mouna vrath that day so he refuses to speak. Jehangir then pushes down his throat cups of poison after poison but miraculously nothing happens. Overwhelmed by the power of Shri Bhagwan Ji, Jehangir contributes a huge fund and builds a temple in the place of the thatched roof temple. My driver told bits and pieces of this story and I was excited to visit this historical place.
When I arrived at Pindori darbar, it was not what I had expected to see. A huge modern compound wall and the new structures in the front gave no clue that it was an age old temple. The temple has domes like that of Mughal architecture. At the gates I was asked to submit my camera and mobile phone and everything! Problem with most of the temples. Inside the gates was a dharmshala and a school and it looked abuzz like a town. It was more of an ashram than a temple. Passing through some passages I come across the first set of frescoes and wall paintings. Beautiful ones! Some preserved and some however was unfortunately white washed 🙁 Walking further in I heard bhajans being sung and I went straight to the hall to join them. And what I saw was, men were clapping to the tunes of the bhajan and women were dancing to the bhajan in front of the current Swamiji seated in a throne. Caught in a situation that am not really used to, I stepped out searching for my Ram.
As the crowd had gone off to see the Maharaj, the Ram temple was deserted. It was such a beautiful sight! There were fresoces all around the temple. Walls, ceilings, pillars.. I cursed at the security guy for having asked me to surrender my camera. I spent quite some time admiring them. The music died and someone came looking for me, the odd one out who walked out of the bhajan. I introduced myself as a travel blogger to the swamiji and he gave me permission to click pictures. That was all I wanted. I ran to the security gate, picked up my camera and clicked pictures to my hearts content.
Back at The Kothi the sumptuous lunch was waiting for me. The Kothi is known for their hospitality and especially stuffing their guests with good home cooked meal. I had a lavish spread for dinner and I specifically mentioned to the cook not to make more than one subji and phulkas for a late lunch as it was just me,only me, one person! I mean, how much can one person eat and demand for food right? But then I come to see phulkas, bhendi, rajma, khadi pakoda, jeera rice, kheer, salad and raita ready for me. And I shamelessly devoured it too like I have not seen food for days. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see that meal after having only tandoori roti and aloo across Punjab for two weeks. Those soft phulkas were heaven! And the khadi pakoda was yummy. I have tasted only the ones available in south India and this was just nothing like the ones I have had. Hot, tasty pakoda and yummy khadi, at some point I was just drinking it.
After this yummy meal I coiled up like a python in the verandah upstairs with my book. The breezy wind and the quaint verandah was the only thing required to spend the rest of the day as lazy as possible. Unwinding my trip to Punjab this way was the best. Needless to say, I had a sumptuous dinner too which was a completely different menu. The Kothi also arranges tour around the village if you are interested to ride tractors, milk a cow, etc. The next day was my time to catch the flight from Amritsar. I still miss the food from The Kothi. Hopefully one winter I will get back there to feel the different shade of Punjab 🙂
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How to Reach Gurdaspur
There are plenty of buses plying from Amritsar. It is just about roughly 2 hrs to reach by bus as the bus stops at multiple villages and goes slowly. Even if not a direct bus, catch a bus to Batala and you will find a connecting bus to Gurdaspur. You can also visit Pathankot from here.
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Note: I was graciously hosted at The Kothi by Mrs.Sangha family. However the views about the properties are based on my experience