Diary of four weeks spent in Punjab, Himachal and Delhi.
By Parveen Chopra
‘Why are you going to India?’ my son asked, and I had no suitable answer that would have satisfied him. There was no special occasion – marriage or death in the family, or sale of property to justify an almost 4-week trip. I was going all the same. I am sure many other NRIs too just travel once every one or two years – to touch base with extended family back home. As bonus, they throw in a few days visit to an as yet unexplored destination – Jaisalmer, Kerala backwaters, or the northeastern states. In my India calendar, I always try to earmark a week or more of staying at a health resort.
I flew Air India from JFK to Delhi nonstop and took a connecting flight to Amritsar. My brother drove me from the airport to our hometown, Kapurthala, two hours away. Post-Lohri, Punjab was very cold (chillier than New York when I left it). Absent centralized heating, fat quilts and double-rod room heaters barely sufficed.
Venturing out around Republic Day, I was reminded that for kids 26 January is kite flying day in north India. But instead of the tricolor kites, I noticed kites with the Canadian Maple Leaf flag. Canadian immigration is so much in the minds of Punjabi youths that even in a two-bazar town like Kapurthala, there are at least two dozen centers offering IELTS (pronounced eyelets, full form International English Language Testing System). People tell you, with a bit of hyperbole, that colleges in the state are emptying out because of students making a beeline for colleges in Canada. Five of my nephews and nieces too have joined the exodus.
The Tribune of Chandigarh has reported that out of one lakh students now going abroad every year from Punjab, an estimated 85,000 go to Canada alone. Education sector’s loss is the immigration sector’s gain in the state. There are close to a thousand licensed immigration companies, visa consultants, IELTS centers and air ticketing companies in the NRI hub of Jalandhar alone, with at least three times more people illegally engaged in the work in the city.
Having published so many stories about the Kartarpur Corridor in The South Asian Times, I asked around in my family if anybody had or planned to visit the now accessible gurdwara in Pakistan. Nyet, came the uninterested answer. Enthusiasm was muted even in the Sikh community, they said. The $20 dollar fee could be one of the reasons for that.
To get to my chosen health resort, I took a bus from Jalandhar to Pathankot. From there a taxi ride took me to Palampur, Kayakalp my destination.
This was my second stay in five years at Kayakalp, a nature cure and panchakarma treatment facility. Kayakalp is the vision of former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Shanta Kumar. Luckily, I caught up with him when he was visiting the place for a board meeting. He said he had been to Jindal’s Farm (Institute of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences) in Bangalore, dreamed of one in his state and founded Kayakalp in 2005 modeled on the better-known place in Karnataka. Jindal’s boasts 365 sunny days, Kayakalp can boast the snow-covered Dhauladhar range of Himalayas as a backdrop.
Kayakalp deserves a full article which I will certainly write, but I am happy to report that after 10 days of varied drugless treatments there, I lost about 6 pounds, and my blood pressure came down from 90/126 to 86/126.
One Sunday, a lighter day at Kayakalp, my friends form nearby Dharamshala picked me up and we drove up almost to the edge of McLeod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan population. My friends told me that in summer months, the road to McLeod Ganj is now chock-a-block with traffic. As an aside, they added, the Tibetan settlers have been becoming aggressive, leading to confrontations with locals. People of Himachal Pradesh otherwise are peaceful, and content with their life and lot. Despite development in the state, the one or two-bazar Himachal towns have retained their identity.
To throw in some sightseeing, I visited Norbulingka in Sidhbari, Dharamshala. It looks like a well-kept monastery. Where are the monks? I asked and was told that it is, in fact, an institute dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan arts and culture. Inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 1995, it is named after Norbulingka (meaning Treasure Garden in Tibetan), the traditional summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet, China. I did, however, visit a monastery named Gyuto, with modern looking quarters for monks.
While shopping for trinkets and souvenirs, we came across large, sacred Thangkas, but they were priced beyond my means. To make up for it, my friends gifted me a small Kalachakra mandala painting stitched onto a scroll.
The last stop in my India itinerary was Delhi. It was early February and by then the infamous smog had dissipated. But the newspapers were reporting that the air quality was still bad. Delhiites now fall in two categories. One kind has installed air purifiers (they cost a bomb) in their homes, even in their cars. The others cannot afford or argue that air purifiers do not help much. No matter, the air purifier manufacturers are recording healthier and healthier profits in the last 3-4 years.
While in Delhi, having had to fix my laptop’s malfunctioning screen, I discovered that Nehru Place, originally built as an alternate shopping complex to decongest Connaught Place, has become the biggest computer market in the country – repairs, parts, accessories, you name it.
I left Delhi in less than a week, but Delhi never left me. I am still recovering from the flu/cold I caught there, which I blame on the city’s air quality. A Long Islander I know blames four days stay in the city for her asthma which has lasted 4 years. Maybe only visitors to the Indian capital are affected (President Trump beware!), and the permanent residents there have developed immunity. Whatever it is, I plan on taking a vow to use Delhi now on only as a transit hub on my way to the Himalayas.
Parveen Chopra is Managing Editor of The South Asian Times based in New York.