Updated: Mar 17, 2019
Punjab is synonyms with the Golden temple. The temple attracts 100000 visitors everyday. Standing tall, brilliantly golden, peaceful ,witness to more than four hundred years of history , this site is one of the biggest temples for Sikhs.
Yet, if one truly wants to experience Punjab, smell the air , live in the many colors, soak in the culture and feel the vibrancy, then one must go beyond the Golden temple.
This Punjab photo tour is my journey that attempts to explore the many facets of the state.
Day 1 : 6:00AM : Amritsar city
I commence my 4 day Punjab photo tour from the Golden Temple. An early morning visit to the famous Gurudwara when the winter sun is just blossoming . The calm at this hour is divine.
Amritsar is my birth place and associations with this land are old and dear.For anyone who has visited the Golden temple till about the late 90's, will remember this 400 year plus Gurudwara nestled in between old shops and narrow alleys.The setting has changed today, with reconstruction to ease navigation for the ever growing number of pilgrims.
And thats what we set out to do, find the old world charm of this historic place. We set out to photograph the old walled city .
Day 1 : 8:00 AM- Around the walled city
I go around searching for those old shops, houses, landmarks and narrow lanes. Those obscure alleys that are witness to the history that made Amritsar. Apart from the history and untold stories , these alleys that are a photographers delight! A perfect start to my punjab photo tour.
Day 1 : 2:00 PM : Chak Heir
20 kms outside Amritsar
Giving Jallianwala Bagh and Wagah border a miss , two of the most sought after tourist attractions, I head out to what I seek to capture- Punjab and its land in full glory.
Just about 20 kms from the hustle of Amritsar, the fairytale green fields of Punjab await me.
Bright yellow mustard and abundant delectable vegetables; the air brimming with crisp freshness. Just what anyone always imagines about this part of the country.
This is one of my favorite parts of the Punjab photo tour
This place is blessed with one of the most fertile land in the world - the earth here smiles at the green; filling the mood, hearts and people with positivity. It is called the bread basket of India owing to high productivity of this land . The food is fresh, pure and the food output is one of the highest in the country. Farming is thus one of the major occupation of the state.
Neither my camera nor I are tired of capturing the freshness of this land. This is the month of January and crops in the fields is just ripe.
We bid adieu to the this small villages and head back to Amritsar, which is our base camp for the Punjab photo tour.
Day 2 : 7:00 AM Bhikhiwind
40 kms outside Amritsar
I spot horses along the drive to Bhikhiwind and immediately know there is a Nihang camp . The electric blue attired Sikh warrior with history and beliefs dating back 300 years . Nihangs have separate beliefs and traditions and are organized into armies and live in camps . Trained in horsemanship, swordsmanship and Punjabi marital art 'Gatka', they are known for their bravery and history of defending Sikh way of life.
Each part of a Nihang's attire is equipped to facilitate fight, including the traditional high turban. It is my first time photographing the Nihang’s in their camps and to my utter delight they are welcoming and very hospitable - possibly a mark of this state.
During my conversation , I am offered tea made of pure milk. All I can say is that one needs to taste this tea to believe it.
This is a small camp and I converse with just one family. I spend some time with them
Yet this has intrigued me enough that I promise to come back for more and spend time around the Nihangs. I am keen to learn their culture and lifestyle and it adds a facet to my my Punjab photo tour like nothing before!
Day 2 : 11 AM : Kasel , Punjab
20 kms outside Amritsar
I head to a small village of Kasel and to its own brick Kiln. The kilns operate only few months a year and this January they are functional. Only horse carts as vehicles, and bare hands to scoop up bricks after bricks. I capture workers drying the raw bricks before sending to the furnace.
I routinely capture brick kilns across the country ; and the best time to photograph one is during winter. This as I said before, is a seasonal business and January is a perfect time both from the light and the activity point of view.
Day 2 : 12:30 pm : Chabal , Punjab
20 kms outside Amritsar
I stop by to breathe in the landscape . The poplar tree plantation in Punjab provides a breathtaking view with the air smitten with freshness and aroma that is distinct to the land.
We are heading back to Amritsar to get a flavor of sports photography and adding another dimension to our Punjab photo tour.
Day 2 : 2:00PM: Amritsar , Punjab
Our last stop on Day 2 is to photograph the ancient Indian skill and essential element of sporting life of India for nearly 3000 years- Kushti
Watching the wrestlers/'pehalwans' in a combat, with coated bodies melding with the color of arena.The wrestlers go through arduous training , dedicating bodies and soul to the sport. From the moment they enter the ‘Akhara’ ,a sacred space, they coat their bodies with clay from the ground - signifying all are equal.
Only one rule for winning : The shoulders of the opponent must be pinned to the ground !
Unfortunately it’s a Tuesday , a day of Bajrangbali and most Akhadas are closed on Tuesday. What I get to photograph is a practice session.
Day3 : 6:00 AM Enroute to Patiala .
Patiala chandigarh National Highway
Heading to Patiala - about 4.5 hours from Amritsar, this is our first shot on the way .
The Jaggery maker.
Fresh jaggery converted from juicy sugarcane filling the air with sweet aroma, one cannot ignore. Made from churning the sugarcane juice kept in large cauldrons using fire wood.
What lends this man a placid and calm expression I do not know ; but he's made the best jaggery I have ever tasted !
I stop by for a while, watch him use his large cauldrons. Something is unique about the way jaggery is made on this highway. Farmers hop on to their fields that are right behind this make shift shop. They pluck fresh sugarcane and produce this jaggery. This can be found only during winter months.
Day 3 : 10:00 AM Patiala
I find another brick kiln en-route to the site in Patiala. The camera comes in quick action and I capture this child of the brick kiln finding some warmth in the warm fire on a cold January morning.
Day 3: 12 PM Patiala city.
4.5 hours from Amritsar
Patiala , is also called the Royal city. This city exudes vibrance , color and life . Amongst the many things it is popular for is Qila Mubarak and the Havelis that are architectural and historic marvel. They are the only living proof of the bygone era. I carefully select some locations that I have been wanting to photograph.
Patiala brings the architectural brilliance to our Punjab photo tour
And just when the sun is setting down , I head back to Amritsar and capture this beautiful landscape of Punjab once again.
Day 4 : Sur Singh , Punjab
30 kms from Amritsar
Today I have travelled to village Sur Singh , about 50 minutes from Amritsar; and in company of Nihang Sikhs. The Nihangs are preparing Bhanng/ cannabis.
The Nihang Sikhs are the martial /warrior sikhs. The consumption of Cannabis by Nihang Sikhs is considered as Sukhnidhaan and mostly consumed on the Sikh holidays of Holla Mohalla and Vaisakhi.
Sur Singh Village is equidistant from both Amritsar and Indo-Pak border (Wagah). Located in Teh Patti Distt Tarn Taran Sahib, it houses the famous gurudwara of Sri guru Hargobind Sahib that has immense historical and religious significance.
Leaving this land without having a meal at Langar would render the Punjab photo tour insipid.
A delicious start with lassi made of pure milk and a sumptuous meal of Shalgam (Turnip) ka saag, dal (Lentils) , Roti( bread) , curd and sweet rice fill my plate. All the produce is fresh and made to serve. Consumed by the flavors and aroma, I take a peek inside the community kitchen.
Most of the community kitchens are now mechanized, however this one is still manual. Many women making the rotis and men helping stir the aromatic curry.This sight is fading away , replaced by special machines, to serve the increasing number of devotees.
I leave Sur Singh at about 4:00 pm to head back in time for my train to Delhi, passing through the many landscapes yet again against the fading winter sun - I can only thank the land and its people for this photographic and spiritual experience I have been blessed to experience !
All photographs by Navtej Singh
Narrative by Amita Ambwani