Pul Kanjri was an offhanded decision based on a random blog that I read online. Located at far end of Amritsar, Pul Kanjari is a lesser known indo-pak border that kind of fades under the glory of Wagah. But the irony is, while Indians hardly know about this place it has been recognized by the world as a UNESCO World heritage site.
Trying to scrunch through the budget and my bid to push it to my limits, I booked the rickety Shaan-e-Punjab at a measly Rs. 170 pp to Amritsar. Seated on a taut Indian Railways berth that has been bent out of shape from years of use and zero maintenance, my friend who joined at the last minute boarded the train without a reservation and was lucky to get a seat in a booked out compartment.. This is what we call “jugaad”...in 100 bucks, she made it from Delhi to Amritsar without a reservation and that too when the train was packed to its full capacity...
The journey from Delhi to Amritsar was tormenting as I overestimated the Northern Railways and especially its general compartment. For some reason, winters decided to wreak its havoc on us and decided to punish me for its mockery. I dressed down as Delhi was still mildly cold but along the way, rain and no insulation made the journey of 8 hours a tormenting one with cold seeping into my skin. This is when I realized that blessed are those who can sleep while travelling, even when the conditions are most unfavourable. My friends were in a deep slumber shortly after the train left Delhi and I was wide awake the whole time bearing the cold and hunger pangs until we arrived in Amritsar 8 hours later, thankfully the train was on time!!
When we finally reached, it was a moment of small victory to have made it to the city bustling with locals and tourists alike. Outside the station, amongst flurry of autowallahs, we found the one who not only became our ride to the hotel but all the way to Pul Kanjri and back...I will discuss about him later...but for now we reached our swanky hotel on the mall road which also happened to be one of the oldest properties in Amritsar called Ritz Plaza and I must admit that it did sort of have an old world charm to its decor and ambiance. When we finally arrived to our room, it was a sharp contrast from the train travel which was discomfort at best. The room was spacious, airy, comfortable, warm and oh so inviting!!! After we finally ravaged their mini bar selection and binged on their kettle dip tea (this was all the stuff that was complimentary) we got ready for our typical stops in the city.
Excited to explore the market area, we took a rickshaw to reach Katra Jaimal. When we arrived in the market, the streets were packed with people due to some religious celebration of Iskon temple...the whole city was caught up in the traffic...stuck for what seemed like an eternity, we got off and started walking towards our first stop "Bhrawan da Dhaba". This is one necessary culinary stop that you must take to experience the true nature of rich punjabi food. We ordered the famous kulchas with a glass of lassi to feed the hunger we had been cradling since we started from Delhi at 6 AM. Finally happy to eat some real food and that too laced with butter and desi ghee, we gorged on two full plates of kulchas and got ready for the next stop - Golden Temple.
Golden Temple is one of the most pious and serene shrines of the Sikh community. The whole compound of Darbar Sahib pulsates with positive energy and is a spiritual experience to see people doing their ‘seva’ regardless of being poor or rich. It is inside this complex that one can see the fine lines of class being blurred and merged into one of humanity and service.
No visit to Punjab is complete without the combination of murgi and liquor. Picking up our treats, we left for our hotel where we settled for a night of liquor induced banter and mouth filled with the best chicken ever!
Morning we woke up with excitement as we were headed for Pul Kanjari, the trip’s highlight. We called our autowallah, the one I mentioned before, who was only too happy to go with us to this place un-heard of. A guide by profession in the past, he was amazed when we inquired about Pul Kanjari as in his years of being an autowallah, he never heard Indian tourists expressing a desire to see this place. The only other time someone made a request to him were a bunch of Historians from abroad who were researching on the legend of Pul Kanjari. He kept us well stuffed with anecdotes of Amritsar which made the journey of an hour and a half full of interesting stories.
The name itself is a scandalous one as ‘Kanjari’ in Punjabi language refers to a whore. The legend has it that Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited this site, 40 kms from Amritsar, when a concubine was called specially for his entertainment. Moran was the lady dancer who came all the way from Lahore and on one of her visits she lost her shoe in the flowing canal. She refused to perform that night until her shoe was retrieved. This is when the ‘pul’ was constructed to avoid such incident to happen again and so that Moran can cross over safely every time she visits. Historians argue that the name ‘Pul Kanjari’ is derogatory as Moran was not a concubine and was later married to the king, which technically made her the queen.
If you are coming here with a lot of expectations then you would be disappointed as there is not much to see. There is a public bath that UNESCO wants to preserve as an important part of history and a very old Shiv Mandir within the complex. What will amaze you though is the proximity to the Pakistan border which is located just 200 meters from this site and a war memorial commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in a war held at this very site.
Our voluntary guide was very happy to receive tourists as it was rare for people to come this far looking for story behind Pul Kanjari. He gave us the insight with all his heart and also took us to the Indian outpost with soldiers who were too happy to lend us their binoculars so that we can sneak a peek into Pakistan border and their flag. It was heartbreaking to see the green expanses of land sprawled ahead of us being brutally separated by the electrified barbs bisecting the two nations not just in land but also in spirit.
The most mesmerizing thing about this place was a lone house that was inhabited by a family of 5-6 people who accepted the regular firing and attacks from the Pakistan side as a way of life. They told us that every 10-15 days, rogues try to smuggle drugs bought from Afghanistan into India through this route because this border is not as heavily guarded as Wagah and it is quite usual to hear gun shots every now and then.
I was personally amazed at how life goes on at this end of India with Pakistan just a stone’s throw away and was at some point a part of Indian subcontinent and today is an arch enemy. I left from here feeling completely satisfied with my decision to visit this quaint village and would recommend that while you are in Amritsar, take some time out and explore the divide between two nations up close in its most simple form.
Our autowallah added one more feather to his cap of knowledge and happily took us back to Amritsar where we went to Mohan Chicken, which is supposedly the best restaurant for Butter Chicken, and it was!!!! Mouth watering food was the most fitting end to our day’s travel. Taking a short detour to Jallianwalah Bagh, we took a late night bus to Delhi and were happy for the way our trip progressed as well as concluded.