We started from Bikaner at around 5AM in the morning. We had to drive just about 500 odd kilometers to reach Chandigarh through what Aadi assured me were the best highways of India – the roads of Punjab. As the sun arose, we were leaving Rajasthan. On either side of the roads were sandy dunes interspersed with patches of green – desert reclamation at work. It was marvelous to see patches of white sand alternate with bright green throughout this road. Soon the smooth roads gave way to the cratered roads of Haryana. As we took in the beauty of the landscape, we reminded ourselves that this was also some of the most patriarchal of societies we could find in India. As we entered the comparatively better paved roads of Punjab, we started getting hungry.
Our hopes of stopping at one of the ubiquitous dhabas of Punjab for Parathas, chai and lassi turned to naught, as inexplicably we did not find a single decent outlet on our way. Now the time was almost 1030 and we were frankly famished. We had passed Sirsa when we suddenly saw a scooter rickshaw ahead of us. This was one of the roadside snacks vendors going about his morning job but for us he was manna personified. We got alongside him, instructed to stop and stopped ourselves a few meters ahead. The guy came to a halt a few meters ahead of us and he came out looking petrified. Now if one fine day you were accosted to stop by a scary looking large bearded man who does not have a turban in a black jeep you would be excused if you felt a little fear. The District Magistrate of the area was a lady who apparently looked quite alike Aadi and that was who he thought had stopped him. However, when we explained our predicament he happily laid out his wares and started cooking for us a delicious breakfast. On that highway, he lit up his stove and prepared us fresh potato curry and butter toasted kulchas. We each gobbled several dozens of those warm kulchas – they were so tasty and we were so hungry and grateful. He waited for us to finish off the first batch before cooking the second batch, as he wanted us to eat the food fresh. It was miraculous the way he appeared before us at a time when we were so hungry and desperate.
Thanking our stars and renewed in our belief about the existence of God we carried on. Soon we passed other famous cities of Punjab like Patiala and were finally reaching Chandigarh. Aadi had lived and worked in Chandigarh for several years and she had many memories associated with the place. We also hoped to stock up on some winter essentials from here apart from sampling the vaunted Punjabi cuisine. We arrived at our hotel, parked the jeep, checked in and soon ventured into the city for our lunch. We had lunch from a Dhaba that was the favorite haunt of Aadi during her years there. The food was simple, tasty and filling. Then we went off to do some shopping. We looked around for a jacket for me but multiple raids all over the shopping district came to naught and we ended up with a few blankets. We decided to have dinner at the hotel itself and retire early. The dinner was inconsequential except for the fact that I thought I saw veteran actor Neena Gupta amongst the patrons.
The room had no air conditioning, as the hotel policy was to turn on central heating during “Winter Months” so it was a suffocating night at this pricy hotel in Chandigarh. However, we consoled ourselves that no more heat, we were entering Himalayas the next day.