WHY: Discover India’s lesser known agrarian side on a rural farm stay. Punjab state is India’s breadbasket. Its fertile soil supplies South Asia with a bounty of crops including wheat, rice, cotton, golden mustard, sugarcane, and citrus fruits. Plan on spending at least five days down on the farm to embrace Punjab’s slower pace of life. “What better way could there be to experience Punjab’s hospitality other than staying in a farm with a local family?” says Gaurav Bhatnagar, founder and director of The Folk Tales, a community-based tourism organization providing responsible rural travel experiences in India. “Wake up early in the morning to witness one of the most beautiful sunrises, go for farmwork with your hosts, and feast [on] homemade Punjabi food.”
WHERE: Punjab is located in northern India, bordering Pakistan. The closest international airport is in Chandigarh (the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana states), however, as of June 2016, few international flights operate out of there. Instead, arrive at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.
HOW: At the Delhi airport, transfer to a connecting flight, the Shatabdi express train via the Delhi train station, or the Harayana Roadways Volvo bus to either Chandigarh or Amritsar (whichever city is closest to your farm stay). From there, take a private car service to the farm. Some farm stay tours include airport or railway station transfers.
STAY: Kailash Farms has five rooms and two cottages for overnight guests. The farm is located in Hoshiarpur in the foothills of the Siwalik Range and produces flowers, vegetables, mangoes, and citrus fruits. Help with farm chores (such as picking fruit from the trees), take a tractor ride, and walk or bike ride through the orchards. There’s also an outdoor pool, plus ample lawn space (and gear) to give the sport of cricket a whack. More rustic accommodations (including thatch-and-mud huts and safari tents) are available at village farm stays such as Prakriti Farms near Ropar. For a more urban farm stay, choose Green Acres Haveli, located 2.5 miles (four kilometers) from the Amritsar airport and six miles from Amritsar’s top tourist attraction, the Golden Temple.
EAT: Women in the host family typically prepare the meals, and guests and hosts regularly dine together. A popular Punjab staple is makki ki roti (spicy cornmeal flat bread) and sarson ka saag (mustard greens with spinach and spices) served with ghee (clarified butter). Meat dishes—such as chicken, mutton, or wild boar fire-cooked in an earthen pot—may be an option. Off the farm, snack your way through Amritsar’s old town, stopping at one of the famous lassi wala (yogurt drink vendors)—such as Surjan Singh Milk Bhandar—to try a thick and creamy lassi. Traditional Punjabi lassi is a blend of yogurt, water, spices, and salt or sugar.
DON’T MISS: The Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar is the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. Enter through the north gate to see the reflection of the golden dome on the surface of the Pool of Nectar (Amrit Sarovar).
INSIDE TIP: All of the Sikh gurdwaras (places of worship) in Punjab, including the Golden Temple, have free food served throughout the day. The practice is a time-honored tradition in the Sikh religion. Meals are open to all. Diners are expected to clear and wash their plates to ensure a steady supply of clean dishes.
CULTURAL TIP: Cover your head (with a scarf or turban) and remove your shoes before entering a Sikh temple. Women also need to dress conservatively (long pants or jeans and a long shirt) when visiting religious sites. A traditional salwaar kameez, or Punjabi suit (flowing pants paired with a long, tunic-style top), is a comfortable and culturally acceptable fashion choice for men and women.
FUN FACT: The name Punjab is derived from the Persian words meaning “five waters” in recognition of the five rivers—Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum—that historically flowed through the region. Today, only the three of the rivers flow into India’s Punjab.