After Cuttack, Ludhiana must be the place I would love to forget. This town is not worthy of a stopover. There is nothing interesting for a tourist here. It is as bad as any crowded and congested town of modern India. A board at a traffic light warns people not to donate to beggars; otherwise, Ludhiana may become a city of beggars in three years. I don’t know how old is this sign but there are already beggars doing their timely rounds at many places in the city.
For lunch I stop at a posh place. They are about to close the kitchen for the afternoon but the waiter takes my order as the last one. I order lemon rice but I get something that only vaguely hints to be so. I have to say that this is becoming a common experience in North India. The best preparations of lemon rice can only be had in South India.
How can I experience Punjab without eating at a dhaba or savouring a glass of lassi? I have eaten at many dhabas all over the country. A nice glass of lassi is in order. The lassi arrives frothing at the surface. I put away the straw and down it in traditional village style. It is perfect.
One thing I have read about Ludhiana are the old horsedrawn tongas. I have seen these at Rajgir but possibly that’s not the only place in India to preserve this old mode of transport. Someone says that I may find them next to Lakshmi cinema. I get there to learn that this is a rundown cinema theatre showing cheap adult movies. There is no evidence of tongas or tonga stalls anywhere. I guess progress has come to Ludhiana at the cost of its past. I am sure this city has its own share of old forts but nothing probably remains of them. Only a dedicated historian will be able to pick them out from modern masonry.
I spot India Coffee House in the ground floor of a complex. This is an old establishment found all over India. The furniture is old. The waiter’s uniform, though clean, sports an old design. There is no one inside except the man behind the cash counter.
‘Why is this so empty?’ I ask.
‘It gets busier at other times,’ he says unwilling to openly acknowledge the change of times. ‘What coffee will you have – plain or with cream?’
‘With cream,’ I reply going for a bit of rare luxury.
He switches on the fan. Coffee arrives soon. I take little sips to prolong the experience. In this old setting, I seem to be sitting in India of the 1980s. If ever you want some quiet moments in Ludhiana, head down to this place.
I wander through the busy streets of Ludhiana. As any true traveller, I load my senses with sights, sounds and smells of the Indian bazaars. I stop at a shop to buy some freshly baked cookies. I do find some tongas but these are used to move goods around. The old romance is gone. I return to my room and really look forward to the morning. I have to get out of lousy Ludhiana.