Season 1, Episode 5
Jammu to Amritsar
It was Day-4. I cleared my bills at the hotel and reached the railway station in an rickshaw. I was trying to grasp as much Jammu as possible. The roads were mostly empty. A bike here and a car there. Pleasantly cold weather. It was an interesting place. I clicked some pictures, none good enough to be posted. An interesting thing which I saw was a makeshift barber’s shop on the footpath. I was amused to see that such things do exist in Indian cities even now. A tall custom-made wooden chair, a mirror and a wooden box to hold the accessories were all what he required to set up his shop. No rented brick and mortar store. No electricity bill. No fancy dryers and blowers.
The entrance to the main building in the railway station is dotted with vendors selling dry fruits and rajmah. One can find almost any dry fruit packed in polythene packets. Some are genuinely good. If you have missed out on purchasing these stuff in the city, then you can always depend on the vendors at the railway station. Needless to say, one has to be really careful to choose the right stuff and also bargain well.
I placed my rucksack on the conveyor belt of the security’s screening machine. I went past the metal detector and waited for my bag. It didn’t come out. Instead a CRPF personnel stepped out of a cabin and asked me whether it was my bag. I nodded and he asked me to step inside the cabin.
I was taken aback. What could it possibly be? Did the old man in the hotel conspire with the bellboy to place something in my bag? My bag just had a few clothes and my camera in it. When I stepped inside the security control room, I could see three LCD screens and some control levers for the personnel to control the conveyor belt. I could see the X-Ray image of my rucksack, the clothes in it and my camera. All the PCBs, optics and wirings in the camera were there on the screen. The CRPF personnel asked me where I was from. Then he asked me what I was doing in Jammu. I answered. He then asked what was there in my bag. I replied – in detail. He pointed at my camera on the screen and asked what it was. I replied. He then asked me to show it. I pulled out the camera from the bag and handed it over to him. He checked it, asked me how much it cost and then he asked me to turn it on. I did as he asked me to. He was relieved to see the display of my camera light up. He was relieved to see that it was not a dummy and it actually clicked pictures. The security personnel smiled and said he liked the camera. That he would purchase one. He explained that these were standard security procedures and that anything that has wires and printed circuit boards alarm them.
I had a plate of Poori-Aloo bhaji as part of my lunch and boarded the train to Amritsar. It was a long 6 hour journey. I had reserved a “Sleeper” class berth so that I can stretch my legs and sit. Although, three others occupied the same berth, I managed to stretch my legs in a very stubborn act. As the train headed out of Jammu and through Poonch district, I could see Army establishments everywhere. There were bunkers and watchtowers manned by the men-in-uniform. The train journey towards Pathankot-Jalandhar is quite interesting. The line runs along/across NH-1 and many rivers including the might Chenab.
I reached Amritsar at around 9pm. An old man offered to take me to the best budget hotel in his rickshaw. Rickshaw, as I always have known, is a three-wheeler Auto-rickshaw. But, in Amritsar, it was bicycle cart or rather, a tricycle. As I sat in the rear seat, I saw the old man pedaling with all the strength he had. The rickshaw hardly picked any pace. The city was closing for the day and I couldn’t see myself being pulled in a rickshaw being pedaled by an old man in his late seventies. This was inhuman. I had to get off. As soon as I saw a decent business hotel, I asked the old man to pull up. Since it wasn’t the one the old man wanted to take me to, I knew he would lose his commission. I paid the old man more than what he had agreed upon. There was only one room left in the hotel and it would cost me 1800 for the night. Expensive. But I had lost all the patience I had. I checked into the hotel room, had some delicious parantha and palak panneer, and dozed off. The amount of ghee present in the food did upset my stomach which made me wake up time and again through the night. But I had to get some sleep as I had a long day ahead of me.