Introducing Haryana & Punjab

Enter the land of the Sikhs. Gurdwaras replace temples as the most popular places of worship, Blender’s Pride replaces Royal Stag as the choice whisky, and the personable, turban-clad population generally provide a break from the stresses found elsewhere in India. Punjab may share a (Sikh) prime minister with the rest of India, but feels distinct from the other states.

Of course, this doesn’t mean visitors should expect to escape the idiosyncrasies and inefficiencies that make travel in India such hair-tearing fun. Even in Chandigarh – an Indian city like no other, designed by the modernist architect Le Corbusier and inhabited by the hippest young urbanites north of Mumbai (Bombay) – cows hold up new cars cruising the straight roads.

Indeed many parts of Punjabi culture, from butter chicken to bhangra music, strike visitors as quintessentially Indian. This is because Punjab, with more ex-patriots than any other state, has exported its culture far and wide. Another benefit of this foot-loose population is the foreign remittances that have helped make Punjab the most developed state. This isn’t to say there aren’t social problems – it’s riddled with heroin and opium near the Pakistan border. And amid the modernisation, a strong sense of the past remains at sites such as Amritsar’s Golden Temple – Sikhism’s holiest shrine and one of India’s most beautiful buildings.

Haryana, home of Kurukshetra, split from Punjab in 1966. Along with its Sikh neighbour, the largely Hindu state is called the ‘wheat belt’ or ‘bread basket’ for its agricultural prowess.