By Ekta Bhatnagar.
Ferozepur, often called the land of martyrs, has gotten lost somewhere in our history books. It is here that Shaheed Bhagat Singh, one of India's greatest freedom fighters, was buried. And here that parts of the famous Bollywood movie, Bhag Milkha Bhag, were shot. The real charm of Ferozepur though, is that it offers an intimate glimpse of life in Punjab without the pretense of a tourist destination, complete with mouth-watering sarson da saag and makke di roti, a riot of colors, and big-hearted Punjabi hospitality.
As someone who lived in this border town for two years, I'll attempt to make a case for you to visit it on your next Punjab trip:
1) It is a riot of colors.
|Harike bird sanctuary.|
Ferozepur, like much of Punjab, is a land of colours. Yellow sarson plants swaying in the fields. Pretty women walking in their bright kurtas and pleated Patiala salwars, adorned with the alluring colours of their intricately patterned phulkari dupatta. Punjabi mundas and sardars wearing shiny ‘Khiladi 420’ type kurtas and blinding neon pagdis.
What sets Ferozepur apart is its border town location, which when coupled with the bright yellow mustard fields, instills a 'being desi' feeling in the urban Indian. You can spot colors of a different kind at the Harike Bird Sanctuary, the largest wetland in India, a few kilometers from Ferozepur - a haven for bird watching.
2) The people know how to celebrate life
|Happy-go-lucky, the people of Punjab!|
I read somewhere that Punjabis have the lowest level of stress. And it brought a smile to my face because I couldn’t agree more. I have had my fair share of being in Punjab and experienced their culture somewhat closely. Punjabis are happy-go lucky people. They are rich in their hearts. They always welcome guests with big smiles, huge hugs, a tall steel glass of full cream lassi and a good hearty meal of butter chicken and naan- makkhan marke! They believe in earning and spending lavishly. They are happy with Punjabi movies, dancing Jats and Juliets and a fair share of Jimmy Shergil; they enjoy dancing and partying to the tunes of Yo Yo Honey Singh. In short, they know how to enjoy their lives and have no worries whatsoever.
3) It is an important part of India’s history
|The war memorial in Ferozepur.|
Let us look at another side of Punjab. Punjabis are also famous for being a vital part of the Indian defense forces. They have been true freedom fighters and no story of our freedom struggle is complete without the mention of Punjab and its people.
I spent two years in the faraway border city that is Ferozepur, on the border of India and Pakistan. Though seldom frequented as a tourism destination, it holds an extremely important place in India’s struggle for freedom, and in some way, is a mark of friendship between the two rival nations. It is here that you witness the ruggedness of Punjab and a more soulful display of emotions at the border, than what you see at the Wagah border at Amritsar.
Ferozepur was founded by Sultan Feroze Shah Tughlaq of the Tughlaq Dynasty. Centuries later, the British Raj established control and gained much of North-West India and Pakistan, setting up the Ferozepur cantonment as the largest cantonment in India during the their rule. Today, this cantonment features Serenity Park, offering peace and quiet to those looking to meditate.
The land of martyrs, as Ferozepur is called, has gotten lost somewhere in history books. The freedom struggle of India has had many martyrs from Ferozepur; three heroic martyrs of India, who were killed for raising their voice against the British - Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Rajguru and Shaheed Sukhdev have their final resting place on the banks of the Sutlej in Ferozepur. A memorial dedicated to Shaheed Bhagat Singh has been built here to mark the patriotism shown by the brave men.
4) The border ceremonies prove that Pakistan isn’t the enemy everyone thinks it is
|Across the white line from Pakistan.|
I visited the Wagah border in 2006. Though the experience was unforgettable, I found that the Hussainiwala border at Ferozepur is smaller and attracts less crowds. I could experience the parade from just a foot’s distance from Pakistan; only a white boundary line separates India and Pakistan.
The retreat ceremony stirs something inside of you. Observing the spectators, you realize that they are not different from each other - why would they be? The soldier standoff is a healthy competition, cheered by the crowds on the respective sides, as to who can take their legs up higher, who can stomp their feet louder and who can create better facial expressions. This is the lighter side of the Indo-Pak relationship, cricket not withstanding!
5) You can shop till you drop, literally!
|Cooling off with a chilled lassi, the author Ekta.|
The Sadar Bazaar market of Ferozepur is a favorite among ladies for beautiful salwar suits and phulkari work, as well as Karachi work sarees and dupattas. Mind you, the temperatures can be extreme, with over 50 degrees centigrade in summer and below zero in winter. Make sure you carry enough water and warm clothes so you don't drop shopping, literally!
How to reach Ferozepur: Ferozepur is well connected by trains to the rest of India. It is an overnight train journey of 7 hours from Delhi, and at a driving distance of 2 hours from Amritsar, Bhatinda and Jhalandhar.
AUTHOR BIO: Ekta's love for travel was ignited by her father, who used to take her to different places every year during school holidays. Since then, she has tried to capture the places she has travelled to with her camera and the pen. Now she is married to an Army officer and gets to satisfy her quench for travelling by exploring new destinations every two years! She is a dreamer, a writer, a travel enthusiast, and an ultimate foodie. She tweets @ektabhgr.