Evil Punjabi Food

Food, glorious food… shame about the ‘after effects’

Flinging the shutters of my little Mussoorie room open this morning and expecting to see a glorious morning view, I was disappointed to find I was looking out at what seemed to be a very large cloud. I realised I had been very fortunate with the weather yesterday; today it was glum, damp and misty. It also made me appreciate how high up I was: Mussoorie’s altitude was 2000 metres (7000 feet), and I would soon be going much higher than that if all went to plan.
As it was, Mussoorie was a bit of a dead-end in terms of continuing my journey northwards, so I had to work my way down and across westwards. Studying the bus timetable of destinations within striking distance, I picked a place called Chandigarh, which seemed to have received favourable comments from other travellers on forums I had looked at.
I managed to easily grab a taxi back down to Dehra Dun and holed up in a Barista coffee place for iced coffee and a decent stab at an Italian-style sandwich. By now I had been eating curry at least twice a day for a month, and the novelty was wearing off a little bit. I increasingly found myself drawn more to Western or Chinese cuisine, the latter of which was much more prevalent now I was in the north and only a stone’s throw from the Communist behemoth.
Chandigarh looked deceptively near on the map, but took ages to reach with the chugging state bus I had picked. Still, I had plenty to occupy me on the journey: iPod, laptop, books, or just simply stuffing my face with gloriously cheap Indian snacks. Samosas were my snack of choice; they were on sale at most food stalls at bus stations and were the perfect parcels of food for long journeys. The triangular fried-pastry packets of potato, spices and onion came to about five pence each and were wrapped up for you in old newspaper. Sometimes India is more British than Britain itself.
Chandigarh was a planned city built after the partition of India led by the British after the Second World War. The Sikh state of Punjab (the ‘P’ in Pakistan, by the way) was cleaved in two and split between India and Pakistan, with the Punjabi capital Lahore going to the latter. The Indian Sikhs required a new state capital, and so Chandigarh was built for that purpose, and they did a bloody good job of it.
Wide thoroughfares based around a grid pattern gave Chandigarh a calmer, more refined air than the winding bazaar-style roads of other Indian cities; it seemed cleaner than most, too. I had a few choices when it came to accommodation, but one stood out more than most: the Hotel Aroma. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay in a hotel with such a silly name.
Hotel Aroma looked to be an ideal base for me. It had an attached restaurant serving a number of different cuisines (albeit in a fast-food style), including Italian, Chinese, and South Indian. It had an attached bakery selling cream cakes and a Cafe Coffee Day. What’s more, the wifi was free and it extended to the little restaurant area, so I could do my work and eat chocolate cake too. The room was large, comfy, air-conditioned and had the Beeb on the telly – and no word of a lie, it had an slightly unpleasant Aroma too, something lingering in the peripheral nasal zone somewhere between vomit and mould. Not that it bothered me; I was too bowled over with the delightful irony of my room at the Hotel Aroma having its own distinct stench to complain.
It was at about this stage that I realised all was not well in my bowel region.
Something I had eaten or drank recently had not agreed with my system. It was my first case of Delhi Belly since being in India, and it wasn’t that bad, just annoying, as it kept me largely confined to my room and the hotel complex, needing to be near a toilet to go for a Brad every few hours or so. I strongly suspected the Punjabi meal I’d eaten in Mussoorie, pointing a finger at the lime pickle and chutney shared condiments I’d gleefully tucked into, but it could have been absolutely anything, from untreated water used in drinks (as ice) to simply putting a bacteria-laden finger near my gob.
After three days of the squits I’d had enough, and popped a couple of Imodium, hoping they would do the trick in slowing down my galloping gut to allow me to escape my Chandigarh Exile and press on to another location further northwards, home to another living in exile: the Dalai Lama.