Citrus County is one of the success stories of farm stays in an otherwise visitor-challenged Punjab. Despite a rich history, a vibrant culture and a robust rural life, the state has been unable to draw crowds and the Golden Temple continues to be its most favoured destination. A few years ago, however, they woke to the potential of farm tourism. Owners of large farm holdings desirous of innovative recycling of their properties jumped into the fray. Citrus County located in village Chaunni, in Hoshiarpur district was one of them.
My visit to this farmhouse along with friends coincided with a weekend of bonhomie marked by local festivities. Perfect to soak in the rural experience promised to us. All we had to do was sit back and relax. Leaving the highway for a country road through lush kinnow orchards we arrived at what is decidedly the focal point of any village: an ancient peepal tree with streets leading off from it. One towards a gurudwara, one into the residential section of the village, one seemed to lead to the green fields beyond and one to our destination.
A large modern structure in the foreground greeted us even as we sighted a well-manicured lawn flanked by tents in the rear. A friendly Labrador came bounding forward, barking excitedly to herald our arrival. After checking into our luxury tents, we quickly freshened up to reconvene under the large tent ear-marked for dining. A delicious spread of home-cooked food greeted us. I simply cannot get a certain fish curry, a family recipe I was told, out of my mind. We were invited to view the finals of a rural soccer league match soon after hence that third helping had had to be sacrificed.
The entire village, irrespective of age or gender, had turned out to view the fight for the large shiny trophy, I noted, as we were driven to our seats through the soccer field. The players appeared not to mind as they graciously waited for us to be seated, but once the game began in earnest, it was a fine display of skill and sportsmanship. Age was no bar to become a member of the playing squad: the youngest being in his teens, the oldest close to his fifth decade and otherwise engaged as the granthi at the gurudwara. I watched in fascination when sometime during the match a brawl broke out on the sidelines and the game was temporarily abandoned as the players ran to sort out the matter, following which play resumed exactly where it had left off. It was hilarious. Where else would you be rewarded with tea and pakoras instead of hefty fines but in a forward thinking village of Punjab?
Sun down brought sun-downers around a welcome bonfire, after walking back through the dusty fields. A few more guests arrived from the city, friends of the owners. The circle around the fire got bigger and noisier thanks to the generous flow of spirits and barbecued finger foods. Then came a guitar-bearing local talent who serenaded everyone with favourite evergreens. It was a fine evening that we were sad to break up, but soon enough the winter chill won, driving us to the comforting warmth of our tents.
The following day I was roused by the sounds of kirtan. It was a holiday of faith, a fact proclaimed loud and clear by the busy loudspeaker at the gurudwara next door, reminding me of my own farm-life days a long, long time ago. It was a lazy morning for all of us, the only activity involved tea and a little later, breakfast. With no intention of changing my slothful mood, I hung around in my tent doing exactly what I had intended to do from the start, nothing.Lunch in the form of langar turned out to be a festive affair with devoted volunteers gathering to pray, gossip and eat. Everybody dressed in what would qualify as their Sunday best, sat cross-legged under the massive peepal tree to partake of simple yet delicious fare: daal, rice, channas, sabzi and roomali rotis. Sloth continued to rule making siesta mandatory. Another round of tea was followed by a brisk stroll around the citrus orchards, working up an appetite for another spirited evening. It was hospitality at its best and nobody does it better than Punjab.