At India-Pakistan border, 'Sarhad' provides food for thought

Attari (Punjab), Sep 19 (IANS) Barely a kilometre-and-a-half from the international border in Punjab between not-so-friendly neighbours India and Pakistan, a new complex by a young Indian entrepreneur is offering not only food but also the concept of peace. Sarhad, which means border, is the new frontier to highlight the cuisine and culture of the two countries. It's even come on Harvard's radar.

The brick-lined Sarhad complex is inviting not only for its uniqueness in combining the cultures and tastes of a state that was one till the country's partition in 1947 but also for its own effort to give peace a chance between the two countries.

Be it the architecture of the building, which showcases the traditional design patterns of Amritsar and Lahore, the rich foods from both sides or even the brightly painted "truck art", Sarhad tries to bring out the best of both the countries and their commonalities. The window styles from Amritsar, the ceramic jaali (mesh) work from Lahore and chairs and tables specially made in Pakistan add uniqueness to the complex.

Launched in August 15 last year on India's Independence Day, Sarhad is now attracting increasing footfalls as people flock to this last border point, 30 km from the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, to witness the amazing Retreat ceremony carried out by border guards of both the countries to mark the closure of the gates at sunset.

If Sarhad promises to do something for India-Pakistan peace, its young owner and entrepreneur Aman Jaspal deserves the credit for it.

"Food is the primary love of all Punjabis. Peace through food is the motto of Sarhad and it is no wonder our logo has a dove with the word peace inscribed in 25 languages," Aman told IANS.

For Aman, the Sarhad complex is not only just an eating joint for travellers to the border ceremony but an effort to bring the people of the two countries closer.

"This place has a lot to offer from the cuisine and culture of Amritsar and Lahore. Apart from this, we are putting up a peace gallery so that visitors get a glimpse of the history of both countries in the right perspective. From pre-1947 video footage to old newspapers - we are getting everything for the gallery," he said.

"We have put in a lot of effort to bring Sarhad till here. It has taken us many trips to Pakistan and overcoming various obstacles to put this into shape. It is a celebration of the architectural, cultural and culinary heritage of pre-partition Punjab," Aman said.

Aman, son of retired senior Punjab-cadre IAS officer D.S. Jaspal, engaged prominent Pakistani architect and designer Nayar Ali Dada to incorporate features of old Lahore and old Amritsar in the design of the Sarhad complex. The tables and chairs at the complex were designed by Pakistan's leading designer Ansa Zafar.

For those who want to taste the best and most popular foods available in Amritsar and Lahore, Sarhad has a lot to offer without crossing the border.

The menu from Lahore includes Nihari Gosht, Bannu Kebab, Mian ji ki dal and Bakarkhani Roti, among others.

Well-known Pakistani truck artist Haider Ali has not only been to Sarhad more than once but has literally added colour to it by painting two small trucks. He has also painted some frescos at the complex.

Aman's concept and efforts have even been recognised by the Harvard Business School.

Picking up the Sarhad concept as a mini-project for digital marketing strategy, the business school wrote: "We found it quite impressive and intriguing, given the social impact/awareness it is trying to create as a for-profit entity."

"We are thrilled by this," said the young owner, who has studied in Norway and the Czech Republic.

On the menu at Sarhad, roughly 60 percent of the food items at the live 5-star kitchen is from the Pakistani side while 40 percent is from India.

"We get our Shan brand masalas from Pakistan," Aman said.

Getting there:

* Amritsar, home to Sikhism's holiest shrine Golden Temple, can be reached from New Delhi by air (about one hour), train (Shatabdi takes 5 hours 30 minutes) and road (500 km; takes about 8-9 hours).

* Sarhad is located at Attari, 30 km from Amritsar. It can be reached by bus (about Rs.150), or taxi (up to Rs.2,000).

* Food at Sarhad is reasonably priced, with vegetarian dishes starting at Rs.200 and non-vegetarian dishes at Rs.350. It also has a bar.

* At Attari, the Retreat ceremony takes place every evening at sunset.

* In Amritsar, hotels range from Rs.1,000 to Rs.15,000 per night.

* Amritsar is famous for eating joints - street food, traditional dhabas and restaurants. In dhabas and restaurants, a meal for two can cost from Rs.300 to Rs.2,000.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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