Return to Transcripts main page

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

Punjab. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 18, 2015 - 21:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This house came to be built by Dr. Blake (ph), who was in the Eastern India Company service.

My grandfather came to be nominated to the body called the council of state, which used to be part of British India.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, "PARTS UNKNOWN": It was another time, one that few still remember, the India before partition, when these rooms, this house, was part of the seat of power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had the privilege of being born in this house upstairs.

BOURDAIN: This was the maharajah's bed. I mean, his chambers are present.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it was the routine that we'd all (inaudible) into my grandfather's room to wish him good morning, and then we would all come down to breakfast.

BOURDAIN: The walls tell a story, many stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There used to be a lot of animosity. There were two very divided classes in India. So there was a lot of tension between the ruled and the rulers. But that was a different time, you know. Now I think back, and it's more like a fairy tale.


BOURDAIN (voice-over): Day one in northern India near the Pakistan border. This is Amritsar, the Indian Punjab's largest city, population, about a million. This is a part of India I have never seen, a place I have always been curious about, home to some pretty legendary cuisine. They have a saying, "The best food isn't cooked in people's homes. You find it on the streets."


[21:05:08] BOURDAIN (voice-over): Punjabis are known for their adventurous spirit

as brave warriors who spread throughout the world bringing great food with them. In fact, much of the good stuff we refer to simply as Indian food comes from here. The Punjab of the early 20th century saw some of the most violent resistance to British rule. And when the British finally cashed out in 1947, they carved off a huge piece, what is now Pakistan. And it remains a potential flash point for conflict. But that's easy to forget when you first smell the food.

(on-camera): There we go.

(voice-over): Kesar da dhaba meaning side of the road food stall. And there are countless dhabas to choose from in this town, but this one is legendary.

(on-camera): See Tony eat vegetables and like it.

(voice-over): To eat around this part of the world, Punjab in particular, get used to eating a lot of vegetarian: chickpeas, dought (ph).

India is one of the few places on earth where even for me, that's not a burden.

(on-camera): What's that? Oh, I'll take that. Right here, my good man. Mm. That's good.

(voice-over): In the Punjab, meat or no meat, you are almost guaranteed a free for all of intense colors, flavors and spices.

(on-camera): Unlike some of the joyless vegetarian restaurants in my sad experience, vegetables here are actually spicy, all taste different, different textures and served with extraordinarily good bread. It's got this multi-tiered crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle. It's a whole different experience.

(voice-over): If this was what vegetarianism meant in most of the places that practice it in the West, I would be at least half as much less of a dick about the subject.

(on-camera): Look, hippie, if you made bread this good, I might eat in your restaurant. Mm.

(voice-over): Around here, one of the first things you notice that's different from the rest of India, turbans, everywhere, the symbol of self-respect, bravery and spirituality for Sikh men. Amritsar is the home, the spiritual center of the Sikh faith, the world's fifth largest and maybe most misunderstood religion.

In the heart of Amritsar stands the majestic Golden Temple, the Sikh equivalent of the Vatican. Sikhs are fundamentally against any caste system, believers in religious tolerance, but they are just as fundamentally war-like when it comes to defending their principles and what they see as their territory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Golden Temple. BOURDAIN (on-camera): Thank you. (voice-over): Today is a Gurpurb, one

of the most auspicious days of the Sikh calendar. Pilgrims from all over the world come to worship, walk the perimeter and bathe in the holy pool. All are welcome of any faith or caste to remove their shoes, wash their feet, cover their heads, and take part in a simple meal.


This is the longer (ph), a free vegetarian meal served to many thousands of visitors from every walk of life every day of the year.

(on-camera): They serve 16 hours a day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen hour a day.

BOURDAIN: For how many years, continuously?


BOURDAIN: 300 years.

(voice-over): Everyone doing the cooking, the serving, the washing of thousands and thousands of metal plates and utensils are volunteers. The sound is extraordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a feeling that everyone should all three things: money, mind and body --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- should be served to other people free of cost. And that's what we do.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Walking me through it all today, Donwai Sing (ph).

(on-camera): Now, for a religion that's so concerned with tolerance, where does the Grand Punjab military tradition come from? Because it's a very, very powerful (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So powerful people, so hard-working people. Every Sikh you have seen, if he is baptized, he wears a small sword. When we are baptized, he says you must protect yourself. You must protect others, and you must protect your country, so that makes us what we are.




BOURDAIN (voice-over): The ancient art of Pehlwani evolved from Indian wrestling techniques that date back to the fifth century B.C.


BOURDAIN: Training is rigid, and this is not just a sport, but a way of life. Wrestlers live and train together and have strict rules of diet and personal conduct. No smoking, no drinking, no contact with women. (on-camera): I took high school wrestling, actually, so that I could get out of gym class. I was a dirty, dirty fighter.

(voice-over): It's an all too natural segue between the aggressive posturing of opposing bodies of Pehlwani and this. The entire border between India and Pakistan has only one crossing, here. Every sunset the border is officially closed with this bit of national theater. Wearing nearly duplicate uniforms, the Indian military and Pakistani rangers partake in a game of theatrical contempt. Clearly, it's a popular show.

(on-camera): So where are we?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are right next to Pakistan.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): India and Pakistan were once one country, ripped apart in one of the hastiest, ill-considered partitions imaginable.

(on-camera): Beyond there, no more fence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No more fences.

BOURDAIN: So once you get past there, you can go straight into Pakistan if you want?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The problem is, the thing is, India is trying to stop people from coming in, the infiltrators, you know, drug dealers, terrorists.

BOURDAIN: Udah (ph) is working on a documentary about the India/Pakistan border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one wants to go to Pakistan.

BOURDAIN: No one wants to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one wants to, in their right mind, to go into Pakistan.

BOURDAIN: Really? That's a fairly decisive statement. So they put up the fence, but the fence is on the Indian side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, it's 115 meters from the border.

BOURDAIN: Right, so beyond that fence, still Indian farmland.


BOURDAIN: So people who live over here can farm over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Farm over there. BOURDAIN (voice-over): The Punjab is a fertile region in an otherwise

very dry country. This is India's bread basket. With over a billion people currently residing in India, every inch of fertile Punjabi soil has great value.

(on-camera): These are people who owned land over there, then they put the fence, suddenly your life became difficult.

UNIDNETIFIED MALE: Exactly. They (inaudible). They can only grow some kind of crops, and they can't farm more than eight hours in a day.

BOURDAIN: How long does it take to get back and forth?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The border security force manage these gates, so they have times when they can enter and come out.

BOURDAIN: How much farther can we go before they start to get worried?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we can just go to the pole.

BOURDAIN: When India and Pakistan were separated, the attempt was to try to draw a line across religious lines.


BOURDAIN (voice-over): Drained by the colossal task of fighting two world wars, in 1947 Great Britain decided to end their nearly 200-year rule over India. In an attempt to prevent what the colonials saw as an inevitable civil war between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, the British commissioner Sir. Cyril Radcliffe, a lawyer from Wales, drew up a new border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was given two months.

BOURDAIN (on-camera): Two months to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two months to divide the --

BOURDAIN: To create a new country, basically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, people died because of the displaced men. Unofficially, they say it's two million people. You know, when (inaudible) fight, the minnows get trampled upon.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): In one of the largest exchanges of populations in history, many millions of people fled their homes.


Almost immediately, religious violence broke out on a mass scale. This is exactly what the partition had been intended to avoid.

(on-camera): Do people here still have families over there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, they do. When the line was drawn, there were religious split into halves. There are some houses where you enter from India and you exit from Pakistan.

BOURDAIN: Really. Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This part of Punjab and that part of Punjab, they were once the same, so the cultures are very similar.

BOURDAIN: Well, it's a popular metaphor for India. Pakistan is twins separated at birth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were never twins. I mean, it was one country. You could say dismembered. If you cut a body in two, they are not going to become twins.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sad, you know? You -- you can see them. They are doing the same work as you are doing. They dress the same. They look the same. But you can't talk to them.

BOURDAIN: It is an ongoing struggle, an enduring cause of paranoia, visible all across the region. Two nations with atomic arsenals who have shown, if nothing else, a terrifying willingness to use them.

From the horrific 2006 train bombings, to the militant attacks in Mumbai, the threat of terrorism along this border is a daily concern.



BOURDAIN (voice-over) Want something good, really, really good, something local, regional, ironically wonderful? You can't say you've had the Amritsar experience until you've had a little kulcha in your life.

(on-camera): Kulcha, this is the iconic dish of Punjab.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's the specialty here.

BOURDAIN: Kulcha, a perfect little flavor bomb of wheat dough pressed against the side of a very, very hot clay oven, slathered with butter and served with a spicy chickpea curry on the side. Did I mention the butter?


BOURDAIN (on-camera): Delicious.

(voice-over): Everyone in Amritsar seems to be an expert on the dish, including this lady.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our radish.

BOURDAIN (on-camera): Very, very, very good. Generally speaking, Punjabis are famous for being a warrior class. Taller, bigger.


BOURDAIN: Still maybe not fighters so much, but still eaters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes. Big-time. Yes. The religion doesn't matter. Food is religion here. BOURDAIN (voice-over): Checking off my list of things to do in the Punjab, I got to score some animal protein. It's time. I've been going all morrissey (ph) for two days now and frankly, that's enough. I need chicken.

(on-camera): Like, we are in the ass-end (ph) of nowhere here. Where am I?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's (inaudible). That's very famous for chicken.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): When we are talking must-haves, tandori chicken is just that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have some lemon in this. You will enjoy it.

BOURDAIN (on-camera): Oh, man, it's delicious. This type of establishment, dhaba?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dhaba, it's called abaha (ph). This is the most successful business here. Anybody -- you open a dhaba tomorrow, it will be like this.

BOURDAIN: But if you're -- you know, if you're going to have chicken it better be good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. (inaudible) good place for that. Would you like to have something else?

BOURDAIN: There's, like, a rotee (ph) with ground mutton or --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's (inaudible).

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Kinemon, mutton ball, dough. And the special ingredient, magic hands. And believe me when I tell you, this shit is good. So good that people snap it up the second it comes out of the tandora. Hey, that's mine.


BOURDAIN (on-camera): Sensational. Wow. People do love their food.


BOURDAIN: The movies and television in this country is fantastic. I don't even understand why -- what's going on. I mean, everybody dances and sings. I don't get it.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you like to have something else? BOURDAIN: No, this is good. Oh, yeah. Wow. Oh, yeah.

Mm, that's good. Thank you. No, nothing, thank you. Delicious. So good.



BOURDAIN (voice over): Leaving the fertile plains of the Punjab behind, I'm headed out towards the Himalayas. In getting there, at least the way I'm going, hasn't changed much in the last hundred years. All aboard.

(on camera): This is going to be suboptimal seating. I don't think this reclines. Thank god they have relaxed attitudes towards prescription drugs. Before you enter the gateway to the Himalayas, you better self-medicate.

Meanwhile, I have been like 24 hours without a bite of food.


I arrive, it's like oh, there's snackks on the way. Great. Get a bag of peanuts.

(voice-over): Truth be told, I'm an angry bitter man when I board. I'm guessing there ain't a Shoanie's (ph) or a P.F. Chang on the way.

BOURDAIN (on camera): So little. The universal tourist. You go on the King Kong ride.

(voice-over): While my stomach growls, I become the kind of traveler I warn against -- gripey, self-absorbed, immune to my surroundings. But as my brightly colored little train heads up into the hills from Kalka Station, known as the gateway to the Himalayas, my world view starts to improve.

The unnaturally bright colors of India start to pleasurably saturate my brain. The views from the window of ridiculously deep valleys, hundred-year-old bridges, it's, well, breath-taking. My fellow passengers, too, are irresistibly charming. The school kids in their uniforms cheer in unison every time we pass through one of the tunnels.

CHILDREN: Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

BOURDAIN: I had pretty much forgotten about my hunger until the whistle stopped at Barog.

(on camera): Could I have one of those and two of these.

(voice-over): This place is named for a Colonel Barog, the British engineer tasked with building the line up to Shimla. The station and the adjacent tunnel bearing his name are rumored to be haunted.

(on camera): It's delicious.

(voice-over): Already behind schedule and plagued by cost overruns, Barog screwed up. When he realized the two ends of this tunnel didn't meet in the middle, he shot himself. It's the kind of personal accountability I would like to see more of, frankly. Or is that just me? But all my snarkiness fades as one can't help but reflect on what it took to dig, drag, blast and tunnel one's way up this route back in the day. Back in the beginning, making the trip to Shimla required a somewhat uncomfortable three-day trek up the mountain by foot or horse or hand- carried palanquin. The stats are impressive. The climb of around 5,000 feet, over 100 tunnels, more than 800 bridges, an engineering feat, a job that when you consider the time, defies imagining.

In the building of this railroad, many died. Many, many died.




BOURDAIN (voice-over): When you look at that painting, when you stand out front of the garden and look out at the view, can you picture the way it was?

RATANJIT SINGH: I have been to many places where it reminded me of what Shimla would have been when the British first came and settled there. I have ventured to such places. It is the time that we're from, like I'm feeling.

BOURDAIN: Fond memories of British rule? Maybe not what you would expect to hear. But Kohwar (ph) Ratanjit Singh, that's Reggie for short, his family was different. Indian royalty with palaces, the 1 percent of the 1 percent. So life for Reggie as a young boy was, relative to the millions and millions of others his age, enchanted.

Shimla is from a time before partition, when nearly the entire ruling class of British India would move to hill stations in the hotter months. Shimla was once known as the queen of all hill stations. Here, the colonials created England in miniature complete with Tudor architecture, rose gardens, afternoon tea.


SINGH: My grandfather, it's very difficult to decide what did you do? Well, quite frankly, he did nothing. He entertained hugely.

BOURDAIN: Garden parties, fancy dress balls, elephant hunts. The remnants of British rule can still be seen and felt. This is particularly true of one house -- Chapslee.

SINGH: My family was very fortunate that they were able to buy this house, because it was a famous house.

BOURDAIN: The house was purchased by Reggie's grandfather, the last maharajah of Kapurthala.

(on camera): The Brits really left beautiful buildings.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): From a distance, it looks much the same as it must have when the maharajah slept here.

(on camera): Check out the tub.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Locked in a constant battle against time and nature, barbed wire does little to keep Shimla's ever encroaching monkey population at bay.

Stripped of their wealth and their kingdoms, the one-time royals all across India have had to either sell their estates or, like Reggie, turn them into hotels and guest houses in order to hold on. Ring a buzzer and a servant appears.

(on camera): They bring you hot water bottles at night, put them under the covers. Butlers keep popping in, build a nice fire.

SINGH: A great facet of my childhood was how my grandfather entertained. His table came to be known as perhaps the most famous in northern India because he was a connoisseur of food.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Tonight, dinner at Chapslee, an elaborate Anglo-Indian menu from Reggie's childhood.

SINGH: I will put on my apron first.

BOURDAIN: My fellow guests, two of Reggie's friends, Raja Bathil (ph), a historian on the subject of Shimla, and Rakash Barlosou (ph), the barrister.

(on camera): So much history here. While I take a dim view of colonialization, it's very hard to resist the charms of a house like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's quite understandable, actually. You've got 100 years of very, very intense history funneled into a very small place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This house used to house the secretary of state.

BOURDAIN: What am I eating? This is Eggs Florentine.

Oh, that's good.

This was a small town?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Small town with a very, very big government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shimla enjoys the unique distinction of having been the summer capital of India and, surprisingly, it was the capital of Burma during the war days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So here you have this tiny little village up on the hill connected to the rest of the world by a narrow mountain path and a rule, approximately a fifth of the human race for eight months every year. In today's context it would almost seem bizarre.

BOURDAIN: Mulligatawny soup. A classic example of what we think of as Indian food in the west but not at all. This was originally a soup made by Indian chefs to accommodate British tastes, is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was something what you would call halfway between a regular dar (ph), a lentil, which you would eat and a broth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mutton glace chops. Basically, meat cooked in its own fat and it would have a lot of curry on it.


It's a misnomer. This meat is not actually mutton. It is chevron (ph).

BOURDAIN: Here, back before the rail line, it would be a difficult trip.


BOURDAIN: But once they were up and running, there were many servants to look after your every need. You had a fireplace, a hearth in every room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And people on the regular payroll whose only job was to shoo monkeys off the droughts (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'd be carried around in palanquins, a little box in which you sat, a curtained box. And this man would go (inaudible) on the ground and the common folk would give way. And normally they would not supposed to look in the direction. It was bad manners.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't easy for the people who built the town. It was India that paid the bill for all this grandeur, for all this pomp, for all this show. They did it at our expense and with our money.

BOURDAIN (voice-over0: At the end of the meal, there's coffee, brandy and cigars in the sitting room -- as one does, or once did.

SINGH: I hope you enjoyed your dinner too.

BOURDAIN (on camera): Oh ,very much. It was delicious. Really wonderful. A lot of history in this house.

(voice-over): And one can be forgiven for briefly forgetting what it took to build this lost kingdom. And how much the world has changed around it.


BOURDAIN (voice-over): The monkey temple looks down on Shimla, overrun by its namesakes. Twisting up further into the Himalayas, I find myself at a place known as the land of the gods, nearly every village credited with having its own deity. Getting there, you might well have an opportunity to meet one of those deities as you tear around narrow guardrail free mountain roads, overlooking terrifying dropoffs.

(on-camera): I can do heights. I've done the jjumping out of the planes thing a number of times. But I feel it today. Looking over a precipice like that one, I feel it in my knees. Like, if my knees could vomit with terror, they would be. They would be vomiting with terror right now.

They should have little underwear stops on this road where you can get a fresh pair. Every couple of miles it's like ooh, that was scary.

(voice-over): Overloaded buses, water trucks with worn brake pads, aggressive truck drivers can come whaling around the corner at any time. And they do. About every two minutes. Squeeze your cheeks tight and close your eyes.

(on camera): Oh, the enchantment of India.

(voice-over): The remote locations of these isolated mountain villages have kept old traditions alive.


BOURDAIN (voice-over): Village fairs serve as an opportunity for families who live very far apart to get together, play game, eat and partake in religious rites honoring local deities.

(on camera): Quite a ride getting here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. How did you enjoy that road?

BOURDAIN: White knuckles.

(voice-over): Meet Hashim. He runs motorcycle tours through these parts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) is the holy grail of motorcycling. You're traveling almost 1,000 kilometers on the trip. It's so unbelievably (inaudible).

BOURDAIN: So we got here vegetable curry?

UNIDENITIFIED MALE: Yogurt based curry, quite typical in these parts.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Vegetables again? Surprisingly, not a problem.

(on camera): That was good. This is one of the few places in the world that I could eat vegetarian every day and still be happy.

Most of the people in this community are farmers?


BOURDAIN: Agricultural?


BOURDAIN: What are they growing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of corn, potatoes, peas.

BOURDAIN: And weed. People grow marijuana here?


BOURDAIN: Most of it as an export product or for personal use?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything. A mix of everything. So you think you want to go check out the fair a little bit?

BOURDAIN: Yes, let's take a walk through town, see what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're dominantly (ph) an occasion for all these families to come together and socialize. Because people are busy in their farms. They're not going to walk down and socialize with people. But this, you know, because it's autumn, everyone is done with all the agriculture. Now they're just bearing down for winter. There's a lot of romance in the air.

BOURDAIN: I've been to Mumbai, Calcotta, (inaudible), Rajasthan, Kerala -- this is a part of India that's different than any other part. Look, it's fascinating and beautiful.


BOURDAIN: Oh, yes. Sweet.

Whoa, it's moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voila. End of the road.