I should have written this post few months back, but better late than never. We went to Amritsar in December last year. It was a very abruptly planned trip as one of our common friends called me one day to ask if we would be interesting in going to Amritsar in December, she was getting their tickets booked. I said yes in a jest, and later shared it with husband. He was not very keen, but somehow I did not get our tickets cancelled as I wanted to wait till last moment for his mood to change. He was still as unexcited about the whole trip just the day before the trip, but somehow I decided to go ahead giving him the option of withdrawing if he wanted. Yes, that was a tough spot, and he had no choice but to relent and we set off to Amritsar on 23rd Dec. It was a three days trip. I have a colleague from Amritsar, and before the trip I had already taken a complete download from him on places to visit and places to eat! He had given me a handmade map of the entire town marking routes to the key places to hog!! So, in that sense it was a very well planned trip..:)
It was an overnight journey from Delhi to Amritsar. Since the other couple also have a daughter of the same age as K, the girls had a blast in the train. They were plonked on the upper birth with one of the papas, and they were just so excited that they refused to sleep. It took us a long time to put them to sleep.
We reached Amritsar at around 7 in the morning, and headed to the hotel in a cab. (Husband had booked a hotel pick up. Had I known that the hotel would be a 3 minutes’ drive from the railway station, I would have definitely stopped him and taken a large shared tempo instead!). We had to wait in the hotel lobby for the next few hours, as our room was booked only from 12 noon that day. The lobby was decorated with a big Christmas tree, and balloons and other X-mas decoration, and K and A (the other kid) were so excited to see all this, I had a total paisa vasool kind of feeling that very moment itself!
We had a lavish breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The spread was awesome with variety and taste. After a long time I enjoyed having such a great meal. Post that we checked into our rooms, and the first thing we did was switch on the TV. O my God! Half of the channels were Punjabi music channels. They have so many of them- all playing similar but fun music. I need to mention here that I saw the song 5 taara for the first time there only. I am a big fan of Diljit Dosanjh today..:) (Unable to link the song..dunno why)
The plan for the day was to visit the Golden Temple. So after having a nice warm bath we headed out to the Golden Temple. The hotel we were staying in – Ramada is in the middle of the city. The moment we stepped out, it was a different world altogether. Amritsar is a small but crowded city. My colleague had told me that it’s a very small city, but I got the real perspective after visiting the city. Contrary to my expectation, it is actually a very small place. I had thought that since it is such an old city and with so much religious importance, it would be a decently large place.
It was a bright sunny day and the street in front of the hotel was lined up with e-Rickshaws and Cycle rickshaws. We took a rick for Golden Temple. Due to the long weekend- the roads were jam packed, it seemed as if the whole of north India had marched to the holy city. On our way to the Golden Temple, we discovered Bhrawan or Brothers Dhaba. This was on the top in my list of places to eat. Since we were quite hungry, so we decided to get down and have lunch at the dhaba. Yes, we completely ignored the guilt of eating before going to pray, and made our way to the dhaba. Just like the streets, even this place was jam packed. It’s a fairly big joint, but there was no place to sit. It was crowded to the neck. After a waiting of some 15 minutes, we got a table to sit and we ordered food. I do not remember now what all we ordered, but yes Saag and Paneer bhurji were two items I remember eating. Saag was quite a disappointment, but the Paneer bhurji was to die for! After force feeding the kids, who were totally distracted by the colored saunf (Fennel seeds) and filling ourselves to brim, we headed to the temple.
The area around the temple was also super crowded. We managed to deposit our shoes in the designated area and made our way to the temple. This was the first time I was visiting a Gurdwara, and I was quite looking forward to the experience. At the temple entrance there is a small water reservoir. Everyone was supposed to dip the feet into that before entering the temple. I so loved this idea, and the other thing I noticed, which I was to see a lot more as I explored the temple, was the presence of some sikh volunteers at this gate, who were guiding people on where to go, and reminding them that they could not enter the temple bare headed. I had heard a lot about Golden Temple that it feels different than our regular temples, and it offers peace like no other place. The moment I entered the temple, I knew what it meant. The sight of the temple is so beautiful, even prettier than what we see in pictures. A golden and white shrine in the center of a large water body (the sarovar), it looks nothing less than divine. The place is clean. I mean really clean. We did a parikrama of the sarovar and reached the entrance of the path connecting to the main temple. The temple looks beautiful from all angles, no matter where you stand around the sarovar. The water of the sarovar is clean. So clean that you can actually see colorful fishes swimming across. People sit around some dedicated areas around the sarovar and pray. The sight is so soothing, one can spent hours sitting there just soaking in the beauty of the beautiful temple and hundreds of devotees thronging the shrine to offer prayer. Though there must have been at least thousand people there in the temple at that time, still the place was not chaotic. There was a sense of sincerity in everything going about there. There is no security at the temple entrance. That was a quite surprising for me, because few months ago I had visited Akshardham Temple in Delhi, and I was amazed at the level of frisking and checking at the main gate. This place, which is of much more historical and religious importance had a free entry for all without anyone checking the crowd entering the temple. Given the fact that it is so close to the border, it made me wonder even more. Then I realized that may be such is the devotion and belief of the Sikh community in the shrine that they are not worried about any external agency attempting to meddle with the peace of this place.
This is my first view of the temple:
Another view at around 4 in the evening, isn’t it simple wow!:
When we reached the entrance to the temple- a long passage which connects to the temple, there was a long queue, and it was moving very slowly. We did stand in the queue, but gave up after some time as kids were getting impatient. Then someone told us that for people with kids there is another queue, and one parent is allowed to go inside the temple along with a baby/ toddler through the exit route. We decided to come back to the temple later in the evening and headed for the hotel.
The area outside the temple is full of shops selling local goods like Punjabi Jootis, chaat corners, kripaan and other memorabilia, papad wadis etc. There was some major public construction going on, because the whole of the city was dug up, making it look more chaotic than normal. In the evening I put K to sleep and husband was not too keen to come, so I along with the other couple headed to the temple. It was equally crowded at this time too. However, the moment we entered the temple complex we realized that we had taken the right decision to visit it at night. If during day the place looks mesmerizingly peaceful, at night time the view is even more captivating. With lights all around and the reflection of the well-lit temple in the water, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Easily one of the most beautiful sights I have seen. I felt like just occupying a corner and sitting there for hours soaking in the beauty of the place.
Ignore the quality of the picture, it was taken with my phone camera. The water is so clear that even at night the colourful fishes are clearly visible in the water!
Here is another view:
We did the mandatory parikrama clicking pictures all along and this time gained entry into the temple through the exit. It was already about 9 30, time for the holy book to be taken back to Akal Takht for the night, in a palanquin. We were lucky that we got a chance to view this spectacle from so close. Devotees were thronging over to touch the holy book once. After that we did a round of the inside of the temple and came out. Now here is when I noted the best part about the temple. The moment the entourage left the temple carrying the holy book in the palanquin, an army of young men immediately took up the job of clearing the temple. They started picking up the mats etc which had been laid down to protect people from the cold floor. They started cleaning the whole complex with brooms and wipers, and all this was happening with such mechanical efficiency and dedication that I was really amazed. I had never seen this in any other holy place! The most appreciable part was that all these volunteers were so polite in their demeanor, they did not ask anyone to leave the temple as it was getting closed. People could still sit there for whatever time they wanted. Even when people go inside the shrine for darshan during regular hours, I did not see any priest or anyone asking them to hurry up and make way for others. No. Women were crowding the place and sitting inside with small babies, others were just being careful. No one was asking anyone to just hurry up and exit the temple like the way it happens in many Hindu temples I have been to. It was really a pleasant surprise.
Even when we were standing outside the shrine wondering where to get the kaadha pershaad from, a volunteer came to us and very smilingly helped us. The other time when we were wondering how to get inside with the little kids, another one offered help and they were so nice and polite with us. I really admired the genuine dedication and sincerity of these volunteers. It felt as if they were there out of their own will and devotion and not because they had been asked/ forced to do any kind of seva. This was the highlight of the visit to Golden Temple for me.
Another thing which I really appreciated was the fact that no pershaad/ flowers etc are allowed inside the temple. So it is much cleaner than other places. You buy the pershaad outside and offer it outside the temple only. By the time I came out of the temple, I was mighty impressed.
Post the temple visit, we headed to the city to eat something. So from a nearby shop- a really small one, we bought some jalebis, and then reached Bhrawan da dhaba. We were scared that it might be closed, but it was jam packed at 11 in the night also. We had to wait for some 10 minutes to get a place, and the food arrived in flat 10 minutes! This time we had ordered a thaali- which had pindi chole and one more dish and tandoori roti, and bang! It was one of the most awesome meal I had had in a long time. It completely justified the craze for the place, and why it is so famous. After filling ourselves to the nose, we headed back to the hotel.
We went to Jallianwaala Bagh the next day. However, before that we again paid a visit to the Golden Temple. The idea was that husband wanted to do the darshan. But it was too crowded, so we just managed to visit till the sarovar and came out. But good part was we got to view the temple at all times of the day. It looks different but equally beautiful at all hours.
Jallianwaala Bagh is situated around 300 meters from the Golden temple. It is actually a very small ground. The entrance to the bagh is the same as it was when the tragedy happened in 1919. As I have said earlier, the whole town was dug up, especially the area around Jallianwaala Bagh, so it was even more chaotic and crowded. Inside it is like any other government maintained park, except for the well and the area where they still have the bullet marks preserved and marked. The well has been covered with an iron grill now up to the top. While looking at the well-marked bullet shots, I did get goosebumps for a while! One tends to imagine what the sight would have been, hundreds of unarmed innocent people trying to escape, save their lives from the armed policemen. There is a small museum also inside the bagh. It is just a small gallery with cemented floor and very badly maintained interiors, with pictures of some of the people who either survived the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre or are related to the event in some way. Each picture carries a description, which is pretty detailed. However, I was pretty disappointed with the sad state the museum is in. The government can do a much better job here. It looks pretty neglected. Infact, for that matter the whole of Jallianwalla Bagh looks pretty ill maintained. The authorities can definitely maintain it better.
Surprisingly the gate to the Bagh is still the same. There is only one entry, and the size of the entrance is also the same. It is actually a pretty small entrance.
Post this, we spent the rest of the shopping. As I said earlier that our hotel was in middle of the town, so we just had to step out and we were in middle of the main market. We explored the market on foot. Shops after shops of phulkari, Punjabi jutis, woolens and papad wadia. It was such a great feeling meandering through the narrow lanes of the market dotted with innumerable small shops brimming with colorful phulkari. No malls can compare with the vibrancy of small town markets. They have a different smell, a different feel altogether. Innumerable narrow lanes dotted with hundreds of shops, some of which are too narrow to even accommodate not more than 2 persons at a time, sometimes the entire lane is covered by a marquee and entangled electric wires that even the sky is not visible. It was fun roaming through the old market. We eventually stepped into a woolens shop. The friend wanted to buy some shawls, and I also ended up picking two. Then we bought some more woolens and eventually the friend bought a lot of phulkari dress material. My best buy there was the Punjabi juti. I had never owned a pair before, but on insistence of my friend bought two pair. Not only do they look beautiful, but they are also quite comfortable to wear and pocket friendly.
After that we went back to the hotel and ordered food from some Surjit food plaza. Aha! It was pure bliss. We had fish, tandoori chicken and dal tadka I guess. O my God, it tasted heavenly. Highly recommended if you ever visit the city. After a sumptuous meal we called it a day.
The next day was our last day in the town. In the morning we went to Durgayana Temple. It is made similar to the Golden temple. Not a great place to visit if you are not very religious. Then we had planned for a trip to Wagah border. We were not very sure how this would pan out because we had kids with us and people told us that there is a walk of around one km to the venue. However, going back without paying a visit to the border sounded like a crime, so we booked a hotel cab, got VIP passes arranged through husband’s friend and headed to the Wagah Border. I was not very keen on watching the parade show. I was keener on having a glimpse of the other side of the border. I know it is highly impossible that I will ever get a chance to visit Pakistan in this lifetime, and given my interest in History of partition it is on the top of my to visit places. Therefore, this seemed like a dream come true for me. To say that I was super excited would be an understatement.
We reached there and got a seat in the VIP aisle. The atmosphere there is electrically charged. There is a BSF guy, very fit and tall, who acts like a master of ceremony and guides people to shout Indian slogans. Bollywood patriotic numbers are blaring on music system and the atmosphere is simply electrifying!! For a moment a deluge of patriotism engulfs you. It feels as if by shouting Vande Matram and Bharat maata Ki Jai! you are actually doing some great service to the nation!! It is like a screaming match, similar slogans are shouted from the other side and obviously we have to win..:) Also, on the Indian side, this ceremony master invites women and children to come on the passage between the stands and dance as well. This does not happen on the Pakistani side. Then there is the parade ceremony, which I did not find very interesting. Yes, but it’s a must visit place as the energy there is unparalleled. The place has a feel and that cannot be missed. I loved the visit to the Wagah border. Somehow it made me think about the whole partition thing and how it feels so weird that just 29 km further from Wagah is Lahore and many other villages and towns which so many Indians long to visit.
We had our return journey the same day. So after returning to the hotel, we picked up our luggage and headed to the railway station.
Honestly speaking, when I was in Amritsar, I did not know that I would write so fondly about the trip so many months after coming back from there. But now when I look back, I feel that it was one of the most enjoyable trips of my life. I really loved the warmth of the place. Its small but the city has a character. There are a couple of episodes which I must mention here. On one of our cycle rickshaw trips to the Golden Temple, I asked the rickshaw wala about any place where we could get authentic papads etc. Another rickshaw wala passing by overheard me, and without even me asking, started telling in Punjabi where I can get blankets from. Then our rickshaw wala said..”O ni puch re..papad wadian puch re si..”. That was so cute. This can only happen in a small town…J
Then while travelling by the e-rickshaw, we met a lady. She could figure out that we were tourists. She smiled at the kids, and started asking us where were we from, where we were staying, and started telling about herself. These casual, unguarded conversations can only happen in small towns.
I would always remember this trip all my life. Infact I plan to revisit the Golden Temple whenever I get another chance.
Kids having some fun in the hotel room when mommies were out shopping: