Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Amritsar - How to go, places of interest, things to do

Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple)
Prelude : 
After three eventful unforgettable days, we were back on the road. Our friends picked us from Khannabal around 11.00 am. We were on our way to Jammu. We had to reach Jammu Tawi station by 9:00 pm, as we had a train to catch. As things had been going for us on this trip, some adventure was always around the corner. Our driver didn't know the route and tried some short cut. And guess what, we were lost, and were in danger of missing our train - the Jammu -Bhatinda express. Although, our driver was a safe driver, he too looked a bit nervous, especially when it turned dark. After asking a few locals, we found the route to Jammu Tawi station and reached just in the nick of time. After much drama, we got the train and were on our way to the last leg of our tour - the iconic city which is often regarded as the spiritual center of Sikh religion - Amritsar

How to go : Amritsar is well connected by road, rail and air. It has the Sri Guru Ramdas Jee airport which has regular domestic and international flights to destinations across the world. Located on the Grand Trunk Road, Amritsar can be reached by road from anywhere in India. It is well connected on rails too. Almost from any part of the country, there are trains to Amritsar.  There are many trains to Amritsar from metros like Mumbai and Delhi. The Shatabdi, Golden temple Mail are some of the more popular trains to Amritsar. We reached  Amritsar late in the night around 2.00 am. Vehicles were available at that time in the night as well. We were promptly approached by the cab drivers. As we were a group of seven, we needed a bigger vehicle. We were lucky to get a Omni. The carrier on the top took care of our luggage. 

Places to stay : Finding a place to stay that late in the night, that too in an unknown place can be daunting. However, we had done some good research on the hotels in Amritsar. We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Basera. It was a two star hotel. Nothing fancy about the place. It was neat, comfortable and reasonably priced. Perfect for a short stay. Being close to the station made it perfect for us. We took 3 rooms. Each room had neat toilet-bathroom attached, television, air conditioner, double bed and a couple of chairs. They provided extra beds too for a nominal fee. Room service was not quick but good enough.
        We woke pretty early after a short but good night's sleep. We had a big day ahead of us, so we decided to have breakfast in the room itself. The hotel offered regular fare like bread, butter, cornflakes, aloo paratha etc. for breakfast. The cost was slightly higher than usual. After having our breakfast we started our sightseeing of this wonderful city. The autorickshaws here were slightly bigger than the ones we find in Mumbai. One autorickshaw could accommodate all of us.  Our first stop was the spiritual center of Sikh religion.

Places of interest : 

Harmandir Saheb (The Golden Temple) : 
Entering the Golden Temple
Entering the temple: As soon as we got out of the rickshaw near the temple, people surrounded us offering saffron coloured head scarves. We picked up a few of them for Rs. 10 a piece. There was a lot of crowd, as expected. However, it was very well organized. There was a cloak room for keeping our shoes, bags etc. Unlike other religious places, mobiles and cameras were allowed in the Golden Temple. There were places where water was being offered. Instead of glasses, water was being offered in unique bowls. The water center was split into two ledges. There were bowls of water and empty ones spread all over the ledges. There were temple sevaks who were offering the water. After drinking water from a bowl, I had kept it on the top ledge. No wonder, that made the sevak frown at me. That made me realize that, the water filled bowls had to been kept on top ledge and the lower ledge was to keep the bowls after drinking from them.

Inside the temple: We had to wash our legs before entering the temple. There was a pool just before the temple, these pools had water filled in them. It was a nice way to ensure people wash their feet before entering the temple.  After washing our feet, we entered the temple, it brought the memories of the famous Rang De Basanti song 'Ek Onkar'. The very sight of the Golden temple right in the center of all the water of Sarovar lake gave an awesome feeling. The temple complex was rectangular in shape. The floor had marble tiles, which made it easy walking bare feet on them, in spite of all the summer heat. There were Sikh hymns being recited within the temple which were being played on loud speakers. At one end of the temple, there was a large TV screen which was screening the teachings of Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Devji.  
Gold fishes in Sarovar lake, Harmandir Saheb
           The entire mood of the place gave quite a calm affect. Its quite a huge temple, I felt it was much larger in size than the temple at Shirdi.  As went towards the Harmandir Saheball this while. The Harmandir Saheb holds the holiest Sikh literature  - 'The Guru Granth Saheb'.

After the darshan, we had some prasad. We visited some of the other structures within the temple complex. All across the temple, there were holy scripts written about the various Gurus and warriors of the Sikh religion. At one end of the temple, people were doing some holy service like cleaning the temple by pouring water for the cleaners to clean the place. We decided to participate in the service. It was meant to be service to the God. Overall, the time spent at the temple was really great. Time had passed so quickly in the temple. We wished to stay back longer, however, we had to leave. Although, we did plan to visit the temple again in the night. 

Amritsari Kulcha, Bhrawan's Dhabba

Places to eat : Visiting Punjab and not savouring the local food is almost a crime. The auto rickshaw driver had suggested couple of places near the temple for having our lunch. We insisted having authentic Punjabi food. He had suggested Brother's dhabba and Bhrawan da Dhabba. We went to the latter. It was a huge hotel and pure vegetarian cuisine. Some of us ordered the local cuisine - Amritsari Kulcha with chole. And top it up with lassi. Punjabis really know how to make it large. The lassis were offered in tumblers that were really huge. Unlike in places like Mumbai where lassis are so thin, in Punjab the lassis are one of a kind. After a sumptuous lunch, with all that butter, a lassi can be too much. But, definitively worth it. The hotel really lived up to its reputation. 

Jalianwala Bagh: Although we couldn't visit the place, one should not miss the Jalian Wala Bagh.  This public garden had seen the most evil side of human nature in the form of General Dyre. It is said that what happened on 13 April 1919, can still be vividly felt as you walk through this historic garden. The walls, the well, the lanes all tell tales of the gore human nature against innocent civilians.  Hope to be there on our next trip. 

Flag waving at Wagah border
Crowd control: One needs to be at the Wagah border before 4 PM to get a good seat, that was what was told to us by the locals. After our lunch, we reached at 4.30 PM. We had to hand over our bags and any costly items if we wished to, at make shift cloak rooms.  There was heavy security at the site. People were frisked before entering the place. There was an enormous crowd. We wondered what is there to be seen that locals who must have seen this innumerable times were queuing up. Especially since the Lahore-Amritsar bus ride, Wagah border has become a must see place for every tourist. But, in spite of the huge crowd, it was beautifully handled by a single BSF officer on a horse. It made me wonder, why horses are never used in a places like Mumbai to handle huge crowds. They were used under the British rule. Even now, the London police use horses to control crowds. The BSF officer made the crowds move slowly, steadily towards the Wagah border. 

Song and dance and then the Retreat: There were large seating arrangements on both sides of the road. One side was for the ladies, children and foreign dignitaries. And on the other side was for the male population. The female members of our group had gone to the other side. We could spot them as they were seated right in the front. As the proceedings started, there were scenes of nationalistic jingoism on display. Women danced to almost all patriotic songs. The BSF people provided some huge flags to the crowds to wave. This went on for almost half an hour. 
Flag lowering ceremony, Wagah border
       After a routine of song and dance, the dancers were asked to be seated. Then out of the blue came this white clothed officer from the BSF quarters. This brought a huge roar from the crowd. He was a crowd choreographer. With his unique mannerisms, he made people cheer, yell, shout chants of Hindustan Zindabad. On the other side of the border, we could hear similar proceedings , although due to lesser crowds, they were slightly muted in response. The crowd was a much bigger one on this side. Soon the extremely tall BSF officers took part in a parade to lower the flags. While doing so, the officers on both sides did it in a very hostile, but choreographed manner. It is said to be done in such a manner in order to display the country's pride.  Obviously, this brought a lot of cheer from the crowd and the choreographer had huge role to play. No wonder, after the event people were queuing up to take a photo with him along with the tall officers. It was a nice event and brought out patriotic and slightly jingoistic sentiments for the nation. 

Summary : On our way back from the Wagah border, we visited the Golden temple yet again. Visiting the temple in the night was a must see for us as it was supposed to be an awesome sight with all the lights. And so it was. We had our dinner at the Temple Langar. We even collected some memorabilia from the temple. And with that our trip to Amritsar came to an end. We had an early morning train to Delhi, and from there the train back home - Mumbai. It was an adventurous-cum-spiritual trip to the Northern part of India. It started with the Akshardham and ended with the Golden Temple with Amarnath caves in the middle. What else can one ask for. The tour put us in different situations, and asked different questions. Luckily we pulled all the right triggers and came up with the right answers. We may feel we could have done things differently. But,  I guess it was meant to be that way. It was an experience. And experience is often the best teacher. I hope you enjoyed reading the series of North tour 2011 as much I enjoyed writing it. Nothing else can be more apt to say than 'Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh'.  

The Golden Temple in the night 


  1. Nice and informative sharing my friend! Professionally I’m tourist and like to visit in different places all over the world. The Amritsar is the city in India. It has a lot of attraction for visiting. Few month ago my uncle visited in this city before west coast tours. He never visited these places that you share in this blog. I must suggest him to go again in Amritsar city to see the natural beauty. Thanks for this sharing. Keep it up!!

  2. Glad to see that you had a fun time in Amritsar. It was so interesting to read about your experience at the wahgah border. Since I’ve been to the Lahore side of it, knowing what happens over on the other side was great!


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