The tales we had heard about Amritsar were right — this holy city, with people deeply religious, soothing Gurbani everywhere; with a rich history and a tearful past seen and felt at its museums, the Jalianwalla Bagh, at the border; finger-licking good food in small, nondescript dhabas; rich phulkari; strong sense of tradition with most locals speaking in chaste Punjabi – indeed, is a unique and a complete experience in itself.
We had been waiting for an extended weekend to make the Amritsar trip, and this year’s Republic Day holiday presented just that opportunity. After all, there was the holy Temple to soak in, Amritsar’s history to revisit and the food to savour! We took the Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi in all our heavy woollens and jackets, armed for the three days of a good peek and experience of the heritage city.
Amritsar’s Tourist Attractions:
- Sri Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple): Located in the most populous part of the city, a one kilometre stretch of shops, dhabas leads up to the Golden Temple. Spic and span, with gurbani (the religious songs in praise of the Sikh Guru) flowing in from the speakers installed in every junction, this Golden Temple complex stroll prepares you for the visit of the temple. Remember to carry scarves to cover your heads once inside the temple premises. They are also easily available at counters outside, at nominal rates. Entry inside the temple is strictly barefeet (socks not allowed too) – a huge shoe counter on both sides of the entrance ensure no long queues. In addition, the entrance has a little moat filled with water so that your feet are washed before you enter the temple premises. In peak winters, they keep warm water for the convenience of pilgrims and visitors. Soothing Gurbani greets you as you enter the premises. You are also struck by the devotion of pilgrims going about with their prayers silently, volunteers quietly making their way through the chores assigned to them, believers taking a dip in the Holy waters disregarding the freezing temperature. Photography is allowed at the premises, but not inside the main temple. Take your time to go through the history of the premises, as well as the Sikh Museum inside.
- Jalianwallah Bagh: A grim reminder of the atrocities of our colonial past, Jalianwallah Bagh is located at the Golden Temple complex. The site of General Dyer’s massacre had been turned into a garden memorial to serve as lessons on our country’s freedom struggle. Along with the memorial, do ensure you spend time at the muse that recounts the events that led up to the fateful day in April 1913.
- Partition Museum: Housed right at the entrance of the Temple complex, the Partition Museum is another heart-breaking history tour. Covering both the Punjab and Bengal partition, the museum narrates the political and social story of how the partition of the country came about. They charge a nominal entry free. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
- Wagah Border ceremony: The famous Wagah Border ceremony where the armies of both India and Pakistan lower their flags every evening, draws visitors in hordes. Depending on the time of the year, plan to reach the border three hours before the ceremony in order to get a seat in the gallery. Remember, long weekends have crazy crowd, so plan accordingly.
- Hall Bazar Shopping: You cross the Hall Bazar while going to the Golden Temple. One of the oldest markets in Amritsar, it is here that you can buy the famous Phulkari fabrics of Punjab, the famous jootis (leather sandals), dry fruits at wholesale prices. But, note, it is extremely crowded, ad best explored on foot.
One big disappointment was the negligence of the municipality in keeping the city clean. While the temple premises and the 1km stretch leading up to it is spic and span, once out of this periphery, you are shocked by the amount of litter, traffic nuisance and incessant honking.
Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi journey: It is supposed to be a 6-hour journey, but in peak winters (December & January), be prepared for delays owing to fog. Remember, it is close to 450km travel northwards, that makes Amritsar much colder and foggier than Delhi. We reached around 3pm, instead of the normal 1.30pm, and headed straight to the hotel’s restaurant for lunch. They give you a very heavy breakfast in the train if you are booked in the 1st class. But carry some snacks for delays.
Is just a weekend enough for the Amritsar trip? No. That’s what we think. So many people had told us to board the train to Amritsar from Delhi on Saturday morning, straight head to the Wagah Border for the evening spectacle of the armies of India and Pakistan, come back to the city to see the Golden Temple in the evening, go back to see the temple the next morning and the Jalianwallah Bagh, and board the Sunday evening train out. Well, this choc-a-bloc itinerary can tire you to bits what with back to school and office on Monday. It is better to have a day in between for a relaxed tour.
And now for the famous Amritsari food, read Best Places to Eat in Amritsar — A Gastronomical Extravaganza