Amritsar is the most sacred city of Punjab and is home to the revered Sikh temple Harmindar Sahib better known as the Golden temple. This holy city bears the scars of a violet history Mughals, Jallianwala Bagh, partition, and Operation Blue Star and yet each time the city has rebuilt itself.
We set out to explore this historic city on the 10th of March by train. It is a convenient overnight’s journey. If you are just looking to make a quick trip to Amritsar then take the train. There are several options from the Golden temple mail to the Shatabdi. We reached Amritsar around 7 am the next morning and hired a taxi at the station for Rs 550 for the whole day. Ask for Vicky at the station. After freshening up at our hotel, The Astoria, we set out to the Golden Temple.
The temple is set in the heart of the old city and is the city’s biggest attraction. The shimmering temple stands tall in the middle of a lake and left us breathless. There are a lot of shrines around the outer periphery of the complex. As we walked around the lake we listened to the soulful bhajans, which were a treat to the ears. One can easily spend about 2-3 hours at this holy shrine. It is food for the soul.
We then visited the historic Jallianwala Bagh which witnessed one of the bloodiest incidents in the Independence struggle of India. This was where thousands of innocent people were shot down by General Dyer. Once a wasteland it has known been converted into a beautiful park.
Our next stop was the Durgiana complex. This Lakshmi Narayan temple is almost a mirror image of the Golden temple and was constructed around the same period. We then visited the Vaishnodevi temple which has a mini replica of the original temple. If you have time check out the bazaars in the Old City, one can find clothes, shoes, pickles, dry fruits etc at very good bargains. I just had enough time to pick up some jutis (Punjabi shoes).
Our final stop was another big attraction, the Wagah border which is around 30km from Amritsar. Every sunset the change of guard takes place between India’s BSF and Pakistan’s Rangers. We went to witness this historic moment with a lot of expectations but it was a huge disappointment. The crowd management is terrible and the layout of the stands is quite bad and the crowd is unruly. If Wagah border wants to continue to be a crowd puller then facilities have to improve. We almost got caught in the middle of a stampede and swore never to go back there unless things change or we have some ministerial ‘pull’. 🙂 All in all Wagah was a total anti-climax.
The Golden Temple and the other sights around Amritsar are a must see. Access from Delhi is very easy by road, rail and air. There are plenty of decent 2-3 star hotels to cater to the thronging pilgrims. The local food is rich and heavy and takes a lot of walking to digest. The best time to visit would be Oct-March as summers are scorching. The city is a foodie’s paradise and is known for the famous Amritsari Kulchas, Paranthas, Lassi, pickles, sweets and other Tandoori delicacies. A guide isn’t necessary as there aren’t too many points of interest unless ofcourse you are blessed with a friend who knows the city and can guide you remotely by sms (Thanks Poonam).
Places to eat: The famous Amritsari Kulchas are available at Maqbool road and are a favorite for breakfast. Visit Kesar Da Dhaba near the bazaar for some authentic paranthas. Chaat and kulfi at Brijwasi on Cooper road is a must for Chaat lovers. There are numerous options to choose from and there is the Langar at the various temples for a simple wholesome meal.