By Diksha Iyer
It was like landing on a green carpet. Acres of lush fields welcomed us as we landed at Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport. A celebration of my father’s birthday brought us to the town where the magnificent Golden Temple stands: Amritsar.
The sun shone brightly even though it was supposed to be the rainy season. Our hotel, Best Western Merrion, exceeded our expectations and enriched our memories of the trip.
We had three days to explore this mystic city. Our main motivation behind coming to Amritsar was of course The Golden Temple, and yes, food! But little did we know that this land had so many other aspects that would steal our hearts away.
On our first evening in Amritsar, after indulging in heavy butter-soaked parathas at the famous Kesar Da Dhaba, we visited The Golden Temple. This glistening shrine stands majestically in the centre of the crystal clear tank that exudes infinite calmness. Words fail to describe the beauty of this intricate shrine; indeed the entire premises. Multiple emotions rushed within as the eyes wondered at the majestic shrine lit up in gold and yellow during sunset.
Golden Temple and the Marketplace
The Golden Temple or Shri Harmandir Sahib, is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. The Temple, constructed purely of marble and gold, attracts people from all over the world. Since we visited it on a Sunday evening, it was packed. Yet, the atmosphere was incredibly calm.
Later, we strolled around the market streets near the temple. The quaint shops and the old-style architecture took us back a hundred years.
The atmosphere and the vibes of the entire area remind you of the history and struggle of the people of Punjab.
The next day, we enjoyed piping hot aloo puris at Kanha Sweets.
Our next stop was Jallianwala Bagh, which stands as testimony to a tragic event. The date was April 13, 1919, and the day was Baisakhi, a spring harvest festival suffused with good cheer. Thousands of Indian patriots were gathered at the Bagh in a non-violent struggle to free India from British domination. That’s when General Dyer ordered his men to open fire.
Apart from the many deaths due to direct shooting, a number of people died in the stampede and by jumping into a solitary well to escape being gunned down. The still-visible bullet marks on the walls are a stark reminder of the many faceless Indians who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, which we so often take for granted.
Entering the Jallianwala Bagh makes you realise the amount of hardship and tyranny people must have gone through. There is something in the air that made my heart pound. The massacre is a scar on our history.
The same evening we reached the iconic Wagah border, a.k.a Attari border, or the India–Pakistan border. Wagah is situated on the Pakistan side, whereas Attari is on the Indian side.
We watched the Retreat Ceremony, marking the formal closure of the border for the night. The National Flag of the two countries is also lowered at this time. The patriotic fervour is palpable and an experience not to be missed in your lifetime.
On the day of our visit, The Border Security Force (BSF) was honoured by the World Book of Records, London for performing the retreat ceremony every day since 1959. We were fortunate to have got a chance to witness this ceremony.
Hundreds of Indians cheered and danced to patriotic Bollywood songs, filling the stadium. I even got a chance to dance on the aisle. It was hot, sunny and humid. But this didn’t stop the crowd from cheering on top of their voices, inspired as they were by the soldiers’ commitment to put up their best show. Looking at the dedication and enthusiasm of our soldiers, literally gave me goosebumps.
The Retreat ceremony looks like a competition between Indian and Pakistani soldiers. The soldiers conduct the procession with loud shouts and heavy foot-stomping, while the cheering crowd provides support. Sometimes, it makes me think, what do we have these artificial borders for? Everything is divided even if there is one Earth and one Sky.
We ended the long day with a delicious dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant.
Next day, we made an early morning visit to The Golden Temple again. Visiting the shrine in the morning is a completely different experience.
Langar Complex at The Golden Temple
We also decided to eat Langar in the temple complex – the world’s largest free kitchen. The food is served with so much warmth and hospitality. This massive dining room is open to people from all castes, creeds and religions. Here everyone is welcome and treated as equal, which makes it even more special. This langar serves a massive 50,000–1,00,000 people a day. The kitchen has been documented by various channels worldwide. Daal, Roti and Kheer – the food was so satisfying and delicious, we could not have asked for a better lunch.
The Partition Museum
Our next stop was The Partition Museum at the Town Hall—it is the first of its kind in the world, and somewhat underrated, I think. The Museum showcases documents, archives, stories and refugee artefacts of those who survived the brutal partition of 1947.
The collection has been curated beautifully, and divided in terms of timelines. There are original letters, newspaper cuttings, diaries, artefacts, clothes and pictures of the heroes who in some way were part of the horrific Partition experience.
An intriguing aspect is the video clippings of survivors sharing their horror stories. The place gave me a new-found respect for everyone who survived this horrible phase and built themselves again. Whether you are a history buff or not, this place is a must-visit to understand the brutality that caused the violent birth of the two nations.
Next, we decided to take a walk on Lawrence Road, dotted with shops and food stalls. There are eateries here which only sell melt-in-the-mouth dishes made out of paneer.
The sound and light show at Gobindgarh Fort was on our list too. This magnificent heritage site has a glorious history of its own. Maharaja Ranjit Singh played an important role in the history of the fort. It has opened its gates to tourists after 257 years.
As we entered the Fort during the night, lit doors and corridors led the way to the main area. There were hardly any people on our way. We were a bit scared but also excited. We kept following the doors and arrows to reach the theatre, only to find that it was full of people.
Its sound and light show in the evening is beautifully and artistically portrayed. It is unlike any other sound and light show I have seen. There is also a 7D show which takes you through the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. That was good fun too. A must-watch!
Our last day in Amritsar was reserved for shopping. We shopped for Amritsari wadiyan, dry fruits, papad, sweets and, of course, phulkari dresses.
Amritsar will make you want to come back again and yet again. Every corner of the city has a new story to tell. This is a place where even the walls speak. This is a place where history comes alive.
Know Before You Go
- The Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh can be covered on the same day.
- The Partition Museum is closed on Mondays
- Reach a couple of hours before the retreat ceremony at Wagah Border to secure good seats.
- Bags are not allowed at Wagah Border. You will have to deposit them in the locker room.
- You simply have to try the Kulcha, Paratha and Lassi at local dhabas.
- Local autos are a convenient mode of transport in the city. Every auto driver reminded us to guard our bags.
Diksha Iyer blogs at Jauntful Memories.