Amritsar: Universal brotherhood

The most prominent spiritual site of Sikhism – The Holy Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple is located in Amritsar. Amritsar is a pilgrimage destination for Sikhs all over the world. It is a municipal corporation and the second most populous city in Punjab. The Attari – Wagah border between India and Pakistan, is at a distance of only 30 km from Amritsar.

Main attractions

The Holy Harmandir Sahib – Golden Temple

The Golden temple is spiritually the most important site of Sikhism. “Harmandir Sahib” also means the “the abode of God” and it is a Gurudwara. This Gurudwara is built around a man made pool (the Amrit Sarovar) by the fourth Sikh Guru – Guru Ram Das Ji in 1577. The construction of Harmandir Sahib was started by the fifth Guru – Guru Arjan Dev ji. Maharaja Ranjit Singh rebuilt the Gurudwara in marble and copper and overlaid the sanctum in gold foil – so the name “Golden Temple“. The Guru Granth Sahib is worshipped here as the sovereign and eternal living Guru. Guru Gobind Singh – the tenth Guru nominated the Guru Granth Sahib as his successor. On a given day in normal time, almost 100000 people visit the temple. The temple has a langar – a community kitchen which serves vegetarian meals to all visitors without any discrimination. People from all walks of life and faith can visit the temple. One of the most important things which I saw at the temple and that humbled me was the caring, helpful and serving nature of people working in the temple. They looked after all the needs of the visitors – a service to the humanity. The Golden Temple is a great symbol of human equality and universal brotherhood.

Before visiting the temple – it is essential to cover your head with a scarf or handkerchief for both men and women. Though there is no dress code, but very essential to dress up respectfully. Photography inside the temple is prohibited (only allowed on the parikrama). On a normal day, the visit to the temple may take up to 3 hours. See Things to remember. It is a good idea to see the temple in the morning and also in the night when it looks even more beautiful. During the winter months the region is engulfed in a cover of fog, which impacts visibility. If you are staying close to the temple, then you can use an electric rickshaw to visit the temple. Private taxis/ personal vehicles have to be parked in the designated parking spaces. Throughout the day, the area around the temple is thronged by thousands of visitors and devotees.

I have seen, in addition to the Golden Temple, the Gurudwara at Nanded in Maharashtra, known as “Sachkhand Shri Huzur Sahib” and Gurudwara at Manikaran Sahib at Kullu in Himachal Pradesh.

The Attari – Wagah Border

Attari – Wagah border is a geographical boundary separating India and Pakistan. It is located at about 30 km from Amritsar. Every day a retreat ceremony is held in the evening at the time of the border closing. During winters the ceremony takes place at 4:30 PM, while in summers the time is 5:30 PM. Almost every tourist who comes to Amritsar, visits the border for the parade ceremony. The attendance is in thousands.

The Border Security Force (BSF) personnel carry out the parade. Most of the men are almost 6 ft in height. They wear full uniform and a colorful headgear. The drill involves rapid movements, march and raising legs as high as possible. The ceremony ends up with flags lowered on both the sides and closing of the border gate. The visitors raise slogans during the parade to cheer the BSF personnel. Before the parade people dance in the open area and patriotic songs are played. If you are visiting during winter times, be aware of the fog that engulfs the region and reduces visibility. It is important to reach the venue about 2 hours before the parade timing to ensure that you clear the security check in time and get a good viewing position. A must watch event in Amritsar.

The Jallianwala Bagh

The memorial at this site commemorates 1000+ Indians who were killed or wounded when acting General Dyer ordered the troops to open fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians protesting peacefully. The massacre took place on 13 April 1919. The orders to fire were given without a warning and firing continued till the ammunition was exhausted. The site has a well which is preserved, called “The Martyrs’ Well” in which several people jumped in an attempt to flee. The site has sections of preserved walls with bullet marks on them. A memorial of great historical significance and a symbol of India’s freedom struggle.

Bhagwan Valmiki Tirath Sthal

Dedicated to Maharishi Valmiki, the author of Ramayana, the first epic poem. This place is known for the ashram of Maharishi Valmiki and dates back to the period of Ramayana.

Accommodation

Amritsar is the second most populous city in Punjab and a tourist hub. So many options such as Ramada Amritsar, Taj Swarna, Radisson Blue, Hyatt Regency and Lemon Tree are available. In order to cut back on traffic, it is a good idea to stay close to the main attractions of the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh. Another benefit of this is that a local conveyance to go to Wagah Border and other destinations is easily available from here. However this area has a lot of hustle bustle and narrow lanes with slow moving traffic. We stayed at Hotel City Park – in the close proximity of the Golden Temple.

Food

Punjabi food is liked all over the world for its taste and preparations. Some of the well known vegetarian dishes are “Sarson da saag” (made from mustard greens) which is served with “Makke di Roti” (a bread made from maize flour), Palak Paneer (cottage cheese prepared in Spinach), Chhole (a chickpeas recipe), Amritsari Kulcha and Dal Makhani (a lentil preparation). On the non-vegetarian side one of the well known preparations is the “Tandoori Chicken”. Amritsari Kulcha and Lassi (a yoghurt based drink) are must try items in Amritsar.

The places to try out the delicious food in Amritsar are – Kesar da Dhaba, Bharawan da Dhaba, Charming Chicken and Beera Chicken House.

Amritsari Kulcha (Image credit: food.ndtv.com)

Local transport

Both Ola and Uber are available as fleet cab services. Bike taxi service Rapido is also available. Local rickshaw and taxi operators are available in the area near the Jallianwala Bagh. Private taxis can be booked through the hotels. Rickshaws / taxis are available for the Wagah Border near the Jallianwala Bagh. The traffic in the city seemed to move at a slow pace, when we visited a lot of road works were in progress. The area near Golden Temple has narrow lanes and vehicles have to be parked in designated areas. Electric rickshaws are available from the parking to take you to the hotels near the Golden Temple.

Destinations near Amritsar

Placedescription
DalhousieApprox. 200 km, a well known hill station in Himachal Pradesh.
Dharamshala – Mcleod GanjApprox. 200 km. Mcleod Ganj is known as “Little Lhasa”. It has a large Tibetan population and also a number of monasteries. Palampur near Dharamshala has a number of tea gardens.
KangraKangra tea is well known variety of tea. This town is famous for tea gardens, and lush green forests. At a distance of ~ 200 km from Amritsar.
JammuFamous for shrine of Vaishno Devi and its ancient temples. Located at a distance of 215 km and on the banks of the Tawi river.
ChandigarhCapital city of Haryana and Punjab, located at about 230 km from Amritsar. This city is famous as one of most planned cities in India. The master plan was developed by Swiss – French architect Le Corbusier. Nek Chand’s Rock Garden is another famous attraction here.
A tea garden in Palampur near Dharamshala

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*** My travel experiences before the COVID-19 Pandemic

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