Saturday 8 October 2011


What can I say about Amritsar that hasn't been said already? Nothing much, obviously! It's got something for everyone. A plethora of delicious options for the foodie; Phulkari work, Amritsari jootis and Sikh artefacts for the shopoholic and collector; Harminder Sahib, Tarn Taran Sahib and other gurudwaras for those who prefer some religion and spirituality; and a trip to the Wagah border for those who want a raucous spectacle and tamasha.  All this packaged and available ready to serve in 1-2 days. Compact, easy and cheap!!
Having said that, it is a small town replete with history and religious significance even before the tumultous events of the Independence movement and the horrors of Partition. Jallianwala Bagh affected me very powerfully, even inspite of the milling crowds who were ogling at the bullet marks and jostling each other to peer into the well into which so many people jumped in to save themselves from the 1600 rounds of ammunition that were fired that fateful day. I was glad to find the memorial dignified and well-maintained. There is a lot of information (inscriptions and photographs), both in the actual site as well as in the small museum adjoining the site.
In stark contrast to Jallianwala Bagh, is the Wagah border "retreat" ceremony, a short 28 km drive away from Amritsar, near the border town of Attari. I was surprised to know that Lahore was only another 30 kms from the border, which made it all the more surprising that the number of Pakistani spectators were very few in number, 100 at the most, whereas there were atleast 2000 on the Indian side. First there is the onerous approach to the border gate. Unless one has a VIP pass, one has to squeeze through some horrendous traffic to get to a particular point after which you proceed about a kilometer on foot.
I held my camera high up as we were walking to capture the loooooong train (for want of a better word) that stretched ahead of us.

All that effort, to reach the gate below, and climb the stairs on each side that lead to a stadium. The lucky few got seats, while we were squashed and fighting for breath with barely enough standing room. Worse, Ads and I got separated from S and Y, and didn't even know where the other half of our family was, for the duration of the ceremony.

The crowd was simply enormous. I'm thinking we probably picked the wrong day (Dussehra break) and it would be more manageable on a non-holiday weekday. There was a master-of-ceremonies who did a great job of pumping up the crowd and getting them to clap, chant Vande mataram, Hindustan Zindabad and the like and dance to popular Bollywood (patriotic) numbers. 

While the crowd frenzy and enthusiasm was palpable, I didn't really get it. I felt I had travelled all that way in the heat and dust to stand in a humongous crowd of sweating Indians - for what? To see a lot of college girls dance to Bollywood tracks, see a few tricolours waving and scream Long Live India? While the actual beating retreat ceremony is good to watch, it takes up only a few minutes of the spectacle. I felt the whole thing was a solid waste of time and effort. You would witness the same energy and noise at any cricket match. The novelty comes from the place, the sense of history vested in Wagah, its geo-political significance. In fact, the only thing that really thrilled me was to see the fence that was the Indo-Pakistan border, the Radcliffe Line that so momentously threw countless innocent lives into upheavel. But again, I am definitely in the minority here because most people who have been to Wagah have really loved it.
The Golden temple was serene and quiet even with the constant Gurbani in the background and the throngs (again) of people. It was wondrously clean, spick and span and what I liked was that there was a lot of self-policing, in addition to the countless volunteers who were roaming around helping hapless non-pilgrims like us. Families sat around, took dips in the lake, talked, clicked snaps, watched the fish - all in an atmosphere of quiet cheerfulness and yes, devotion.
We had a rollicking cycle-rickshaw ride enroute to doing some shopping in the old city. It was one of the best ones we ever had, at top speed through labyrinthine alleys of the old city. Amritsar has a slightly different rickshaw design with no handhold or protection on the sides and very narrow seats, leaving passengers with a strange feeling of being defenceless and at risk of losing an arm or a leg to passing motorists! So the ride had an additional thrill factor :)

The highlight of any Amritsar vacay has to be the food, which surpasses all standards of yumminess. Flaky kulchas, creamy lassis (with yellow butter or cream on top), the most delectable paneer butter masala and chole are the specialities though the true foodie would sing paeans to a lot else including the jalebis, aloo tikkis, the cream chicken, matka kulfis or aam paapad. Although we had a long list of must-eat places in the city, we were limited by time (how many meals can one consume in a day?!!) and also the fact that Ads had an upset tummy and we couldn't very well stuff our faces when he was confined to roti-dal-chawal.
In sum, a truly wonderful place to visit for a short break. I know we will go back just to sample more of it's culinary Amrit. 


  1. Sounds heavenly. And right up son's alley. He wants to grow up to become punjabi because of the paneer! :-D

    Am putting it on list of places to visit, have always wanted some quiet time at the Golden Temple.

  2. Aparna, you've made it sound so interesting I must add it to my list of "North Indian Vacations after the Kids are Grown Up" ;).
    I'm a big fan of Punju food - lived with a Sikh family as PG when in Delhi, and it was the first time in my life I started putting on some weight - Parathas and butter for breakfast anyone ? :).

    PS: Kerala part 2 is up ;). Thanks for the push, I was really feeling lazy about it.

  3. Ah! finally I got the time to comment here..
    A lovely write up here of the place and surely makes me want to visit it someday. I'll def be the shopoholic first and maybe then the foodie.

  4. Oh man - such a dream vacation. Frankly if I was given a choice between this and a Europe vacation I would pick this. I so want to experience all of India. Esp the North. Sounds so awesome. Please think of me every time you go on such vacations and enjoy it a little extra on my behalf also!

  5. Thanks, ladies. Everyone I know who has been to amritsar has really liked it.
    @Uma: It is a tough choice between shopping and eating:)
    @Noon: Will do :)


I would love to hear your thoughts :)