Amritsar has a laidback industrial vibe with the architecture reminiscent of the 70s era. It is a city that appears to have resisted falling into the trap of new age rapid development. No Indian city can fight back the the lure of building ostentatious malls conveniently sharing a wall with a flashy five-star hotel and Amritsar is no exception. After all, there is no better way to draw in tourists than offer them the fancy trappings of designer stores and high end services. But Amritsar need not worry. The tourists or rather the spiritual seekers will continue to arrive into this holy city in droves.
It’s biggest crowd puller or charm factor lies in the Golden Temple, or the Sri Harmandir Sahib, which is not just a place of worship for the Sikh community but a beacon of hope for every individual seeking solace and fulfillment. Nothing can prepare the first time visitor, who embarks on this sanctified journey to the holiest Gurudwara in the country.
The famous Haveli restaurant which gives you a feel of village life
Given the solemnity of this pilgrimage site, all vehicles are stopped almost a mile away and visitors are expected to walk the remaining journey. Keeping the comfort and convenience factor in mind, all shops in the vicinity have been renovated giving the neighbourhood a fairly tale like vibe. So many pilgrims can opt to stay in small inns and hotels within this community of sorts — which offers everything under one roof — from dhabas doling out delicious parathas, to tiny stores selling glittering bangles, and eye-catching wares. There are temptations at every step from colourful jootis calling out for attention to shimmery fabrics in various hues. The goal is clearly two fold, pray for your sins and then shop to celebrate your cleansing.
But those in quest of a spiritual satiation, walk ahead, not distracted by any of the material desires as their goal is to place their head in subservience at the Guru Granth sahib inside the hallowed portals of the temple. It is customary to partake a meal at the langar — a community initiative where everyone is treated equally and people volunteer to wash vessels after a meal.
Amritsar’s iconic dhaba where the delicious non vegetarian thali is a must try
There is a sense of calmness and serenity that fills the mind even amidst the large groups of people. You can opt for the pre dawn darshan at 4 am or the night darshan, where you get to watch the volunteers painstakingly cleaning the gold embossed ceilings with milk. You can spend hours here, savouring the pure air and walking around the holy pool as a mark of respect or what is known as parikrama.
The Wagah border
There is not just divineness but also a touch of history that makes a visit to this city memorable. One such experience is the Wagah Border, where raucous jingoism and a sense of desi pride fills the air as you watch the Indian soldiers perform the flag lowering service. This is a daily ritual that is jointly practiced by the security forces of India and Pakistan. The Wagah Border ceremony takes place at 5 pm in winters as Amritsar can be bitingly cold post dusk. Again, due to security constraints, visitors are expected to get dropped off at a designated entry point, from where you walk for almost 10 minutes to reach this historic venue. As a precautionary note, ensure you get there at least 45 minutes in advance coz the serpentine queues will delay your entry process. This also ensures that you will get the best seats to sit inside the open air venue. If you are fortunate, you will get seats closest to the Wagah Gate overlooking the No Man’s land and the Pakistani gate.
The mood is almost like a war zone as citizens from both sides of the border vociferously root for their own country. This coupled with some dramatic footwork by our soldiers makes for an entertaining evening. But really no trip to Amrtisar is complete without partaking the desi ghee rich cuisine. There is something about the nippy air that makes you ravenous all the time. The famous Kesar dhaba, a small nondescript locale whips up the most buttery and mouthwatering parathas in various flavours be it mooli or paneer. This accompanied with thick chicken gravy and bright red gajar ka halwa is enough to make you pass out with blissfulness.
For those visitors looking to savour a rural experience, the Haveli restaurant on the highway brings alive a village like ambience in an urban setting. It’s almost like participating in a mela which offers some respite for weary travellers While the indoor restaurant serves pure vegetarian food, most people though prefer to sit in the open air around the Food Court from where you pick up anything from piping hot jalebis to dahi papdi chaat or even chai. Shopoholics will find the stores irresistible as they offer traditional fabrics, shoes and much more under one roof. Amristar is a bustling city with throbbing energy and a great way to savour the traditional Indian hospitality.