More often than not, we plan a perfect itinerary for our travels, spending enough time to detail out the routes, places to visit, accommodation, ticket bookings, etc. All this is to ensure a hassle free travel, surely. But sometimes fate is up to a mischief; we overlook a trivial detail and are up for something we didn’t plan.
Something like that happened to me as I was returning from Spiti Valley. An overnight bus from Manali landed me in Chandigarh, where I was to spend 2 days with my friend and her family before boarding a train to Mumbai. The plan was perfect, except that I had accidentally booked myself for a train on 4th day instead of 3rd.
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The family was very warm and welcoming and I could have easily extended the stay for another day but I did not wish to exploit their hospitality. I decided to make the most of this unexpected opportunity and set out on an impromptu visit to Amritsar. With hugs, and good byes and promise to visit soon again, we bid farewell and I boarded an afternoon bus for Amritsar.
Historically known as Ramdaspur and locally addressed as Ambarsar, Amritsar is situated in Punjab. The Amritsar city is very well-connected to every major city in India via rail, air, and road. Alternatively, there are daily connecting buses, trains or flights from Delhi which is 450km away. Amritsar is most popular for the Golden Temple Sri Harmandir Sahib, Wagah Border, Jallianwala Bagh along with some of the best eateries and street foods.
Best Time to Visit Amritsar
Amritsar can be visited round the year, but summers can get scorching hot with the mercury rising to as high as 49-degree Celsius. Most tourists prefer post monsoon and winter months to visit Amritsar.
Incidentally, I was in Amritsar in October, which is supposedly a good time. October through March is an ideal time to plan a trip to Amritsar. The weather is cool and pleasant, with the temperature occasionally dropping to a freezing point. Days can still feel warm during the early autumn period, the evenings, however, are pleasant.
24 Hours In Amritsar
After around 5 hours of journey covering the 230 km distance from Chandigarh, the bus finally halted at the Amritsar Bus Stand in the evening. It was a pleasant evening and I decided to directly go to the famous Golden temple. I boarded a shared auto rickshaw with few locals.
Faith, Devotion And Peace At The Golden Shrine
The Amritsar bus stand is around 2ish km away from the Golden Temple and yet it took me some 10 minutes to get there. Suddenly the landscape had changed, hundreds of Sikh devotees wearing turbans and tourists flocked the narrow streets leading to the Golden Temple. Everyone must cover their head with a scarf once in the premises of Golden Temple as a sign of respect for the holy place of worship.
The famous Golden Temple stood beautifully lit up. The air was filled with Gurbani kirtan (chanting of hymns). The shrine is a part of a huge Gurudwara complex that is known as the Harmandir Sahib. A vast water body known as ‘Amrit Sarovar’ surrounds the shrine, where numerous pilgrims and devotees take holy dips. I sat on the floor near the sarovar, awed by the shrine’s stunning reflection gleaming in the holy water.
Eating At The Langar
Since it was the nearing the closing time, the crowd seemed to be dispersing slowly. I joined the people who were heading to the temple to offer prayers and have a last look before heading for the langar. I have visited a few Gurudwaras on my travels and each time I’ve been amazed by the generosity of serving unlimited free food to every being.
This Gurudwaras too had the langar that served free food to thousands of devotees every single day. I ate the delicious meal to my heart’s content. Gurudwaras also provide accommodation to the visitors and travelers. I had never stayed in a Gurudwara before and so I went to look for the complex’s administration office to inquire regarding the same.
Volunteering For ‘Seva’ At The Holy Shrine
It was a little too confusing to find the one right person to speak to regarding the accommodation. One of the many individuals/volunteers I spoke to mentioned that I’d be shown to a dormitory instead of a separate room, I wasn’t too comfortable with that, so I dropped the idea. I, however, learned that I can volunteer for a ‘seva’ (service) from one elderly gentleman. Also, I wanted to see the Golden Temple during the day. After confirming what ‘seva’ I can offer the following day, I left the temple premises.
The following morning I woke up to the soft, pleasant sounds of holy chants. I got ready as quickly as possible and headed again towards the Golden Temple. I had managed to find myself a small and basic lodging the previous night that was fortunately super close to the temple.
Bathed in the golden rays of the sun, the shrine looked beautiful. As decided, I volunteered for serving tea in the huge kitchen for two hours. I must confess I was tired within no time, I felt huge respect for all the volunteers who ceaselessly do the tasks every single day.
Surge of Emotions At The Jallianwala Bagh
Feeling content and peaceful at the volunteering experience, I left the temple premises. I decided to explore the city by walking around. My first stop was the Jallianwala Bagh, which is 1.3 km from the Golden Temple. Following the map and walking for about 7-8 minutes I reached the gate of the park where a tragic historical event had taken place.
The landmark event in the history of Indian independence, the Jallianwala Massacre of 1919 had happened at this very spot. Upon suspecting a rebellious gathering, General Dyer ordered the soldiers of British Army to open fire on unarmed men, women and children. Recollecting the history lessons from school, and overwhelmed by the heart-wrenching feeling, I walked quietly around the park, looking at the memorial and walls with bullet marks and reading the displayed detailed information of the event.
Patriotism and Flag Ceremony At The Wagah Border
Though there are McDonalds and Burger King in Amritsar given the number of global tourists, one must try the authentic Punjabi food while in the city. A big time food lover that I’m, I devoured a sumptuous meal at a simple restaurant nearby, satiating my taste buds with the delicious Punjabi food.
I took a taxi from the Jallianwala Bagh to the Wagah border which is 35km away. It took about an hour to reach the place. It is advisable to reach latest by 3.30 pm as the place sees thousands of tourists every day. I was excited and eager to see the Indo-Pak border and the ‘beating retreat’ ceremony that takes place at sunset, that I heard so much about.
Wagah border is just 29 km from Lahore, Pakistan. And tourists from both countries are present at the ceremony. There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the crowd that fills you up with pride and patriotism. Just before the sunset, the border gates are opened. Flags on both sides are then lowered and folded. The gates are then formally closed for the day, until the sunrise the following day.
Still filled with excitement, I was back to Amritsar city from the Attari-Wagah. I had to then head to the railway station to board a train to Chandigarh, from where I would start my onward journey to home the following day. Delighted after spending an entire day filled with assorted events, I bid farewell to the holy city of Amritsar as the train chugged along the platform.
(This article was first written for and published on Native Planet)