There are some cities that are so simple, so serene that you find yourself wanting to keep going back. A city that has been at the forefront of India’s freedom struggle, a city that suffered a lot from the inevitable partition that followed. A city that stands resolutely strong today as a sign of peace, serenity and most importantly teaches about being in the service of others. This is city is none of than the unassuming city of Amritsar.
Amritsar is home to the holiest site in Sikhism, The Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, also more famously known as The Golden Temple. Amritsar is also the closest city to the Wagah Border, which is extremely famous among Indian and international tourists alike owing to the very entertaining beating retreat ceremony at the border at sunset..
History and culture of Amritsar
Amritsar has a lot of Sikhs visiting the Golden Temple as a part of their pilgrimage, but it’s not just Sikh devouts that the temple leaves a lasting impression on. The Golden temple gets more visitors than the Taj Mahal in a day, and while its equally as spectacular as the Taj, what moves visitors to the Golden Temple is something else altogether.
The Golden Temple is primarily a place of worship and is one of the most serene places of worship you will visit, it is beautiful during the day and and its glorious best in the night. Prayers, the calmness of the pond within the complex of the temple and the simplicity of the people around you is sure to move you in more ways than one.
One of the foundations of Sikhism is to serve the society, and the Golden Temple is a beacon of service for humanity. The temple has a langar ( which is a 24 hour open kitchen). A langar is present in every Gurdwara, the idea is to feed meals to everyone without any discrimination. The Langar setup just like the Gurdwara, runs completely on volunteerism, by people wanting to do their bit in serving others.
The feeling of being one and breaking bread with people from different walks of life being served by volunteers who are doing their bit in service is a surreal experience. The Golden Temple is a great leveller. Your accomplishments in the outside world mean nothing inside the 4 walls of this complex. The volunteer serving you food at the Gurdwara can be the Ceo of a multimillion dollar company, a fellow student or even a non sikh. The Gurdwara accepts service and donation from everyone, nothing is forced, everybody is accepted at the Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, a temple that is golden in every sense of the word.
While The Golden Temple is the most important site in Amritsar, the city has more to offer. The Jallianwala Bagh located just around the corner from The Golden Temple is a historic garden preserved in memory of the peaceful protestors wounded and killed in one of the bloodiest massacres in history.
Peaceful protestors who were protesting against the British Regime were opened fire on without warning by the Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the main gates were closed off and fleeing civilians were shot at till there was no ammunition left. The massacre was carried out to punish the Indians and the imposed curfew in Amritsar after the massacre meant that a lot of wounded civilians would succumb to their injuries later.
The Jallianwala Bagh retells the events of that fateful day and serves as a reminder of a horrible atrocity that must never be committed again. We definitely recommend you visit this during your time in Amritsar.
About 28 Kilometres away from Amritsar is the Wagah Border which is shared with Pakistan. The border has facilitated trade between both countries for the longest time and is used by international travelers to get from one country to the other. The border is most famously known for its beating retreat ceremony at around sunset. The ceremony is entertaining to say the least and involves a lot of chanting and cheering their soldiers from both sides. The area is buzzing and makes for a really exciting ceremony to be a part of.
The culture of Amritsar is one that is a culture of food loving, festival celebrating people. The food in Amritsar is absolutely delicious, the Kulchas are amazing and the city boasts of some truly amazing North Indian food both Veg and Non-Veg. You can’t go wrong with the Amritsari Kulche, Rajma Chawal, Chole Kulche and Dal Makhani as the go to options for vegetarians, the Amritsari Fish, Mutton Tikka, Butter chicken and Tandoori chicken are well liked by the non-veg fare loving locals and tourists alike.
How to get to Amritsar
By Air – Amritsar has an international airport not too far from the city center. The Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport. Amritsar is well connected by air to most major Indian cities. You can also fly internationally to places like London, Toronto and Dubai from Amritsar.
By Rail – Amritsar enjoys great rail connectivity across India, there are many options from cities like Delhi, Jaipur and Chandigarh. Amritsar also has very decent rail connectivity with cities like Mumbai and Jammu. Which makes traveling to Amritsar by a train a very plausible option.
By Road – Local state transport buses in Amritsar can be used to get to places like Dharamshala and Rishikesh (we don’t recommend taking the local bus to Rishikesh) For other cities in North India like Delhi, Dehradun Shimla and Jammu there are plenty of local and private bus service providers, making it a comfortable ride.
Best time to visit Amritsar
The best time to visit Amritsar is definitely in the winter months, anytime from October onwards up until April is a very pleasant time to visit the city. If you can time your visit around the Harvest festival of Baisakhi in January. The vibe around the city is great around Baisakhi as Punjab is primarily an agricultural state, which makes it a great time to partake in the celebrations. While Amritsar gets a decent monsoon season and can definitely be considered during that time. The best time to visit is definitely in the winter months
Getting around Amritsar
If you are living close to The Golden Temple, most places to visit are in a comfortable walking vicinity. Should you be staying a bit further away, you may have to take a rickshaw to commute around which isn’t difficult to find at all, don’t forget to negotiate! For a visit to Wagah, we recommend hiring a cab as it’s the best and the most convenient way of planning the Wagah border excursion.
Breaking stereotypes about Amritsar
Amritsar is just the Golden Temple – While the Gurdwara and the city are synonymous with each other, Amritsar as a city has a lot more to offer after participating in the Langar Seva at Golden Temple and bask in the tranquility of the temple.
Head out to explore the historic city of Amritsar and you won’t be disappointed, the city is full of historic statues and sites and while you can choose to chart them on your own. You could also be a part of a hop on hop off tour.
Amritsar is also the ultimate destination for a foodie, there’s plenty of options for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians and you just cannot get enough of the Amritsari Kulcha. For those who want their dose of shopping, the Hall Bazaar in Amritsar, the oldest market in Amritsar is a great place to shop at.
Go check out
The Golden Temple – The Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, built in 750 KGs of pure gold is the holiest site in Sikhism. The Guru Granth Sahib, which is the holiest book in Sikhism is placed here. The Golden Temple is known to receive over 100,000 visitors every single day.
The temple is also famous for its Langar which is an all day meal service, absolutely free of cost and is available to everyone without any discrimination. You could choose to donate or volunteer (seva) and help in cooking the food or cleaning dishes at the temple as part of your service to the community.
Jallianwala Bagh – A historic garden, which was the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre a massacre in which over 1000 peaceful protestors were shot dead ruthlessly today stands as a garden and a memorial sites for the martyrs of the freedom struggle. Definitely worth a visit!
Wagah Border – The famous border front shared with Pakistan is a must visit. The beating ceremony retreat is an exciting affair where each side tries to outdo the other and are spurred on by both sides. The atmosphere is similar to watching a game in a stadium, the only difference being that both sides and everybody involved goes home a winner.