The historic city has been witness to some of the defining moments of our country – from the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh to the Partition to Operation Bluestar. But it’s not just about history. Amritsar is famous for its food, be it the kulchas swimming in white butter or ghee, the sarson ka saag, the lassi or the multitude of meaty delights. And then there’s the shopping. It can be a bit confusing, but it’s not a large city, so if you know exactly where to go, you can make the most of your stay. Here’s a guide to Amritsar:
Almost everybody’s first stop in Amritsar is the Golden Temple or Harmandir Sahib, and for good reason. The beautiful gurudwara, known as Sikhism’s holiest site, was built by Guru Arjan in the 16th century. (Interestingly, he invited a Sufi saint from Lahore to lay the foundation stone.) Go for the early morning prayer service that starts at 4.30am (the timings may differ in winter). It promises to be one of the most serene, peaceful and soul-stirring experiences of your life, even if you are not a believer. At the heart of the complex is a beautiful water body, which prefaces the gilded structure that gives the Golden Temple its English name. Enter the main part of the gurudwara and take part in the soothing prayers or simply take a parikrama around the pond, maybe a holy dip if you’re so inclined. Either way, you will feel a sense of peace and well-being (helped along by the piping hot kara prasad served at one end of the complex. Handy tip: carry an empty Tupperware box so you can get extra servings of the delicious ghee-laden goodness packed to take back with you.)
Conveniently, the Golden Temple is located close to Jallianwala Bagh, on a recently renovated stretch called Heritage Street, so you can easily walk across. When you enter through the narrow passage, you will understand, in some measure, what the victims of the brutal 1919 massacre went through, when General Dyer ordered his troops to fire mercilessly at the people gathered for a peaceful meeting on Baisakhi. Walk around and feel the weight of history as you stop to gaze at the bullet-riddled walls, the well into which many women jumped, all of which has been preserved to honour the memories of these innocent people.
Another must-see in Amritsar is The Partition Museum, the world’s first, that has recently opened. Located in the beautiful 19th-century Town Hall building, the Partition Museum is intended as a living, evolving people’s museum, built on the strength of their own contributions, ranging from monetary assistance, clothes, letters, swords, jewellery, family heirloom, recorded audio-visual narratives, refugee camp registration cards, paintings and even research assistance. As you explore the space, you’ll unearth fascinating details of how Partition came to be, the back-channel political discussions that sealed the fate of cities like Lahore and districts like Gurdaspur. Listen to the heart-wrenching accounts of survivors, volunteers at refugee camps in places like Ambala, Kurukshetra and Delhi, and witness the beautiful homage to cross-border friendships that have survived. This is a one-of-a-kind museum is unmissable.
Another must-do experience is the Beating Retreat ceremony at the Atari-Wagah border. It’s a good 25km away from the main city of Amritsar and but worth the drive to see Indian and Pakistani guards engage in dramatic marching to pop and patriotic numbers from either side. And despite the aggressive volume, it’s a fun event, with people on both sides lingering at the gate, curious about their neighbours, just inches away.
Punjab is a place where saying no to second helpings is just considered rude – and really, why would you want to say no to such delicious food? Amritsar, especially, is famed for its culinary delights, so wait no more, dig in.
There are two things you cannot leave Amritsar without–traditional Punjabi juttis and phulkari dupattas. Explore bazaars such as Hall Gate and Katra Jaimal Singh, where every second shop sells these wares in a dizzying array of colours. Both Raunak Punjabi Jutti and Rangat Punjabi Jutti have incredibly beautiful footwear, from classic Lahori styles to modern, floral-printed juttis that can easily be worn with Western wear. Over at Raja Exclusive, spend some time browsing the collection of vibrant dupattas, kurta fabric and even phulkari saris, and chatting with the friendly manager. And if you’re looking for other stuff, walk around the Heritage Plaza, just ahead of the Golden Temple, and shop for everything from kirpans to souvenir replicas of the temple. Stop every now and then at a chaat, jalebi or lassi stall to get your fix. Also, don’t miss the numerous shops and stalls selling varieties of aam papad, vadis, pickles and mithai. New Mahajan Store in Katra Jaimal Singh is a great bet for all your savoury snack cravings, while Gian Chand Lassi Wala, just around the corner, has excellent lassi and sweets.
In case you thought Amritsar is all about the serious history, think again. The quirky Sarhad restaurant, close to the Atari-Wagah border, is as famous for its hearty local food (think Amritsari and Lahori dishes) as it is for the artwork that showcases the Indo-Pak relationship in a unique and funny way. Its motto is Celebrating Peace Through Food, and even its menu has the words peace and shanti on it.
If you’re a cricket buff, head out 1.5 hours to Jalandhar. The city is one of the most famous cricket equipment manufacturing centres in the world, with everything from bats to bales being made here. Also about an hour away is the historic village of Kishan Kot in Gurdaspur district, one of the few villages that was ruled by Thakurs. It is home to a UNESCO award-winning Krishna temple that housed stunning murals and paintings depicting Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna and other deities.
|Ajnala Rd, Rajasansi, Amritsar, Punjab 143101||ATQ|