Founded in late 16th century, the city of Amritsar or the “Holy Pool of Nectar”, is the synonym of the Sikh religion, with a glorious past and a magnificent present with a history of secular culture and amalgamation of rich traditions. The Golden Temple or the Harmandir Sahib is a pilgrimage that cleanses the soul of every pious Sikh and forms the iconic image of Amritsar. Adorned with a effervescent monuments, sacred shrines, Amritsar radiates an air of elegance and enthusiasm with its lively and jovial residents.
This solo trip of mine to Amritsar started from Jalandhar on 28th April, where I arrived the previous day from Kanpur. Located at about 83 km from Jalandhar, Amritsar is well connected by roads. It took me close to 2 hours to reach Amritsar by local bus. The roads are surrounded by beautiful sunflower fields that radiated a golden hue. As with any tourist visiting this great city, the first destination of mine was indeed the Golden Temple. Hardly 2 km from the Bus stand, I walked to the Temple and bought myself a head scarf on the way from one of the many vendors on the roadside. It is customary to cover the head before entering a Gurudwara. The Golden Temple was a sight to behold. Situated in the middle of a huge pool (Amrit Sarovar), the gold plated walls of the temple glittered in the bright sunlight. The reflection of the temple in the ripples of the pale blue waters of the sacred pool is a lovely sight. The temple was an imposing three-storey structure with a canopied gilded dome surrounded by golden turrets on all sides. Since it is religiously auspicious to take a bath in the sacred pool, I saw hundreds of Sikhs taking a dip in its holy waters. I circumnavigated the pool and clicked plenty of photos to keep as a souvenir. I did not enter the temple as the queue was really long and it would have taken me at least 2 hours to get in.The temple premises echoed with the chanting of hymns, prayers, and other devotional songs, which gave the place an ethereal ambiance.
After seeing the temple premises, I had lunch at the community hall near the shrine. The provide free food to everyone all through the day. No matter which religion you believe in or which place or caste you belong to, you are entitled free food at this kitchen. The hall was quite big and could accommodate about 1000 people at a time. And it fills in every 30 minutes. I had roti, dal and a sweet dish from this community kitchen and the most important thing I noticed was that people who serve it are not just doing their duty. They smile and serve like they are doing a service to their fellow brethren. I must say, I’m really impressed with the Sikh people.
I did visit the museum in the temple complex, which depicted the antiquity of Sikh religion. Sikh people are generally considered very brave and if you still doubt it, I’d recommend you to visit this museum. The paintings illustrated gruesome torture and butchery and I must confess, I found it shocking and disturbing.
My next destination was Jallianwala Bagh, a place that reminds every Indian of the atrocities of the British Empire. Located about 300 mts from Golden Temple, it was here that hundreds of unarmed men, women and children sacrificed their lives on April 13th 1919, to the ruthless British firing squad. The massacre accentuated a political awakening in India and Amritsar became a nucleus of the surge against British despotism. It was a well maintained garden with a memorial in the center. As a patriotic Indian, I felt the rage building in me when I saw the Martyr’s Well and the bullet marks on the walls of the Garden. Well, there is nothing I could do about it, except pay my respects to the 1579 martyrs.
Now comes the best part of the visit, the Wagah Border. It is the International border between India and Pakistan and is located at about 30 km from Amritsar. I took a share auto till the border and had to stand in a queue under the scorching sun for about 2 hours to enter the viewing gallery. Thanks to a few friends I made in the auto, I was able to maneuver myself to the front of the queue. It was extremely crowed on the Indian side with at least 3000 people. The star attraction of the border is the Swarna Jayanthi gate where the vibrant and colorful “Beating the Retreat” ceremony takes place. The pageantry and pomp, and the change of guard within a short expanse make an appealing spectacle, grabbed my attention. The ceremony started just before sunset with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both the side. As the sun went down, the iron gates at the border were opened and the two flags were lowered simultaneously with perfect coordination with an Indian soldier lowering the Pakistani flag and vice versa. The flags were folded and the ceremony ended with a retreat that involved a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, amidst the beatings of the drums and beguiles. The gates were closed again after this 30 minute ceremony. I could feel patriotism pumping into my veins as I saw this parade. Its kinda hilarious though, the way the soldiers march with their legs raised above their heads. The border is separated by electric fences and the landscape surrounding the border is beautiful. You could run to the border waving the Indian flag or even dance prior to the ceremony. I did get myself a small souvenir from the military shop at the border. Only cameras and water bottles were allowed into the border and so all luggage had to be kept in some lockers nearby. Lucky for me, I came empty handed. I took the same share auto back to Amritsar.
I found myself just walking around the city at night. I really liked the city and the atmosphere there except the fact that it was a bit hot owing to summer. I caught a bus back to Jalandhar at around 8.30 pm.
This concludes my diary entry on Amritsar and Wagah Border.
My next destination: Dharamshala