Amritsar started out great and kind of ended difficult. It has it’s beautiful parts, and it’s not beautiful parts. I don’t know if this had to do with my mentality of being a little “India-d out” (I think a lot of expats/workers abroad experience this, unfortunately) or just the city itself, so do take what I say with a grain of salt.
Hyderabad has an almost direct flight from Amritsar, just with a stop in Delhi, on Jet Airways. It takes off pretty early, but it means you could easily go for a weekend. I know the same things goes from Mumbai (my Mumbai friend joined me on this trip). We stayed at one of the Heritage hotels that are around India (some are good, some are bad) called Welcome Heritage Ranji SVAASA. This hotel was super super cute. I don’t think they have many rooms – maybe like 10? – but the hotel itself is just super adorable and well taken care of. Check out the picture!
It was like straight out of a home magazine store. They had all these well-lit rooms to sit and read in, beautifully decorated hallways, and a restaurant that was more like sitting in your dining room/living room than a restaurant. The food was pretty good – but the food that we made with the owner’s wife was even better.
Amristar is all about the Punjab food – and lots and lots of butter. So, we did a food tour through the hotel where first we did a cooking class on how to make butter masala and then she took us on a tour of the more “local” Punjab Amristar food locales. We ate so much food. What was really sweet was that they left us digestive tea in our rooms that night with a signed card. The owner’s wife was pretty young – not much older than us – which made it very relatable, and she was a great tour guide and host. The room itself was simple, and the bathroom could use an update, but the rest of the hotel is so charming and the staff so helpful that it makes up for the rest. The spa isn’t bad, but be careful what you choose, as it’s not as fully “stocked” with the proper head/neckrests, that I actually felt stiffer walking out than I did walking in.
While we were there we did two main things: 1) Border Viewing with Pakistan and 2) Golden Temple.
The border viewing with Pakistan is a must see. It’s this great rally at the Wagah border, almost like a football rally. The thing is: there’s no one on the Pakistan side. The Indian side is massively packed, with all these people and all this showmanship, and there’s nothing on the Pakistan side. It’s kind of funny/sad. India plays all these Bollywood songs and have women dance and have women run the flag towards the gate and back, while the Pakistan plays their own nationalistic songs and chants. Lots and lots of flag waving on both sides; and then all these military guys that do some high kicking at each other. It’s about an hour long – maybe not even that, but you have to get there early to get a seat. Luckily, there’s a special gate that Foreigners can use and a special place closer to the gate to see the show. In order to get to this area, you actually park about a mile away and walk towards it. You go through some security, and – again – there are two different areas, one for Foreigners and one for Indians, to get checked. Women get a pat down (I assume men do to) and you definitely have to limit what you bring in. We could bring our cameras and phones. But just triple check what you’re allowed to bring into the area, as it is a highly militarized area. But it’s quite jovial experience. Be careful, if you’re a woman, for men that grab you/swipe at you. We got quite lucky, but there are just so so many people that it would be quite easy for them to touch you and for no one to notice. It’s probably also not the place to start a riot over something – as, again, there are just so many people and you as an expat are out-numbered. Be careful.
The Golden Temple is the true crown of Amristar. It’s a holy place for the Sikh religion. It’s also called the Harmandir Sahib, and it was the location of a massacre in the 1984 when the Indian government experienced a riot of Sikh’s who holed up in the temple, called Operation Blue Star. This is why Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguard killed her for sacrilege on the Temple. Read about the Temple here on wikipedia as it will do a better job than I will. It’s a beautiful beautiful sight, and when we went at 9pm, it was still packed with people. So so so many people. If there had been a stampede, we probably would’ve died. At one point, waiting in line to get into the main part of the Temple (which you don’t have to go into), I was suspended between all the people around me. It was a bit much, and we were stuck like that for probably close to an hour. People bathe in the pool around the temple (called the Pool of Nectar), which washes away your sins. There is also what’s called the Langar, which is a cafeteria that serves free food to all people – whoever wants to go eat there, can. We did that the following day. After getting up early, having a bit of a pusher for a tour guide, and experiencing the worst of the city, I was not happy to be around so many people. But if you’re in a better frame of mind and perhaps there aren’t as many people, I’m sure it’s nice. And it is certainly nice that the Sikh’s do this (all temples all over the world have langar). If you can pay, you can give charity at a certain spot, which we also did. Note: you have to give up your shoes and wash your feet before entering the Temple area.
The tour that we did, sponsored by the city of Amritsar, I would skip. You see some minor temples and shrines, and some cool European tiles, but it’s just nothing special. We had so many people staring at us, and there were so many flies! I feel that Amritsar was dirtier than Varansai – and just never ending flies! And it was so so hot when we were there (beginning of July). It was nice getting a bit of history for the city, but if you’re in a rush and just want the sites, then you could easily do this in a weekend and wouldn’t be missing much of the city itself.
Amritsar is definitely a fascinating city with all of these different aspects, and so I am definitely glad I went – but it was a bit rough, and the most “Indian” city I’ve felt I’ve been too so far. It affected me the most.
Have you traveled there? Planning to go? Let me know what you think in the comments below!