Begin your trip by visiting the holiest place for Sikhs, the Golden Temple. Open to people of all faiths, every entrant is expected to cover their head and remove their footwear. The smooth white marble feels quite cool even under the harsh mid-day sun. Shops selling religious memorabilia flank the path to the temple and their vendors smile brightly at you as you buy a Kadda for your elder brother. Guards in bright blue robes, mustard yellow turbans and spears in their hands walk past you with non-threatening glances. The most sacred part of the temple is the Hari Mandir, which houses the Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book). The golden lotus shaped dome of the Hari Mandir shimmers amidst the crisp blue waters of the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar). The temple, free of most social prejudices has business tycoons collecting your plates and a peasant woman rolling the chappatis in the Guru-ka-Langaar (communal dining hall) where the visitors receive a free meal.
Jalllianwala Bagh is recognised by most Indians as the location of one of the most tragic incidents to have occurred in the country’s struggle for freedom. A few lanes away from the Golden Temple, the narrow walkway to the garden has walls with inscriptions that read ‘General Dyer conducted soldiers for firing on an innocent crowd of Indians through this passage.’ This quote will set the mood for the rest of your trip. The former spot of massacre is now a lush garden with a memorial erected in the southern end of the park and a museum housing relics, photographs and biographies of the firebrand revolutionaries that Punjab is so famous for. Walls with bullet holes, the famed well into which the victims jumped to escape the bullets and the horrifying statistics of the massacred will haunt you long after you leave the bagh which the 20,000 people on April, 1919 couldn’t.
Don’t give up on the dabah as you squeeze past a cycle rickshaw and get lost for the nth time trying to find its location. The heavens will sing to you when you finally find it and the air-conditioned yet frugal dabah will provide some respite from the summer heat. A burly man will walk to you without a menu and demand that you place an order. Expecting you to have researched what to order for, like the other nervous tourists who sit beside you. When he places that cold lassi in front of you, you will pray that your already full stomach does not fail you. The legendary kulcha with enough ghee to run an Indian household for a month will arrive and that burly man will crush it right before your eyes with his man-hands to prepare it for the mortals. After the meal, feeling like you can’t move and have to be airlifted is a perfectly normal reaction.
Wagah, is around 32 kms away from Amristar and is located on the international highway to Lahore, Pakistan. It is particularly famous for the aggressive march by the Border Security Force of either country during its flag lowering ceremony every evening at 5pm. Before the ceremony begins each country belts out its patriotic songs one decibel louder than the other’s. The BSF hand out flags for the spectators to carry and run in a fit of patriotic fervour. While most people tear up when Vande Matarm is played, the PT instructor with a whistle hung around his neck asks all the spectators to stretch their arms in unison. When Chak De India begins playing, most women run down their seats into the common ground and begin dancing. The ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony includes stiff marching, exchange of threatening looks and fierce postures. The end of the ceremony is marked by the awed silence of the audience, the neatly folded flag being carried away and a firm handshake followed by a loud slam of the border gate.