We all have that travel bug inside us and most of the people I have come across, the one thing which is common- “travel more, spend less”. The pleasure of visiting a new place without spending much is second to none. The other thing which is common between my fellow citizens is that they don’t have enough leaves so the weekend breaks becomes the new found best friend.
Amritsar can be easily visited on weekends. We (group of 5 friends) travelled to Amritsar from New Delhi. It’s an overnight journey. There are several trains and buses between the Capital city to Golden city. Trains are more convenient, of course for the most obvious reasons. In case you are visiting the city only for a day, make sure you book a train which reaches Amritsar early morning. (as early as possible)
We had planned the trip only for a day. We went straight to the Golden temple by taking a shared auto.The auto dropped us right outside the temple and charged us Rs. 35 per person (30 mins from railway station). We walked inside the temple complex with our luggage and went to their bathing area (free of cost). There was separate bathing area for men and women and is clean and well maintained but crowded. Cleanliness is maintained by volunteers.
If you are staying overnight in Amritsar, it is highly recommended to stay in hotels which are close to the Golden temple. The range of these hotels varies (from Rs. 500 to 3000) and it’s up to the individual’s choice. But make it a point to get refreshed quickly and leave for the Golden temple.
We kept our luggage in the luggage room (free of cost) and footwear in jora ghar (shoe stands) and entered the temple complex. An artificial stream was flowing to wash one’s feet before entering. Make sure to cover your head properly before entering the holy complex. Anyone can take a dip in the holy sarovar but use of soap or shampoo is not allowed. It’s believed that one gets cured of the diseases by taking a bath in the sarovar. As soon as we entered, the grandness of the temple bowled us over. The temple has gold work done on major part of it including the dome. The carving work done on the walls is amazing.The katha and kirtan at the temple was melodious. It took us approx. 3 hours to get the darshan. There are separate queues for women with toddlers. Unlike other temples in India, the volunteers don't pester you to go out once you enter the Sanctum Sanctorum. The kadha Prasad is offered with cupped hands and it is touched with the tip of krippan before it is distributed.
It was almost lunch time when we moved out of the temple complex and headed towards the langar hall. We were to astonished to see hundreds of volunteers working there. The food served was fresh and hot, excellent Kheer, and a special mention of the unique way of serving drinking water. Everything was systematic and neat and clean. If you are not having the lunch there, still it’s a must to go and see the Langar area because you will be amazed how common people are providing their services to do activities like cutting vegetables, making rotis, washing used plates. Everything is very systematic. A perfect example of team work. (CEOs/Managers go have a look).
We then covered Jallianwala Bagh (India’s bloody past) which is mere 5 mins walk from the Golden temple. In the center there is a memorial tower. It is difficult to think how, from a lane where three people can’t walk side by side, one man managed to perpetrate a massacre. It infuses patriotism in and
reminded us of sacrifices made by our ancestors to win Independence. Once we were out of Jallianwala bagh, we found lot of taxi and auto owners asking for Wagah border. They take you on a sharing basis for Rs. 120 per person to and fro. Try to take comfortable seats in auto as its almost an hour drive but the condition of the road is good. (No point of doing advance booking)
Make it a point to reach Wagah Border by 2 pm or let’s say as early as possible but be ready to wait for approx. 3-4 hours before the ceremony starts. But it’s still advisable if you want to sit and watch the entire ceremony. The place was excessively crowded plus a big queue for security check. We didn’t carry anything and it was such a relief because nothing (Nothing means nothing- no chips, popcorn, ladies handbag, camera cover, etc. Only water, wallets, sunglasses, cameras are allowed) is allowed inside and then you have to keep your stuff in road side vendor locker for which again you have to stand in queue.
We reached in nick of time and occupied seat which gave okay view but we still felt lucky because there was humongous crowd standing and forced to watch the border parade on the big screens installed there instead of live.
The retreat ceremony is for 45 minutes which includes the closing of international gates and the lowering of the flag. The atmosphere was simply electric. The crowd modified into a hooting cheerleader. Passion and patriotism was at all-time high. The moment became so live and full of energy. People danced on some of the famous patriotic numbers. Children also get a chance to take the flag and run.
The auto dropped us at the same place and we decided to do some shopping. We went to Hall market which lies in the way to the Golden temple. Patiala salwar and jootis were exceptionally beautiful and cheap. We found handicrafts like phulkari and shops of weaponry like swords and krippan and other souvenirs in abundance. Later, we went back to the Golden temple and collected our luggage and had our dinner at one of the local dhabas. (within city limits non-veg food isn’t available). Don’t miss out the famous Amritsari Kulcha and Punjabi lassi (a giant glass with malai on top). We missed on sarson ka saag as its mostly available in winters.