Different Shades of Amritsar


Ok, so I wanted to name this post 50 shades of golden since Amritsar left a lasting impression of golden in my mind - be it the Golden temple or the dollops of golden butter on hot Kulchas or the golden hue of butter chicken! Our agenda for the Amritsar trip was pretty straightforward - visit the Golden Temple and eating the best butter chicken ever. But in our three days we managed to unveil some other spectacular things to do and eat in Amritsar too! Read on to find out more about our three day trip.

Every Tourist's Amritsar

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Ariel view of the Golden Temple.

First things first - most people go to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple (unless of course you are butter-chicken-fanatic like Mr Roads here!). Our friends and family had waxed lyrical about the Golden Temple but nothing had readied me for the sheer tranquillity and beauty of the place. Golden Temple is the most revered place for Sikhs but it is open to everyone regardless of sex, race, creed or religion and huge volume of tourists visit it every year. However, in spite of the throngs of visitors at all times, there was an uncanny sense of serenity here that left a special imprint in our heart.

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We did the usual - took a stroll to visit all parts of the temple, ate at the langar (tried to help out there as well), watched the holy book being carried in the Palki Sahib (palanquin) from the temple to the Akal Takht, listened to the continuous singing of Gurbani Kirtan (hymns). Once we were done exploring the temple though, we just sat next to the pool and watched new visitors being totally taken aback by the beauty and the grandeur of the temple as they trickled in. There was a sense of calm and peace in the temple that I am perhaps not able to convey with words and need to be experienced first hand!

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Foggy sunrise at Golden Temple

The temple undoubtedly looks most impressive at sunrise or sunset. We were staying right across the temple so we ended up visiting it multiple times during our stay. I loved going there early in morning just as the sun was coming up from behind the horizon. There were very few people there and you can see the temple coming to life as the priests start going about the temple - each settling in to their daily routine, volunteers vigorously cleaning every corner of the temple, devotees taking dips in the icy cold water surrounding the Harimandir Sahib and offering morning prayers.

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View of the Golden Temple from the Langar hall.
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Devotees braving the icy cold water of the Amrit Sagar (pool of nectar) to offer early morning prayers!
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One of the priests of the Golden Temple.

The other usual tourist haunts are Jallianwala Bagh memorial and Wagah Border. I was not particularly impressed by either though!

Jallianwala Bagh is a memorial to all the lives lost in Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The memorial is quite well done with sign boards detailing the events of the fateful day. The experience however was marred by the presence of selfie-clicking crowd. Try finding a time early in the morning to avoid the crowd.

The flag lowering ceremony conducted each day at sunset at Wagah border (between India and Pakistan) is full of pomp and ceremony. While it instils a sense of national pride in most, the carnival-esque atmosphere and the sheer volume of crowd was a big turn off.

Offbeat Amritsar

The Amritsar Heritage Walk (conducted by Davinder Singh) was a great way to experience a different side of Amritsar. It was like walking through a living breathing museum of art and history. Davinder Singh was an awesome guide - knowledgeable and a great storyteller with a wry sense of humour. He made the old city really come alive for us - taking us through the hidden lanes often overlooked by busy tourists in search of the next food destination.

The tour starts at the Amritsar Town Hall from where Davinder Singh will transport you to days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and British Raj with his stories. He explained the history of the Golden Temple and other temples and gurdwaras in the area. As we entered the labyrinth of narrow by-lanes lined with tiny shops selling all sorts of knick kancks, the history of the place literally unfurled - from the beginnings of Tea Trade in Amritsar to how Amritsar become a major trading. The lanes in the area were so narrow and crowded with electric wires hanging from everywhere that you cannot see the sky but keep looking up as these lanes also house beautiful arches with ornate metal work and houses with Belgian stained glasses. Modern houses starkly juxtaposed with the Akharas, Bungas, and Havelis and Hattas and makes you wonder why we are not doing our part in saving this piece of our heritage.

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Old abandoned well converted into a warehouse now.
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Old intricately carved windows.
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Beautiful paintings below the intricate windows. The hand pointing downwards in the right hand corner indicates people living in this house are grounded.
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People continue to live in these intricate "havelis"
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Keep your eyes to not miss all the intricate sculptures and murals on windows!
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Intricate murals slowly deteriorating.

The tour ends with lunch at Davinder Singh's favourite Kulcha place served with Chole and a wonderfully tangy and spicy chutney! Overall it was a great experience and I would highly recommend it.

The foodie's Amritsar

Amritsar is a food paradise. The mere memory of the huge tandoor ovens cooking kulchas and big outdoor grills lined with tandoori chicken is making me hungry as I type this. Our main aim was to find the best Butter Chicken. We went to various places to try the tandoori chicken and butter chicken and ended up discovering other wonderful eating places too. Here are some of our favourite food discoveries in Amritsar:

Langar at Golden Temple: The langar or the community kitchen at the Golden Temple feeds all who come to the temple free of cost! The food is simple and wholesome and quite delicious. Do not miss this or your Amritsar trip will not be complete.

Kanha Sweets: Great place to start the day with a plate of pooris and potatoes (which comes with mango flavoured dish which was wonderful) and a glass of Lassi.

Bharawan Da Dhaba: Quite close to the Golden Temple and serving classic Punjabi food. We loved the Kulchas, Dal Makhani and Rajma there.

Pal da Dhaba: Makes the most wonderful Paya (trotter) soup and mutton tikka! The kheema naan was good too (but a bit heavy for us). The place is pretty nondescript and seemed to have a BYOB policy but the food is delicious.

Beera Chicken Corner: Our search for the best butter chicken ended here. Once again the decor and the ambience is very simple - just one hall with some tables. The tandoori chicken was grilled to perfection - tender and wonderfully seasoned and no orange colouring. The butter chicken was equally delicious(cooked in butter!) too and lapped up within mins with some tandoori rotis (we also tried Surjit da Dhaba but preferred Beera a bit more).

We missed out on trying the famous Amritsari Machhi (reason enough to go back!). Also do not miss out on the wonderful jalebis near the golden temple (look for Jalebiwala Chowk, we went there as a part of the heritage walk).

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Kulcha topped with a dollop of butter and served with tangy chutney!
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Grills laden with chicken and fish are a common site in Amritsar!
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Beera's tandoori chicken.
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