With only 3 hours of sleep, we woke up at 5 AM (try making us do that on a normal weekday !) to catch our 7.20 AM train to Amritsar. One of the best experiences of early morning travel is having Chai, especially if it is as cold as a Delhi winter morning. We walked the few metres to New Delhi Station, whose swanky look, by the way, had us gaping at it like some village bumpkins !
We boarded New Delhi-Amritsar Swarna Shatabdi Express, after the Rajdhani Express trains, the Shatabdi trains are the next high priority, prestigious trains. On dot, the train chugged out of New Delhi and promptly, breakfast was served. When you love food, you tend to relish even a repeated menu - cutlet, bread, boiled vegetables and tea ! Indian Railways is very consistent that way - Hyderabad to Amritsar, one Railways, one menu ! But, Indian Railways is also the reason why some of us become kids again, looking out of the window and the joy of viewing new landscapes !
The train was running behind schedule but we had no complaints, sitting in comfort with a book or just dozing off.
The land of five rivers
Punjab - Bhangra, Lassi, Parantha, "Bhalle, Bhalle", these are probably the first words that come to one's mind. Especially for those from the South of India, Punjab is a fascinating place. Images of the mustard fields, the sturdy Punjabis and the colourful culture - one grows up in awe of Punjab ! It was terribly exciting the first time we read a station name written in Punjabi. We spotted mustard fields and broke into "Tujhe dekha tho ye jaana sanam" ! Breathes there an '80s kid who doesn't get high on this song?
It was mid-morning but the fog had not lifted.
At some places, crops were being burnt, 100 kms away, Delhi gets choked by pollution !
We passed Ludhiana, one of the most important industrial cities of India, we couldn't believe we were actually seeing these places that we had only studied about as part of GK.
Name the five rivers of Punjab. A mandatory Geography question ! Punjab, we all know, is called the Land of five rivers, thanks to these 5 rivers - Ravi, Sutlej, Beas, Chenab and Jhelum. Here is Sutlej of the Famous Five !
A short while after crossing Sutlej, we passed Jalandhar city. About 40 minutes later, we crossed the Beas too.
It is one thing to study about the rivers in school and another to actually see and even cross the rivers, almost gave this writer goosebumps. We couldn't click better pictures from the train window, especially when the train wasn't slowing down.
The train was an hour late and it was past lunch time when we arrived at Amritsar. Swarna Shatabdi only serves you breakfast, if the train is late, lunch is left to you ! Thankfully, we had our snack pouch that we carried all the way from Hyderabad, which kept us happy till we alighted in Amritsar.
Amritsar looked like any other chaotic city with until we reached the road leading to our homestay, a stone's throw away from the Golden Temple. The entire stretch of what must have been the market has been beautified and open only for pedestrians. It looked like we had suddenly walked into a different world. We decided to check out the road later and first checked into our homestay, Osahan Paradise, located right behind the historical Jallianwala Bagh. We had to navigate narrow bye-lanes to reach the homestay but once inside, we loved the comfort of the place. If you plan to visit Amritsar, Osahan Paradise could be a wonderful stay option.
It was 3.30 PM and the only thing on our minds was food, having missed lunch thanks to the late train. We walked into the first eatery we found and ordered the obvious, when in Punjab you order Chole Bhature !
How do we put in words to tell you how much we relished the Chole Bhature? This one was different from the usual, the Bhature were made out of rice flour, instead of the usual maida. This was followed by Lassi !
Though one can find Lassi almost everywhere, one has to taste the Lassi in Amritsar to know why that is the golden standard for Lassi. Amritsar already had us floored.
Value your freedom, dear Countrymen !
All our life, we have studied about India's struggle for freedom, being born in an era where freedom is considered a given, many of us wouldn't really understand what it must have been to live in the times of colonialism and to fight for being free, to have your country for yourself. We might have written essays on Indian independence movement, watched movies, flag hoisting, sang patriotic songs but nothing hits you really hard until you actually experience being at the very place where the struggle for freedom turned the ugliest - Jallianwala Bagh.
The moment you enter the place, you automatically feel a sense of gloom, atleast a 1000 innocent, unarmed people were killed within the precincts of this place.
The buildings around Jallianwala Bagh have been left intact and one of them has been converted into a museum, exhibiting photos and write ups from 1919 when the massacre happened.
No matter how much history you studied or watched videos, when you visit the museum, you really understand what a horrible act of genocide had been committed. It will make your blood boil and that's when you realise how lucky you are to have been born in a free, democratic country.
Today, Jallianwala Bagh is a pleasant garden, where people go for walks and picnics.
But this, sign board makes you stop and think.
This one almost choked this writer with emotion.
Then there is the Martyrs' Well, where hundreds of people jumped to save themselves from bullets only to die a more gory death.
One cannot even begin to imagine the fear and panic that those people must have felt. Walk around the garden and you can find walls with bullet marks, as many 1600 rounds of bullets were shot.
The soldiers must have chased the people and shot them with bullets flying everywhere, you can find them on almost all walls.
In the middle of Jallianwala Bagh, is the monument built in memory of all those people who were killed.
People were walking around, pointing to the bullet marks, talking, some clicking pictures beside the bushes shaped like firing soldiers, having a good time. How many of us actually think that the good life that we enjoy today came at a very high price? Do we value our freedom and realise that the freedom that was won after such pain also means we have certain responsibilities towards our country?
We sat down discussing if India's independence was really achieved in a peaceful manner? Indians may have been non-violent towards the British but ask all those lakhs of people who lost their lives under the British rule, was it really a non-violent struggle? After a few moments of quiet contemplation, we left Jallianwala Bagh feeling very sombre.
You walk out through the narrow, only entrance and exit to Jallianwala Bagh from where General Dyer organised his troops and blocked it so that nobody could escape.
It will make you angry but that is history and one cannot undo it, the least we can do is learn from it and not let these sacrifices go waste, have some regard and love for the country, not the kind of love that says "my country right or wrong" but that makes you want to be a responsible citizen.
All these heavy thoughts made us crave for a refreshing cup of chai and we found one in one the narrow lanes. A cup of chai sitting on the roadside benches in the cold weather - always a winning combination !
If you are not on a road trip, the best way to travel to Amritsar from Delhi is to take the Shatabdi trains.
The journey is 6 hours by these trains, every other train takes around 12 hours and most of it is a night journey.
Jallianwala Bagh is adjacent to the Golden Temple, there is no entry fee. We did not check the timings but we suppose it closes by 5 or 6 PM. Do take time to visit the museum.
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