From the hills to the plains it took me around 10 hours to reach my destination. At Amritsar I was being hosted by another couch surfer whose house was far from the city center but had good transport facilities. I reached pretty late in the evening so just went to bed after chatting for a while with my host.
Amritsar is one of the largest city in the state of Punjab and the holiest place for the Sikhs. The word Amritsar literally means “holy pool of nectar”. The name was derived from the water body surrounding the Golden Temple. The city attracts a huge number of Sikh pilgrims and tourist all through the year.
Next morning I went to the the old city. The local transport – bus or auto frequently ply through the city and the transport cost is nominal comparing to the bigger cities. The locals are also very helpful. The buses or autos (which were on a share basis) does not go to Jalianwala Bagh. I deboarded the bus at Gandhi Gate – one of the twelve gates of the old City fort. The road from Hall gate through the winding narrow lanes leads you to Jallianwala. While one can walk around these roads, I being lazy took a manual rickshaw. The roads are narrow, crowded and has many shops – mostly garments.
My 1st stop was Jallianwala Bagh. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh was one of the most tragic incident that occurred during Colonial India. The well where many had jumped and the wall where the bullet marks are still visible were almost giving me goosebumps as I recalled some details of the incident as read in the history books and online.
From Jallianwala Bagh I walked towards the Golden Temple to figure out how to enter the place. On the way one will find numerous stores,mainly selling items related to the Sikh culture and the souvenirs. The Golden temple’s outer courtyard is a huge empty place with marble flooring. There are many places to sit and wait or watch. Around the courtyard there were many counters most of which were dedicated to storing the shoes of the visitors to the temple. While I was checking these, I heard people talking about going to watch the evening ceremony at Wagah Border. A lot of people told me about it and so I enquired with the people around as to how to go there. Apparently one can take a share auto to and fro from Jallianwala Bagh gate. I think the charge was around INR 150/- or more. One of these drivers found me asking about how to go and informed that he has a group and I can join. So I did. The driver was too kind to make sure I was comfortable during the journey. When we reached we were informed that we can’t take big bags with us..only a small purse, cameras, tripods, iPads, phones and money. All of these are to be carried in hand or in pockets. One can however rent-in a locker to store the other stuffs and use their own lock (recommended). However my driver being too kind to me, offered to take care of my stuff so that I don’t have to spend the locker money….lucky???? Well!!
I didn’t have much to be left behind in the bag as i could carry most of the stuff in the pockets and hand, so I left the bag with him. While walking towards the podium, I realized that I did forget my credit and debit cards in the bag and I haven’t locked it either. I took the chance of trusting the driver (I can’t recall his name).
As I reached the podium, I found it to be already quite crowded. Somehow managed to find a place at one corner where I could place the tripod without blocking anyone behind me. The patriotic program took another 90 odd minutes to start. It was dusty and hot. During the wait I observed the enthusiasm of the people around me. And as the military event managers started playing the Hindi patriotic songs, everyone was so full of enthusiasm that I was a bit amazed. During all these I also observed that there are some reserved seats which is near the border wall. These seats are for the VIPs. One can get a VIP pass if one has some connection with the Army. Many foreign nationals seemed to have connected with the right personnel and were seated near the wall. The benefit is that one can watch the finale of the two country’s flag being lowered at the same time.
Quoting from Wikipedia: “The lowering of the flags ceremony at the Wagah border is a daily military practice that the security forces of India (Border Security Force) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) have jointly followed since 1959. The drill is characterized by elaborate and rapid dance-like maneuvers, which has been described as “colourful”. It is alternatively a symbol of the two countries’ rivalry, as well as brotherhood and cooperation between the two nations.”
The ceremony included the display of dance and parade by the army. The MC also called upon the ladies (ONLY) from the viewers to carry the Indian Flag and take a round with the flag held high up. This was really interesting to watch.
Post all these celebration, the finale of the two country’s border gate being opened and the flag being lowered took place. Unfortunately having seated too far from the border wall, I wasn’t able to get a nice view of the same. Said that I somehow felt the whole thing was too hyped. Not something to visit the 2nd time. Btw when I was back, all my cards and papers I left behind were safely handed back to me.
Next day I visited Sri Harmandir Sahib, informally known as The Golden Temple. The temple, is a part of a huge Gurudwara complex. I went straight to the counter in the outer courtyard to deposit the shoes and socks . Just before one can enter the gate to the inner courtyard of The Golden Temple, there are water bodies, to clean ones feet and cleaning the feet to enter a gurudwara is a must. One must also cover their head before entering the inner courtyard. There were people distributing small cloth for this purpose in case someone didn’t have any means to cover their head. As you enter the gate, you can see Sri Harmandir Sahib standing proudly surrounded by the water body, The Amrit Sarovar – the pool of nectar.
I took a leisurely walk around the tank as it was so very peaceful. There were many who were sitting around the tank. At each corner of this square block, there were stalls for drinking water. There were many people who were taking a dip in the holy water. There was separate covered place for the women. One is not allowed to sit on the side of the tank dipping their feet in the water. Their are many other do’s and don’ts already listed on Wikipedia, that one should follow: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Temple
At all times there were priests chanting in the inner sanctum of the temple which can be heard over the speakers and at some various locations LCD screens were mounted that would display the wording of the chants. There is always a huge line to enter the temple’s inner sanctum where the Guru Granth Sahib is seated every morning and returned at night to its nightly abode, the Akal Takhat. The ceremony is held at 5:00am (from Akal Takhat to Temple) and 9:30pm (back to Akal Takhat) in winters and at 4:00am and 10:30pm in the summers.
I was not in a mood to stand in the line this day, so after having a peaceful time and walking around for more than 3hrs, I took off to see the other parts of the city.
On the list of attraction was The Durgiana Temple. Though a Hindu temple, its architecture is similar to The Golden Temple. The Temple is situated near the Lohgarh gate. Read more : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durgiana_Temple
After walking round the temple and offering my prayer to the Goddesses, I walked around the tank; another peaceful walk with hardly any people around. On the way out of the temple’s gate, someone informed me that I should have the Langar. It was a good experience and the food was tasty. I also visited the other two temples around.
Next on the list was Gobindagarh Fort, but unfortunately when I reached near to the fort gate, I came to know its closed for renovation. There were other places of attraction as well but I went back to Golden Temple. Spent the evening there before heading back to my friends place.
Next morning I again went to the Golden Temple. This time to enter the main temple. The whole process took almost 2-3 hours. After then I donated for the Prasadam and that’s the best part. Once you buy, they give the Prasad as per the amount of donation, which you then have to hand over to another counter, where they put the halwa in a big vessel and give you another container full of the same halwa.
Later that day I stayed over at the gurudwara and had the langar – the largest free kitchen in the world. It is said to be able to feed 100,000 to 300,000 people everyday.
I roamed about in the market and the new city before going back to the temple at 9:00pm to witness the ceremony of carrying Guru Granth Sahib from the temple to Akal Takhat.
Next day I left for Delhi.