Apart from a brief stopover on a flight to Srinagar, I had never been to Amritsar. The Golden Temple, the holy place of the Sikhs needs no introduction. Naturally, it is a place I have wanted to visit in my lifetime.
In recent years, the Wagah border has also become a tourist attraction. Of course, the Wagah- Attari border between India and Pakistan has always been there. What is new is the change of guard ceremony, or the big show that it is now to draw the tourists.
So a trip to Punjab was planned, and as plans go, many were made and discarded. My dad, with his background in the tourist trade reeled off typical itineraries of places we could visit. A trip spanning Punjab and Himachal Pradesh was planned and Amritsar was the first stop.
Flying to Amritsar was pretty easy with a connection in Delhi. The new Delhi airport terminal wowed us, and I had to admit that we finally had something resembling international standards. The MK Hotel in Amritsar turned out to be a very good choice. I will write more about it later.
We are laid back vacationers, preferring to see only a place or two in a day. Now it was time to discover that our stamina had dwindled even further. Although it was winter, there was a harsh sun and the heat was scorching. The taxi would not take us beyond a certain point, and we had to walk it from there. This is a section of the old city where small shops line the street, selling stuff like spices, walnuts and fancy mushrooms imported from Afghanistan. After legging it for 15-20 minutes, we reached the place where we had to take off our shoes. From there, it was another 10 minute walk to the actual gate of the temple.
The temple is made of marble and the dome of course is made of gold. As you may know from pictures, there is a water body in the center, called Amrit Sarovar. Another mistake we made was choosing to go in the opposite direction of the shrine. There are four entrances to the temple symbolizing that it is open to people of all religions. We ended up walking 270 degrees to get to the main place of worship. So by the time we reached there, we had been walking or strolling for some 90 minutes. It was beyond tiring, especially for someone who is not used to it.
The Atta Halwa which is the typical offering here was very welcome at this time.
The Langar at the Golden temple is well known and we did not want to miss it. This meal is offered free to everyone irrespective of religion, economic status etc. People volunteer in small tasks like peeling and chopping vegetables, dish washing etc. as a form of worship. This is called ‘seva’.
The Langar meal was simple but sweet. A Mung Dal, a salad with radishes and cucumbers, Roti and rice kheer was the simple offering.
After partaking of the holy Langar, we legged it back to the car, but not without a pit stop at the stores. Punjabi Vadis were bought, and so was chana masala. I only regret we didn’t get enough of it because it turned out to be something totally different from what we normally get from name brands.
Back to the hotel, and glad that we were not going to the Wagah Border that day, I gave in to some Zs.