Amritstar is the holy Sikh city in the Punjab region in the North of India. I spent three days here and they were three very memorable days, amongst the some of the most significant of the memories I collected while travelling in India. In this article I am going to share my three top experiences when visiting Amritsar.
The Golden Temple
If you do some research and just scratch the surface the most significant and must see sight you will discover is The Golden Temple. I arrived in Amritsar by bus and immediately took a tuk tuk to The Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the most noteworthy and largest Sikh temple in the world. It is a non denominational place of worship that welcomes visitors, the devout, the poor, sick and homeless, volunteers and holy men. Regardless of religion, gender or nationality all human beings are welcomed into the Temple and invited to dine and worship together.
The Sikh and Punjabi people are easily identifiable by their turbans, so upon entering The Golden Temple it is expected that all visitors wear some form of head covering, then check in shoes and wash hands and feet. The Golden Temple is actually an entire grounds and a working community that operates non stop day and night with hostels for those weary from travel or coming to volunteer and on pilgrimage, a massive industrial kitchen and dining hall and a number of religious structures. It is a walled city formed around a large pond from which emerges The Golden Temple, glittering in the sunlight or sparkling in the evening creating a magical image reflecting in the pool which the devout bathe in.
The Golden Temple welcomes everyone from all walks of life to come into the temple ad recieve a meal, take blessings and pray. It is run almost entirely on the man power of volunteers. Serving meals to about 100 000 people a day; from mixing the dough for the chipatis, rolling them out individually and toasting them on an industrial scale to handing out the spoons, bowls and plates and the never ending constant flow of dishes that need to be washed up all day and night.
There are pots cooking up delicious varieties of dahl that are large enough to bathe in and trolleys full of plates and bowls the size of vehicle trailers. There is an assembly line for every element of the delicious meals that are served 24 hours a day. All af the parts come together in the dining hall which turns over tops of 1000 people every twenty minutes. A meal of dahl, with fresh chipattis and roti and a sweet rice pudding is dished out politely and efficiently. From the young boys armed with squeegees for the floors to the young men with ladels and pails for of delicious vegetarian dahl curries all ages and economic backgrounds are on hand to pitch in.
I arrived at The Golden Temple by the West Gate. I was immediately struck by the constant din of the kitchen, when 1000 people come to sit down for a meal every 20 minutes the washing up room sure makes some clatter. As I walked past the kitchen to my right on the left I signed in to the dormitory for the international volunteers. A simple matter of a quick and easy formality, once complete I put down my pack and headed to the dining hall. I did not observe or experience any formal allocation of duties or tasks, rather people appeared to gravitate to the jobs that were the most natural fit for them. This is important when feediong 100 000 people a day. So for the first couple of hours in my time at The Golden Temple I mastered spoon duty, gradually worked up to bowls and then plates. There was a work force of no less than ten of us the entire time, and not once did anyone have an opporunity to stop as a result of a break in the traffic coming up the ramp to the dining hall. On my meal breaks I went up to the dining hall where I sat side by side with the homeless, school children and wealthy middle class as I took my breakfast, lunch and dinner there over the three days.
Just outside of the temple grounds is Heritage Walk. A beautiful stylised shopping, entertainemnt and hospitality district that has been created to show case some noteworthy monuments of the city, celebrate Sikh culture and centralise the tourism and heritage district. A great area to do some shopping, dine and stay. It is closed to motorised traffic so the effect is one of an open air mall and is an enjoyable and calm space. It is also where you will be able to arrange tours for a number of other attractions.
Wagah Border Ceremony
The third and final attraction I reccomend and you should not miss is the Wagah Border Ceremony. Held literally on the India Pakistan border near the town of Wagah the ceremony is held every day at 5:30pm to a crowd of 10 000 people (on the Indian side). The ceremony is piece of pure entertainment and a daily product of Indian and Pakistani national pride and a lot of our country is bigger, better and bolder than your type of symbolism.
Busses start arriving mid afternoon and tourists file in to the staduim in an orderly fashion while the locals pour out of cars, tuk tuks and vans to full the purpose built stadium. There is military personnel every couple of meters acting as ushers and about 4:30pm the MC on the microphone, also in army fatigues starts to really work the crowd. The Indian women are encouraged to come down and dance to the Indian dance music blaring from the speakers and in a nod to gender equality the actual ceremony commences with two female soldiers marching at speed to the gate and back to their male counterparts.
Think hats with lots of red feathers, high kick, lots of theatrics and fist pumping. Once the gate on the border opens it is all on and at measured intervals the Indian, and then the Pakistani armned forces work very hard and put a lot of energy in outdoing each other. Showing as much agression as possible, while marching in a non combat situation with much fervour these soldiers leave no doubt in anyones mind who their loyalty lies with and which nation is the strongest. The ceremony is over in under an hour and the stadium empties quicky. The tarmac which just minutes before was the combat ground of two countries demonstrating their might through a choreographed sequence of marches now sees young and old departing in an uplifted and joyful fashion having experienced an incredibly engaging show that I can only describe as pure amusement.
My three days in Amritsar gave me a wonderful cross-section of history, entertainment, and hospitality. Safe and welcoming, Amritsar’s combination of culture and community made this a unique and memorable place and absolutely unforgettable.
Watch my Amritsar video here