The incessant honking, the heaps of rubbish on the dusty streets, roadside stalls selling fried food or snacks, beggars with pitiful looks on their faces, welcome to incredible India! It is overwhelming for the senses, especially for the first timer like me. Even though I’ve visited other congested and polluted developing cities (eg. Manila, Jakarta), I think Indian cities are still a little too unbearable for me.
Since Scoot airlines introduced a new direct flight to Amritsar, a holy city in Punjab state in northwestern India, I decided to make this city my first place of visit for my virgin trip to India. I had purposely chosen not to visit New Delhi because it is even more populated and more chaotic. I don’t think I would have survived Delhi alone.
|You can fly to Amritsar from as low as $200 for a return ticket!|
The golden city of Amritsar is one of the most sacred places known for its much famed Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in India. The city has changed its profile after the partition of 1947 in India. From an old traditional city of Northern India post Independence, it has changed its tagline to a modern business city of Punjab. With a population of 1.2 million, it attracts thousands of Sikh pilgrims everyday. The Golden Temple is the epitome of the Sikh religion, where a group of people chant from the holy book inside the shrine while people come to worship at all times of the day. The Golden Temple is surrounded by a holy pool said to have special healing powers, so pilgrims would take a dip inside the pool, with a special covered area for women.
Sikhism treats all people as equal, regardless of race, language, gender or religion. I was thankful to be able to stay in the golden temple dormitory for free for a period of two nights and ate alongside pilgrims in the grand dining hall during mealtimes. Meals are cooked and served by volunteers and can feed about 100000 everyday. It was indeed a sight to behold as we followed the long line of people into the dining hall, took our metal plate and spoon, before volunteers dished out freshly made chappatis and dhal curry. After the meal was over, we would return the crockery to the washing area.
|everyone sits cross-legged on the floor with a metal plate, waiting to be served|
|volunteers serving the food, including freshly-made chapattis.|
Besides the Golden Temple, you can also go to the Wagah border which separates India and Pakistan. You can easily go to the Wagah border for 100R return trip by shared taxi or auto rickshaw and there are many touts outside the Golden Temple yearning for your business. I had originally wanted to cross over to Pakistan but could not get my Pakistan visa in time before I left Singapore. The daily border closing ceremony is a nationalistic spectacle with both sides trying to outdo and outcompete each other in terms of their marching and strutting. The guards would mirror each other’s movements, showing how their own side is perceived to be better than the other, receiving loud applause from the audience.
|India-Pakistan border closing ceremony|
Amritsar is also a place of history. On 13 April 1919, British and Gurkha troops massacred at least 379 unarmed demonstrators meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh, a city park. Most of those killed were Indian nationalists meeting to protest the British government’s forced conscription of Indian soldiers and the heavy war tax imposed against the Indian people. The massacre stirred nationalist feelings across India and had a profound effect on the country’s push for independence after. Today, the Jallianwala Bagh memorial park serves as a place of relaxation for the locals and also a place of history for tourists who are interested to find out more about the massacre.
|monument erected at Jallianwala Bagh memorial park|
Lastly, the best way to explore the city is to get lost in its streets and alleyways. You can visit one of the many shops selling traditional Punjabi clothing or eat at the local places serving freshly made chappatis, rotis or parathas. I also indulged in lassi which is a sweet yoghurt drink. As construction works are still ongoing around the main square of the golden temple, the roads are very dusty and also uneven for walking. Piles of cement lie haphazardly and construction frames have obstructed some walkways such that pedestrians have to make a detour. Motorists would sound their horns unnecessarily at pedestrians as both have to share the common pathway, maybe that’s the reason I dislike the city and can’t wait to get out after two days.
|pedestrainised street outside the Golden Temple which is still undergoing construction|