This is India's bloody past. As you step into the narrow passage leading to the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, the first thing you notice is a stone plaque, which reads, “This is the place where the bullets were fired from.” April 13, 1919 marks a bloody day in the history of Indian independence. Hundreds of innocent Indians, participating in a meeting at the Bagh were killed by British troops as ordered by General Dyer. It is hard to think how, from a lane where even three people can’t walk side-by-side, one man managed to perpetrate a massacre, leaving a reported 379 dead, and over 1,100 injured. Today, an eternal flame burns at the entrance, in honour of the martyrs. Seeing ‘the well’, in which many jumped (to death) to escape the bullets, will send shivers down your spine. The bullet marks have been highlighted on the walls and the well is covered by a steel net. The Bagh never shuts, there’s no entry fee. There is a huge memorial tower; and the Bagh’s museum preserves photos of the incident.
Bharawan da Dhaba
They haven't been awarded the No.1 dhaba in Punjab for no reason! Amritsari alu kulcha, Amritsari Dal Makhani, Amristari Shahi Paneer, Amritsari Rajma and Rice....are you hungry already? Well, if you are in this city, a visit to Bharawan da Dhaba is an absolute must. Set aside your apprehensions about dollops of ghee, butter and oil in your food because you are on a vacation and the calories can take a hike! Simply give in to the sin of gluttony when at Bharawan da dhaba. Top off your finger-licking meal with a chilled glass of lassi. I challenge you to finish it!
You haven't been to Amritsar, unless you've visited this golden marvel. Harmandir Sahib, also know as the Golden Temple in Amritsar City is the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. Also known as the Shri Darbar Sahib, it is in the center of the old part of Amritsar. The Golden Temple sits on a rectangular platform, surrounded by a pool of water called the Amrit Sarovar from which the City is named. The temple is open twenty-four hours per day. When you approach the sanctum sanctorum, make sure you mute your murmurs. After you step out, click selfies, stroll around the complex, admire the ornate domes and make sure you eat langar inside the temple complex. If you time is not a luxury, visit the temple again at twilight to get a dekko of its magnificence.
A political and historical icon, Wagah Border is also called the Berlin Wall of Asia. This ceremonial border, attracts thousands of visitors from both India and Pakistan, everyday. An hour from Amritsar, the drive to Wagah border is picturesque. Past the many security check points, both sides of the border are marked by convoluted buildings, barriers and roads. The Swarna Jayanthi gate, the entry point of the outpost, commands the magnificent scenery of verdant landscapes. The Retreat ceremony starts 30 minutes before sunset. As a prelude, public address systems on both sides play the most resounding patriotic songs. The BSF jawans encourage women and children to hold the national flag and sprint towards the gates; people dance to Bollywood tracks as well. The changing of guards, pageantry and the pomp grabs a large gathering and makes for a great spectacle. The soldiers are over 7 ft tall, if you count the huge fan-shaped headdresses they waggle at each other like peacocks; just inches apart either side of the India-Pakistan border. For 45 minutes, every sunset, they high-kick, stamp, speed march and shout their way through a choreographed routine that ends in the lowering of both flags and slamming of border gates. Expect silence on the ride back, as your mind resonates with melody of songs like Ae mere pyaare watan tujhpe dil kurbaan!
Shop till you drop
Shopping in Amritsar is a delightful experience. Besides exquisite handicrafts like phulkaris (traditional embroidery), lacquered woodwork etc., you cannot leave the city without buying a pair of Punjabi jutis (shoes), which are typical of this region. Hand-woven carpets, blankets, and of course Patiala salwar (the traditional Indian garments with a Punjabi twist in design) are a must-buy.
As far as food is concerned, there's no place like Punjab to buy your masalas. Do not forget to pick papads, wadiyan and locally flavoured pickles.
All Images: Rama Sreekant