Amritsar is unlike any northern town I have been to. It is not filled with lush greenery but rather dry, with blowing dust, sand, dirt and rubbish that gets into every crevice on your face. The place reminded me of a desert town, but with no desert. Maybe because of its neighbouring country, Pakistan, it shares similar characteristics to the country. The main section of the city is an old town, although ironically filled with the latest phone shops, technological advances and flashy sunglasses.
Here, the religion is predominately Sikh because of the presence of the fine sight, The Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is magnificent and by far the nicest temple I have ever seen- nicer than Angkor Wat and the Palaces in Bangkok. Here, there are four entrances with no doors to emphasize that all people are welcome, no matter what religion, race or sexuality you are. Water from the holy lake that centers the temple is constantly chucked on to the glistening marble floor by the help of fellow Sikh followers, causing many who visit to slip and slide, but also keeping the grounds pristine. The Golden Temple shimmers its reflection onto the glossy waters and its marvellous domes and ornate designs creates it to be an awe inspiring sight. Thousands flock here every year to step inside the temple, to see the tombs of their beloved martyrs, whilst musicians constantly play, praising their moral righteousness. This mode of music and human interaction makes this temple and religion, much more personal to all those who visit.
There is a kitchen situated through one of the main entrances in a hall, where thousands come every day to eat at. It is the most fed soup kitchen in the world, with large numbers of Sikh people helping to peel potatoes and wash dishes all in the name of charity. The food is simple yet delicious; chapati made by a chapati machine (no way could they be hand made), yellow dal, potatoes and a sweet milky dal. Bowls of chai are also served. However, the quality of the food is not an essential part, as it is mass produced for thousands, rather the act of sitting down with others as en equal, eating the same food at the same level promotes equal humanity, charity and compassion- which is what Sikhs are all about.
A short walk away from this is the Jallian Wala Bagh memorial. Here a park is created from where a massacre happened by a British general, who told his solider to open fire on a number of non violent innocent people. The history is harrowing and walking around the sunny well kept park makes the experience more sobering. It reminded me of the killing fields in Cambodia-the juxtaposition of beauty with horrific pain. Make sure you go into the hall to read first hand accounts, the widows testimonial really paints an accurate picture.
A trip to the Waga border is a must when visiting Amritsar. A safe space on one of the most dangerous borders in the world- where the countries of India and Pakistan merge, here locals push aside their resentment, for a ceremony between the two groups of guards. It is a cultural march off. Guards doing similar but different stylised marches against each other and call to attention. The Indian stand is colourful, brash and patriotic with large crowds jostling for glory and beckoning with excitement. Whilst the stands in Pakistan are empty and quiet, tame compared to the rowdy side of India. It is highly entertaining and you are able to buy snacks such popcorn or fruit to bring with you, (as if at the cinema). The experience is “second to none”.
The hostel I stayed at organizes a full day tour here, which is a great day out and includes a visit to Lal Mata Mander Temple. A temple dedicated to a woman who received the powers of a certain god enabling her to do various acts of charity. The temple itself is incredibly trippy, as if something from The Mighty Boosh, (I half expected Noel Fielding to pop out at one point), you go through tunnels and a cows belly. Bring with you an open mind and be prepared to get your feet wet.
The hostel we stayed at was Jugavdus Eco hostel and really is the only place you should stay in Amritsar. A ten minute walk from The Golden Temple, it is a hostel with a friendly backpacker vibe with a kitchen constantly sharing food and chai, washing facilities, the biggest bunk beds I have ever seen, a rooftop terrace and informative helpful staff. The hostel is filled with quirky paintings and inspirational quotes painted by backpackers which you are welcome to spend an afternoon doing.
Make sure you eat at the delicious street food stall across the road: Nikhil (nowhere else as other backpackers got food poisoning from the other places). Here, father and son run the establishment cooking tasty soyabean with curry sauce, (otherwise known as gravy), and mushroom tandoori kebabs that are mixed in with milk sauce and spices. An mouthwatering dish. I also recommend the oldest restaurant in Amritsar: Hesar Da Dhaba for its delicious Malai Kofta, Beera Chicken for its mutton filled nan, (a strange combination as if pizza like) and I had my first ever Lassi at Gran Di Lassi– which was like having yoghurt in cup with butter on top. I’m not sure if that is what it was supposed to taste like, either way it was refreshing (although sickly after too much).
During our stay in Amrtisar, we crossed paths with a Wedding parade that was dancing through town. Catching our quizzed faces and amused expressions, they invited us to join in.