Like most of you reading this, I had never seen pics or even heard of this place. I actually learnt about it when our newly found friends in Boothgargh-Hoshiapur where we were living, invited us to visit a place they loved. Amritsar exposed me to lots on India, Sikhism culture, great achitecture, beautiful scenery and lots and lots of dance and music.- The highlights of the place are Golden Temple, Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre and Indian/Pakistan border -Chakdeee India
Things to do in Amritsar:
- Dress Modestly:
As you walk around, you will find most people either dressed in their traditional Punjab suits or modestly dressed. We took this time to bring out our newly tailored “Punjabi suits” that our friends mother had sawn for us. These outfits are very beautiful, comfortable, can be worn anywhere and allowed us to blend in and feel somewhat like Punjabi ladies. Some of the places you will visit may be religious, thus as always, it is only polite to dress appropriately or at least respect those in the area.
2)Visit the Golden Temple:
This place is super beautiful, the achitecture of the buildings is unique, the layout attractive and the amount of Sikh culture you learn is lots and very intersting.
The gurudwara (temple), is commonly referred to as Sri Hamandir Sahib. It is revered by the Sikh community as being the holiest gurudwara (temple) and is open to people of all faiths, religions, races, beliefs, status and walks of life. I highly advise arriving early to this place as it actually receives many visitors-more visitors than the Taj Mahal. It is estimated that there are about 50,000- 100,000 daily.
As you enter the compound, all are required to leave their shoes at the entrance which are kept safely and you are issued with a tag. One is then directed to where you wash your hands, feet and and then proceed to receive a free headscarf if you do not have one. You are required to leave these behind as you depart to assist another. Covering ones head is a show of respect and a requirement when entering the compound-good thing my outfit has a duppata which is a long scarf that can be used to cover the head and shoulders as it is ok to show your arms.
As you enter, you are met by what looks like white marble tiles with great intrinsic designs. I was awed by the throng of people around me as well as the beauty of the sight before me. Ahead of me was a lake of sorts refered to as Sarovar which in Punjab language means pool. The water seemed clean and seeing a reflection of the Golden Temple on it was also very endearing. Across the sarovar was the beautiful, stricking, golden, shining -Golden Temple commonly refred to as the Sri Harimandir Sahib. Beside it is a striking white building that I later came to learn offers accomodation to visitors and pilgrims.
a) Sarovar (pool)
This pool is revered by the devotees and you will see women, men and children taking a dip in it. Most people come prepeared thus will change in the provided changing rooms and then head for the pool. It is believed that taking a dip in the pool will bring spiritual and worldly benefits to them. Kindly note that taking a dip does not include taking a bath with soap and/or shampoo.
b)Sri Harimandir Sahib
The path leading to the entrance of the gurudwara is simple yet very impressive. They have placed cloths to act as a roof and thus protect all on the walkway from the heat from the sun. They have then placed fans around to also try and keep the people cool as they walk slowly into the temple. At intervals, water is sprinkled to further make the wait as comfortable as possible and you will be impressed with the orderliness of all the people-no pushing or shoving. The area has speakers that then give one a chance to enjoy several ballads that are played whichare both songs and also hymns. Soon, we were at the door and alas people now want to push and shove. One is not allowed to take pictures in the gurudwara but sometimes you learn a lot from observing.
You will find people sitted on the floor facing one direction. The area has been greatly decorated with brightly coloured cloths on the roof and above is where I believe the real gold is located. At the front seemed to be the elders of the temple all sitted on the floor with one having a flywhisk of sorts. Before him, was a sort of semi-raised platform that I learnt is where the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji-which is the central religious scripture of Sikhism is placed. As devotees entered, they would bow, touch the walls, sit and/or donate. There were musicians around who sang and read from the book and looking at peoples faces, you could sense how much this place meant to them.
C) Visit the Langar
In Punjab it referes to the kitchen but in Sikhism, it refers to the common kitchen/ canteen where all visitors to the temple are served food-for free. At first I did not believe this statement but experience is the best teacher. We headed here after having spent lots of time walking around the Golden Temple compound.We all walked in a line as you would at a buffet, picked a traditional Indian plate (the one with various slots), and then moved on to a large hall. We were then ushered into a hall of sorts where all people sat together, on the floor and ate together regardless of their religion, status, creed or race. This to me is a sight to behold as it is a true glimpse into humanity, where people do not associate or descriminate because of their differences but sit and eat as one-humanity.
Soon after, volunteers would walk easily between the organised sitted groups and distribute food to all who were sitted. We were served with roti (bread), rice, daal (lentils), curry, kheer (dessert) and water-All at no fee….Still in shock. This happens every day during the year and the food is maintained all through donations.
Most of the workers here are refered to as sewadars (worker), with some mainly being volunteers. As you walk out, you are able to glimpse from a distance at the kitchen which seemed almost sparse, I could hardly believe that all the food was prepared there. I saw some of the dough being prepared for the rotis, which are then placed on it to then make rotis. Apparently, this machine was donated and can churn up to 25,000 rotis per hour definitely assisting those who would normally do this by hand.
You will get to also see some of the produce used being prepared as well as the cleaning of the dishes where it is stated that the dishes are washed 5 times before being used. Their system is intrinsic yet well organised and a sight to behold.
3) Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre:
This area is located a few metres from the Golden Temple. It is in memory of the two thousand Indians who were massacred by the British Indian Army on13th April 1919. They had assembled at Jallianwalla Bagh to demonstrate the arrest of their leaders and were met with atrocious violence.
As you walk around the area, you will get to see actual bullet holes on several of the walls as well as the location of the shooters. This part of their history is indeed sad and I was honoured to have learnt about it.The mood in the area is solemn and somber and you leave the area feeling quite sad after hearing the sad tales.
India /Pakistan Border-Wagah Border:
This place officially gets the entertainment award. If you want to learn culture, want full scale entertainment from music, dance, running, marching among others, then you must ensure you make a visit. There is no fee charged-so you have no excuse. Kindly arrive early as it gets lots of visitors-the main show starts at 4:30 but I assure you, arrive early to allow for the security search as well as to get prime spots. Foreigners have a special sitting area but we opted to sit with our local friends and I believe this made the experience even more exciting.
Men and women are separated and searched before entry. The foreigners after showing their passports are then guided to a special sitting area-we declined the offer. Please do not carry any bags with you as they are not allowed.As you walk into the compound, you will find very smartly dressed border security officers. They have a stern face but will break into a smile to take pictures if you request.
a)Dancing, singing, cheering
Soon you will see people running towards the bleachers- I recommend you do the same if you want a great sitting position. You want to be able to see the border gate area easily. On the Indian side, the men and women sit next to each other while I heard on the Pakistan side they are separated. We were soon engaged in watching the women perform several dances near the border gates as we the spectators cheered them on.
The people sung and women would dance as we all clapped. Soon after, several women would pick up the Indian flags and race each other down a “fictitious ‘ race track all the while we the spectators would shout loudly “Chak De! India” meaning “Go for it India.” The air is now fully charged, excitement rends the air, everyone is laughing, smiling, shouting , high fiving each other-you will forget you are a foreigner. Even the scalding heat could not dampen the mood-we would survive.
b) Lowering of the flags
Just before sunset, the climax off the show which is the lowering of the flags begins. i would best describe this as a dance off. There is a loud shout from one of the guards that goes on and on and on until finaly, he gets out of breath-which is met with loud cheers. Next the gates are open and the tension is now palpable.Soldiers from the India side would march very fast towards the gate, you would think they were running and then stop abruptly just at the border gate. They would raise their feet high while marching and then retreat seeming agitated and spoiling for a fight. There after another batch of soldiers would do the same and retreat. Finaly, a lone soldier would then match to the gate and finally, the gates would be open. He would then have a face-off with a soldier from the Pakistani side where each seemed to be attempting to out-do the other with lifting their feet, stamping their feet just at the border line. Soon after, he is followed by other soldiers who then do the same as all the while we are all cheering, urging on, supporting, inciting and with a fun feel to it.
Finally and almost at the blink of the eye, the lone soldiers each lower their flags, salute each other, shake hands and the border gates are closed-signaling the end of an enchanting yet very entertaining spectacle. At this point, you wish that this was the situation between the two countries, where the two parties would be able to laugh, smile and enjoy festivities together instead of being enemies. You need to see this for yourself-go on-make a visit, you will thank me later.