The traveler’s guide to navigating Amritsar. Source: Shutterstock.
AMRITSAR is the largest city in Punjab state in north India.
Located 450 kilometers northwest of Delhi and close to the India-Pakistan border, Amritsar is the spiritual and cultural center for the Sikh religion and has a strong heritage past as the city played an important role in India’s independence. As far as foreign tourist arrivals in the country, however, Amritsar does not rank as high as the famed Taj Mahal in Agra, though the city offers an experience that is difficult to match anywhere else in India.
If you’re planning a trip to India soon, here are reasons why you should consider Amritsar:
Founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru Ram Das, Amritsar means Amrit Sarovar which stands for the sacred shrine of Sikhism – the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the holiest Sikh temple (gurdwara) and the most important pilgrimage site for Sikhs, not only in India but the world over. The temple is open to people irrespective of caste, creed or race, as such, many visit this sacred place to seek spiritual solace and religious fulfillment.
Upon arrival at the Golden Temple, visitors are, invariably, entranced when they see the richly gilded Harmandir shrine rising from the sacred pool at the center and the surrounding polished white marble buildings. The temple is open 24 hours a day but the best time to visit is early morning to catch the first rays of light shining over the golden shrine and reflecting in the pool.
Source: Kathleen Poon.
With such glistening views along with spiritual music and readings from the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) played around the complex, this holy temple will give you a sense of calmness and peace.
If you’re hungry, don’t miss a meal at the langar – the world’s largest free kitchen. 90 percent of the working staff are volunteers who cook and serve the meals to almost 100,000 people who visit the temple every day! Vegetarian food is served; the meal itself consists of roti, rice, dal, vegetables, and dessert. The place is never closed to worshippers and visitors – no one is ever turned away. Men, women, and children, regardless of hierarchy, sit and eat together. Eating at the langar will surely be an amazing highlight of your visit!
Note: Shoes must be removed and heads must be covered when you enter the temple complex.
Inaugurated on Aug 17, 2017, the Partition Museum is dedicated to commemorating one of the most devastating events in the history of modern India – the 1947 Partition of India.
Housed in the historic Town Hall building in Amritsar, the Partition of Museum aims to preserve the experiences and memories of those affected by the tragic partition that divided British India particularly Punjab into two independent countries – India and Pakistan – during the declaration of independence in 1947.
As a result of that division, approximately 18 million people found themselves on the wrong side of the border overnight which brought on the largest migration in human history.
Wagah Border Retreat Ceremony
Amritsar is situated very close to Pakistan with Lahore only thirty kilometers away. The only road border crossing between India and Pakistan is through the village of Wagah, and many come to Wagah to witness the Wagah Border Retreat Ceremony.
Source: Kathleen Poon.
The Wagah Border Retreat Ceremony features the tallest soldiers from each country in their fan-like tops and neatly oiled mustaches, perform high kicks and salutes, chest-beating and foot stomping with general swagger and fake aggression. Lots of pomp and blaring music along with crowds on both sides of the border cheering and shouting patriotic slogans. The entire ceremony is quite the theatrical as the two sides try to outdo each other!
The beating retreat ceremony takes place every day at sundown for forty-five minutes, and the performance concludes with the lowering of the national flags and banging shut of the border gates.
Best time to travel to Amritsar: October to March.
Getting there: There are direct flights from Delhi, Srinagar, Chandigarh and Mumbai to Amritsar. Air Asia and Malindo Air fly directly from Kuala Lumpur to Amritsar as well. However, do note that cities in north India including Delhi and Amritsar experience fog during the winter, as such, flights can often be delayed.
You can also travel by train from Delhi to Amritsar via the New Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi Express. The train journey is approximately six hours.
Kathleen Poon | @katpegimana
Kathleen is a travel writer and blogger with interests in history, heritage, arts, and culture. Through her blog and writing, she aims to inspire people to appreciate and connect with different heritage and cultures around the world. Carpe diem is her motto as long as there’s travel, books, coffee (masala chai when traveling in India) and wine at her disposal, though not necessarily in that order.