Amritsar is another city of north India which has famous and rich heritage and worth visiting at least once. Amritsar bears rich heritage of Sikhism and is a must visit for all the Sikhs across the world. Very much like Haridwar the moment you enter Amritsar, there is a subtle change in the atmosphere which energize you instantly. We came to Amritsar from Ropar via Jalandhar in a state transport bus. If you are not very familiar with Punjabi language like me, you might feel a little uncomfortable initially to read those sign boards and shop names. But after some time I was able to find similarities between Hindi and Punjabi and then the journey was easy. We arrived at the Amritsar bus depot and hired a rickshaw to our first destination: The Golden Temple.
The Golden Temple
India is a country of temples and mosques and churches. But in my opinion, there are very few temples which can match the charm and charisma of that of The Golden Temple and many who have visited it once will agree with me. The temple is spread across a huge area and in-houses a library, a museum, a Langar, many guesthouses and lodges, a lake and of course the gold plated temple at the center of the lake. We reached the temple at around 11:00am in the morning and went straight to book a room at one of the guesthouse. Like other Gurudwaras (temple of Sikhs), it is compulsory for men and women to cover their head before entering the temple premises. For that reason, you'll find many hawkers selling big handkerchiefs around the temple area. There are many guesthouses and lodges is side temple premises, but the allocation of rooms is done from a single location. You'll just have to take a token and then wait for your turn to come. Generally the rooms are allocated at 12:00pm for 24 hrs. So after 12:00pm, they called everyone who has a token to allocate the rooms which were vacated. The names of the guesthouses are based on the Sikh gurus. We got our room at Guru Angad Sahib Niwas. After keeping our luggage there, we went straight to the main temple.
The moment you enter the marble floor surrounding the main temple, you'll find pilgrims everywhere, in each corner of the temple corridor. There are many gates from where you can enter the main temple area. The main temple is surrounded by a square lake which is in turn surrounded by a corridor and walls. After taking a round around the lake on the corridor, we joined to queue to enter the main temple. Despite being a working day, the queue was quite long and it took us 30 minutes to enter the temple. But the passage is covered and there are fans everywhere considering the extreme heat of summer in this part of the country. The main temple has its own beauty and it is really very hard to find a language adjective to describe its beauty and to express the feelings of being there. As the name suggests it is gold plated on its inner and outer walls, even pillars are covered. Inside temple, there are Sikh gurus chanting Shabad on the microphone. We entered the temple and paid tribute to the Holy book of Sikhs, Guru Granth Sahib. Then we went to the first and second floor where pilgrims perform Paath (Read Guru Granth Sahib and perform worship). From the windows of the upper floors, we also saw the beautiful fish inside the lake. After coming out of the temple, we received Prasada and went straight to the langar. A langar is a Holy kitchen inside Gurudwara where food is served to all the pilgrims free of cost. It is run by the Gurudwara and pilgrims themselves offer service like providing materials, preparing the food, serving the food and water, cleaning the utensils etc. We again have to wait for 30 minutes at the langar for our turn to come because of huge rush. The menu was simple with dal, rice, roti and a sweet. But the moment I had my first bite, I forgot the entire day's journey. The good thing about the langar is irrespective of one's position and financial status, everyone is given equal service and honor. We didn't have enough time to visit the library of the temple this time as it has restricted timings. Surely this is one thing for which we would definitely like to visit the temple again.
After receiving Prasada at the langar we hired a private taxi to visit various places like Durgayana temple, Vaishnodevi temple and Wagha border. We returned back to the temple at night and once again went to the main temple to admire its beauty and feel the peace under the dark sky. No matter how much time you spent there, you cannot stop admiring the enlightening effect of the Golden temple on your soul.
The Wagha Border
Another place which is a must visit in Amritsar is The Wagha border. It is India-Pakistan border around 33 km from Amritsar city. Every day in the evening, solders from both the countries open the border gates, salute each other and take their respective flags down. After reaching there in private taxi at around 5:30pm, we walked up to the Golden Jubilee Gate (Swarn Jayanti Dwar) after strict security checking. You must carry a valid and original identity proof for verification here. At the gate, separate sitting arrangements are available for males and females to see the activities. Again despite a working day, there were hundreds of visitors and almost all the sitting blocks were full. I realized that we can actually see Pakistan from that place on the other side of the border gate. On their side also they have made similar sitting arrangements but they were in smaller number compared their Indian counterpart. The BSF jawans, who are in charge of the activities from the Indian side, came out and asked females to come to center road. They offered them the Tricolor Indian flag and asked them to run to the border with it with all the strengths and patriotism. Soon many young girls joined this activity. After that BSF jawans played patriotic songs from Hindi cinema and the atmosphere soon became quite energetic. A small group of girls started dancing on the tunes of these songs. Soon the small group converted into a big crowd! Unfortunately our back seat didn't allow us to join them. This was the beginning of the procession. Then BSF jawans shouted slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jay, Vande Mataram and Hindustan Jindabad and everyone followed. We also heard slogans shouted by Pakistan jawans and people. The good thing is the jawans strictly informed everyone in the beginning that it is good to praise our own country but we should not, in any form, defame the country on the opposite side of the border.
As the sunset approached, jawans came to the central road in pairs and started marching towards the gate. Similar actions were followed by jawans on the other side of the border. Then the gates were opened, and those few moments reminded us the pre-partition era. The jawans honored each other with salutes and then took their respective flags down. As the jawans returned with the flag, the gates were closed again. Then we can actually go down to the road and walk up to the gates. That was the only time in my life I came so close to Pakistan, just a couple of feet away. We took some photos among the heavy rush and started our return journey. Despite all the tiredness of traveling, my mind did wonder that will there be any time when those gates will remain open forever.