Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rambling in Amritsar

It was actually the better half that voiced the wish, and as the world knows, certain wishes are better be fulfilled or else :)

So one fine morning found us in this city which was founded in the 16th century, and is inextricably linked with the Darbar Sahib or Harmandir Sahib, better known as the Golden Temple. The word Amritsar itself means a pool of Amrit, or divine nectar and the Darbar Sahib is beautifully set into the middle of an artificial pond which is fed by the river Ravi. The Darbar Sahib holds the Guru Granthji and is the holiest of Sikh shrines. And yes, it is indeed a place where your mind would turn inward, becalmed and silent, listening to the tremendously moving hymns being sung from the sanctum sanctorum that does not have anything except the book of verses that is the Guru Granthji. Gently, softly, reminding us of our link to the great unknown and the immense possibilities open to humankind...

The walled inner city is accessed through medieval gates such as this one -

The interesting part is that there are no traffic lights. Chaotic but the city has one of the most congenial atmospheres I have ever seen, there are no clashes, no accidents, and everyone is smiling!
The heritage area inside the walled city is now being done up in red sandstone and I hope this frenzy of activity comes to a close before long

And then, a left turn into a small alleyway which leads to Jallian wala bagh. This was a vacant lot, accessed through the narrow alley and closed on all sides by residential buildings. One day in 1919, people gathered there to protest against a draconian law passed by the British government and met their fate when a certain Reginald Dyer, garrison commander, opened fire on the unarmed. One thousand two hundred and sixty five rounds were fired. More than three hundred people died, some trying to escape by jumping into a well which is now known as the Martyrs' Well. Estimates vary upto 1800 casualties, as reported by a British doctor.

This is what the Butcher of Amritsar said on his death bed  -
So many people who knew the condition of Amritsar say I did right...but so many others say I did wrong. I only want to die and know from my Maker whether I did right or wrong.
The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer by Nigel Collett


The well has now been closed from all sides but not covered up

And the Martyrs' Memorial 

The then Governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O' Dwyer, supported the assault and he was later assassinated on British soil by Sardar Udham Singh, who as a boy, witnessed the massacre. A statue of Sardar Udham Singh has been erected in his memory in front of one of the gates to the walled city.

The Jallianwala bagh also has a small museum, with some of the literature that was proscribed almost a hundred years ago, the urn containing the ashes of Sardar Udham Singh, a photo gallery of the martyrs and the like. After coming out of the alley, it was just a short walk to the Darbar Sahib.

Repairs and renovations were on and these boys were obviously enjoying their work.

The Darbar Sahib or the Golden Temple is situated in the middle of a pond which in turn, is surrounded by a quadrangle with gates on the four sides. The Temple is accessed by a causeway with another gate at the entrance. There is no restriction, no discrimination other than the requirement of covering your head with a scarf, handkerchief or turban and leaving your shoes in safe custody outside. Those red minarets rise from the building that houses the Guru Ka Langar, or the kitchen of the gods. The kitchen serves meals round the clock to all, free of cost and all workers in the Langar as well as the Temple premises serve voluntarily as seva, or penance. The degree of  orderliness and cleanliness, hygiene has to be seen to be believed. To top it all, the meals are hot, simple and delicious, perhaps the best that can be had in the entire city. Regardless of the fact that Amritsar has several eateries that are famous for their cuisine, whether vegetarian or otherwise.

You would not notice even the smallest object floating in the pond for it is removed as soon as it is seen by sevaks. Not a single speck of dust on the marble flooring


 The compound has three ber trees (jujube) that are centuries old and are associated with several saints. As you can see, there are minor shines in memoriam

Approaching the causeway, to join in the queue. Photos are not allowed once you join the queue. One of the most orderly queues I have been into, everyone listening to the devotionals in silence, some of them humming along. 

Those volunteers are washing the gold plates of the Temple with nothing other than water. The gold plates were installed by the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the greatest ruler of Punjab. The other building behind the gate of the causeway, the one with the golden dome, is the Akal Takht, the seat of temporal authority for the Sikhs.

After coming out of the Temple and collecting our shoes, we decided to explore the old city before it went dark. This was again an experience, the narrow streets and alleyways of Katra Ahluwalia and Katra Jaimal Singh that house several bazaars. Each locality had a speciality, some were full of shops selling brass and steel pots and pans, some had jewellery shops, most of them had shops selling woollens and cotton garments.

We rounded off the day with some shopping for the prodigal son and the dutiful daughter :) Decided to explore the Katras the next day, before going on to see the spectacle that unfolds everyday at the Wagah border.
The Katras or narrow markets in the walled city had their own gates and defences. While the lower floors have shops, the upper floors have residences. The jharokhas, or overhanging balconies were made of wood and some of the splendour of the 18th and 19th centuries can be imagined in these structures that remind one of the walled city in Delhi

We decided to break for lunch when we came to Kesar da dhaba, the most famous eatery in the walled city known for outstanding quality. Nothing fancy mind you, just plain and simple vegetarian fare consisting of flat bread smeared in clarified butter, a most delectable dal and a bowl of mixed vegetable curry cooked in butter. A glass of lassi and firni, a sweet dish served in earthenware.

The hired car was waiting and we had to move quickly to be able to see the "beating the retreat" spectacle at the border after a quick visit to Ram Tirath, known as the birthplace of the twins Lava and Kush, children of Lord Ram. But that would be another story :)


  1. Your wife had a wonderful idea, and through your words and photos I have just made a small journey there myself. Sigh. What a heart-stirring place, steeped in history and, sadly, the blood of the innocent. How is it that humankind has developed in so many ways, yet humankind has not evolved apace? Thank you for this wonderful post, full of atmosphere, beauty and rich with history. I am glad it is now a sacred place and well-preserved as a memorial. I love that free meals are served and the servers volunteer as a penance.

    1. Thank you, Sherry. Amritsar would remain in our hearts and minds

  2. Wow, Soumyendu, this travelogue has it all—historical and spiritual significance, stunningly beautiful places, good eateries and... even shopping!
    I loved reading this post because, like Sherry, I felt as though I had spent the day touring Amritsar along with you and your wife.
    Very nice!

    1. Thank you very much Rita. It is really a nice little city and someone could very well do a piece on its eateries!