After a month-long escape into the Himalayan calm, my yoga teacher certification program, dealing with Delhi Belly and passionate red robed monks, I was returning to “India” again. Was I ready to free fall back into the masala mania? Not really. But I knew I needed to move on. There were more places in India to see.
While the traveler in me was excited to get back on the road; the solo traveler in me was dreading it, though. Having found a cocoon in Dharamsala and my new yoga family, I wasn’t thrilled with going back to solo roughing it. Fortunately, some of my new yoga friends wanted to visit Amritsar and because it was next on my list of India destinations, I gratefully accepted.
As I sat in the back of a Toto car humming yoga chants to myself, I watch Dharamsala’s plush mountain valleys transform into arid Punjabi farmland, Bhangra beats and turban-coiffed Sikhs on motorbikes. Well-paved roads, an organized city layout and a stunning jewel of a gudwara (the Golden Temple). Within six hours, we arrived in the proud city of Amritsar.
Was this India too? I was overcome with a warm and romantic feeling. India had surprised me with a new face again.
Amritsar was nicer and proudly distinct over other Indian cities and towns I’d been to… layers cleaner too!
What can you do and see in Amritsar in 36 hours?
The Golden Temple (aka Harmandir Sahib)
Ever since I’d seen a photo of the Golden Temple hanging in a small hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant in Hawaii, I wanted to see it. Moreso than the Taj Mahal, for it’s stunning golden beauty that illuminates both, night and day. Annually, the Golden Temple competes with the Taj Mahal in tourism, attracting pilgrims from all over the world. Surrounded by water but connected to land by a bridge, you can spend hours listening to the chants over loudspeaker as pilgrims come to take a dip in the waters. There are many restaurants and hotels near the Golden Temple but if you’re up for it, why not stay in the temple itself. The temple houses a few hotels and dorm accommodations. But it won’t be for the faint of heart. For more details and information, read : Pilgrimmage to Amritsar’s Golden Jewel (video)
India-Pakistan Wagah Border Ceremony
Bold, strong, colorful,… and slightly crazy. You have to see it to believe it and when you do, you’ll be glad you went for the chuckle.
If you know a bit of India’s history, you know they have a fierce rivalry with Pakistan. Each day, there’s a ceremony at the India-Pakistan border (aka Wagah border), when India and Pakistan open their gates, lower their flags, give a brusque handshake and retreat as stolid enemies. But in reality, it’s like a showdown, with a lot of Fosse kicks (Bob Fosse would be so proud), aggressive stand-offs, stomps and abrupt thumbing as each side shows off their greatest countdown to sunset.
The quirky and crazy Mata temple
Highly recommended and by far, one of the craziest and most unique temples I’ve been to in all of India, the Mata temple is the second to the gold in Amritsar. They don’t call this temple a “labyrinth” for nothing. Devoted to a female saint, Lali Devi, when you walk through this Hindu temple it’s like taking a journey through different houses and god/goddess sectors. You’ll walk up and down staircases, duck through low arches, wind through corridors and wade through a pool of water (yes, water!) It’s a bit of a maze, but it’s sure to keep you entertained all the way.
Oh yeah, if you’re a woman looking to get pregnant, this is where you’d want to pay your respects. I guess I got an early start!
Shri Durgiana temple
Durga is the mother of all goddesses. Her temple is a 20 minute walk from the Golden Temple and as a sister neighbor, it resembles it’s big brother. The temple is set in the middle of a large pool of water.
Receive holy blessings (hey, who can’t use a little luck?)
Many temples you visit, offer some type of blessing from priests. Sometimes, you’re expect to donate a small fee, sometimes, it’s for free. Either way, doesn’t hurt to get a little extra luck from the gods.
Walk around and observe daily life
When children (girl or boy) turn one year old, they receive a ‘baldy’ shaving at the temple.
What to Eat in Amritsar
Amritsar is no different from the rest of India in that there’s often variety street food vendors. Picking up snacks along the way is always highly advised. However, always make sure the food is prepared before you. If it’s food, make sure it’s cooked before you and hot. If it’s been out for a while, with flies buzzing around it, it’s best to avoid.
Amritsari Kulcha is a leavened bread from the Punjabi cookbooks. You can eat them with chickpea curry.
Getting to Amritsar:
From Delhi, by train, Amritsar Shatabdi will get you there in six hours. You can also take a bus, but it will take around 10 hours. You can book your train or bus online or book through an agent.