I have been to India a few times prior to my recent trip to the holy city of Amritsar, so had a preconceived notion on what to expect. The noise, the over populated mass hysteria and most of all the color and vibrancy a place like Incredible India offers. I was right on all the points when I reached the holiest city for the Sikh faith… but there was something more. A feeling of uber calmness and compassion resonated with the people of this city like I have never before seen in the other parts of the country.
Amritsar, the city is named after Amritsar, the sarowar meaning the “Pool of Nectar”. The city was founded by Guru Ram Das Ji in 1577. The sarowar was completed by Guru Arjan Dev Ji who constructed the Harmandir Sahib and installed the Adi Granth (Golden Temple). Amritsar was the seat of the Gurus for nearly half a century from 1577 to 1628, during which period several other spots became holy places where Gurdwaras were later established.
The main reason we made the journey to Amritsar was to attend the stunning wedding of my beautiful cousin-in-law Preet and her dashing husband Richard. We have all heard the term East meets West, but having to experience that in a 4 day Amritsari wedding is a different thing again.
Preet and Richard’s friends and family from Australia and New York (and 7 other cities around the world) got a front row seat to the best India has to offer, as they dressed impeccably in vibrant & electrifying Indian outfits – getting into the spirit of Punjab. By spirit I mean consuming lots of ‘AMAZING’ food and booze set amongst a colorful backdrop of color, music and crazy fireworks (lit by hand – maniac!!!).
Seeing that our driver was MIA, we decided to take at ‘ric’ (or Rickshaw) to Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) which turned out to be one hell of a ride. You don’t really get to experience the real India sitting in an air-conditioned S-Class as you do flying through the back streets, dodging pot holes and bouncing around in a ric.
As our animated driver screamed out “enjoy the real smell and sounds of India – you will never forget her!!!!”. And in a weird kinda way he was right because the ric ride to the temple is tattooed in my mind forever when I think of the overall trip. Nice.
When we finally got to the temple, the crowd of worshipers sprawled everywhere as they were preparing to enter the most sacred and special places for the Sikh faith. The Golden Temple was built by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, in the 16th Century. In 1604, Guru Arjan Dev completed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikism and installed it in the Gurdwara (temple).
There are four doors to get into the Harmandir Sahib, which symbolize the openness of the Sikhs towards all people and religions. This was very apparent during my scan of the crowd to find people from all nationalities and races making the journey, and being welcomed lovingly by the Sikhs.
The present day Gurdwara was rebuilt in 1764, but in the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Rangit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the Gurdwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and English name the Golden Temple.
For women thinking of visiting the temple, please wear something comfortable which covers all part of your body and remember to bring a head scarf. A ‘kurti’ (long shirt type garment) can be found everywhere is street side boutiques and vendors and are super comfortable.
Wagah (or Wagha) is a border town straddling the line between Pakistan & India, 29 km from the town of Lahore on the Pakistani side and 27 km from Amritsar on the Indian side. This is the only crossing point between Pakistan and India that is regularly open to foreigners.
So when the wedding convoy decided to rally the troops (poor choice of word I’m know) and head down to the border for a firsthand experience of the ‘Changing of The Guards’ ceremony – I couldn’t resist.
For 45 minutes every day at sunset the guards high-kick, stamp, speed march and bawl their way through a choreographed routine. It ends in the lowering of both flags and the slamming of the border gates. The display has become a huge tourist attraction, drawing thousands of spectators every evening.
A few important chants which are useful to know (if you are on the Indian side):
Bharat mata ki jai !!!!!!!!!!!!! (“Victory for Mother India”)
Hindustan Zindabad !!!!!!!!!!! (Long live India)
But these days, both India and Pakistan strive to get along and reduce the tension between their respective countries. All of what you see at the border is just for show. Whether we see it in this lifetime or the next, I wish for nothing but peace and prosperity for both these colorful countries!
If you’re planning on actually crossing the border, you should aim to get there as early as possible. The border is open every day from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Border formalities can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over two hours, and you will need to arrange a visa before you arrive.
Regular buses or taxis are not allowed into the no-man’s land between the countries, so unless you’re on one of the few deluxe international buses, you’ll have to walk across the 500m between the border posts yourself. Porters — blue coats for the Indians, green coats for the Pakistanis — can carry your belongings for a few dollars.
The Rajasansi airport, about 11 kms from town, is connected by domestic flights to Delhi and Chandigarh. You can get to town by a pre-booked rented car, taxis or auto-rickshaws.
Amritsar is connected by direct trains to major Indian cities like Delhi, Jammu, Mumbai, Nagpur, Calcutta and Puri. The most convenient train from Delhi is the Swarn Shatabdi which takes about 6 hours.
Firstly, a warm thanks to the Bains family for putting us up and showing us such a great time in beautiful Amritsar.
Secondly, to John and his team at Singapore Airlines for flying us to Dehli and looking after us in style – by far the best Business Class flight to India in the market today!
Sat sri akal.