7 reason you must visit Amritsar – a city that feels like an all-embracing community
Warmth. That’s perhaps the predominant feeling that I associate with Amritsar. It’s a place that embraces you with open arms and encourages you to let go of your own inhibitions too. My first visit to Amritsar was in Jan 2011 – a quick stop enroute Dalhousie, for a trek with friends. We did the usual – Darbar Sahib darshan, lassi, Kulcha, and Wagah border ceremony. But something about the city lingered on and got me to keep revisiting it. Now, 15+ visits later, I’m deeply in love with it and here’s why I think you too must visit Amritsar at least once!
The hearty food
Amritsar is the home of some of the choicest delicacies of Punjabi food that make up a big chunk of North Indian food. There’s a local saying here that says the Ambarsari people spend half their time eating food, and the other half preparing it! And boy, does it show! You can indulge in some hearty dishes like the crispy ghee-laden Amritsari kulcha, delish sarson ka saag and makki ki roti, lassi, chhole bhature, maa di dal among others. The way to the heart is definitely through the stomach!
The fresh countryside
What’s better than a culturally rich city? A culturally rich city with access to the countryside! Punjab is called the ‘food basket of India’ because it produces 2/3rds wheat of the country, and Amritsar is surrounded by some of these beautiful farms and villages. The stunning yellow mustard fields under the blue sky are a feast for the eyes. Drinking a tall glass of lassi while sitting on a khaat in the middle of a khet under a tree, surrounded by buffaloes – that was a personal bucket list item of mine which I’ve ticked off several times now, always gleefully
The strong connect with the past
Amritsar has intriguing roots to the past that go as far back as myth! For instance, it is said to be the site of sage Valmiki’s ashram, who wrote the Ramayana, and also the birthplace of Luv and Kush. Through the medieval era, it was the gateway into India for the middle east and much of the west. Guru Nanak Das Ji is believed to have spent time meditating in the forests around Amritsar. Later, the founding of the city by Guru Ram Das Ji is an important milestone in the Sikh tradition, making this one of the oldest planned cities that continue to exist. Amritsar was also the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, a particularly grim chapter of India’s colonial history and an important milestone in the freedom movement. Then there was the partition in 1947 which affected Amritsar brutally, being as it is just 30 km from the border. And finally, the Operation Blue Star in 1984 which led to significant damage of the Golden Temple and political tensions that continue to reverberate.
Happy, colourful, lively
A city is not merely its infrastructure or landscape. It is, in fact, almost like a living being – each city exhibits a unique character of its own, a vibe that belongs to it exclusively. In that regard, Amritsar exudes happiness! The city is lively and inviting with its colourful markets showcasing myriad handicrafts including the breathtaking phulkari work (floral embroidery) and buzzing alleyways that make for intriguing walks.
Hospitality that feels like a warm hug
The Punjabis, in general are known to be warm and hearty people and that is also true for the people of Amritsar. You are likely to find people here not only helpful and respectful, but also warm. What’s more, most of them take pride in their culture and are well-versed with it, which makes for some fabulous conversations! ‘Sewa’ or ‘service’ is a critical aspect of both Sikhism and consequently Amritsar as well. You can volunteer at the Golden Temple to see what it’s like being on the other side
The Golden temple
With more than 1 lac visitors daily, the Golden temple is among the bustling place of worship in India. But what’s more surprising is that simultaneously, it also manages to be one of the calmest!
My favourite memory of the Golden temple is when I spent a night inside the complex. Sleeping under the stars, waking up to Gurbaani, seeing sewadaars cleaning the mandir complex with such happiness, taking a dubki in the Amrit sarovar, eating & serving in the langar, and finally sitting peacefully in the sanctum sanctorum – easily among the best experience I’ve ever had in a place of worship
Despite having been through so many trials, including contemporary challenges like brain-drain, what’s incredible is the resilience that the people of Amritsar have. Now there is a major community of youth that is trying to improve how things are, brainstorming how we can retain the talent pool and provide better opportunities to them closer to home. We’ve been fortunate to have come in close contact with an organization that’s trying to lead from the front – Team Fateh, led by our Storyteller Tarundeep Singh Ji. And finally, no matter what the challenges, one still finds a city that is welcoming, and ready to help with whatever one may be looking for