The city of Amritsar was founded by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru. The former name of the city was Ramdaspur. Colloquially, people also call it Ambarsar and its residents as Ambarsariya. (ref. the famous song from the film Fukrey “Ambarsariya Mundayae”)
I always intended to visit this holy and historical city of Punjab. Finally, I made it, a couple of weeks ago. While Amritsar looks like any other developed cities of India at a glance, the more you delve into its rich tradition, history, culture and cuisine, the more you’ll understand the charm of the city.
Why the name Amritsar
The pivotal attraction of the city is Sri Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple. It is situated amidst a sacred pool. Amritsar (Amrita Saras) literally means “a pool of nectar” which refers to the Golden Temple Lake.
Major Attractions of Amritsar
♥♥ The stunning Golden Temple, undoubtedly, is the numero uno attraction of Amritsar.
The city of Amritsar holds great value to the Sikhs. The Harmandir or Darbar Sahib or The Golden Temple is visited by lakhs of devotees every day from all over the world. Visiting the temple in the wee hours of the morning, when the chantings from the Guru Granth Sahib add more to the peace and sanctitude of the ambience, is a memorable experience. I visited it twice; once in broad daylight, then when it was almost dark, that is, before dawn. The divine beauty of the temple, the clean environment, the delicious “prasad”, the “langar seva” (providing free meals to anyone and everyone) — I will cherish the memories forever. The main temple dome was gilded with pure gold weighing 750 kg by Maharaja Ranjit Singh! The four entrances on the four sides denote that it is open to devotees from all religion, caste or creed.
Tip: Try to visit once in the daytime and once at night. Covering your head while entering the temple premises is mandatory.
♥♥ Jallianwala Bagh
The history of our independence will never forget those innocent, unarmed people who lost their lives in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. On 13th April 1919, British-Indian Army, under the command of General Reginald Dyer, opened fire to a crowd who had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh ground. Approximately 1,650 rounds were fired which wounded more than 1,100 people and, 379 were found dead. That mass murder shocked the entire nation, Rabindranath Tagore refused his knighthood as a protest. The bullet marks on the walls still hold the testimony to the tragedy. There is also a museum adjoining the garden which houses authentic documents of the incident collected from various sources.
Tip: Visit it simultaneously with the Golden temple as it’s a stone’s throw from there.
♥♥ Wagah Border Beating Retreat Ceremony
Wagah is actually a small village on the other side, Pakistan. From the Indian side, technically, it should be Attari border. The thrill and enthusiasm are palpable here long before the ceremony starts. As it was winter time, it started at 4.15 pm. About twenty thousand spectators on the Indian side cheered the marching soldiers. A proud moment for everyone who witnesses the ceremony.
Tip: It’s better to reach at least one hour before the ceremony starts as entry is limited. Security checking is rigid so carry your credentials. Mobile phones do not work here as perhaps BSF uses jammer. You can click pictures though.
♥♥ Partition Museum
The Partition museum located in the town hall houses an array of historical documents, books, notes, clippings and stories by eye-witnesses of the partition and post-partition times. It’s a repository holding the pain and sufferings of the partition time and riots. The two worst affected states on India during the partition was Bengal and Punjab. Both the states’ history has been well documented here. It’s a must watch if you are interested in history. Even if you are not, it would be a mistake to miss it.
Tip: Once you are in, you would be bound to spend a couple of hours here. So reserve at least 2/3 hours for it.
♥♥ Explore Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
As the name suggests, this museum throws insightful light on the life and works of the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Artefacts, paintings, coins, swords used by the monarch are on display on the first floor. The second floor showcases an entire gallery of three-dimensional paintings with light and sound. The surroundings are green, calm and beautiful.
Tip: It is located in Ram Bagh. Timings: 10 am- 5 pm
♥♥ Punjab State War Heroes’ Memorial and Museum
This museum is a repository of the military history of Punjab which stretches from the time of Guru Hargobind Singh Ji. The museum has eight galleries each depicting the heroism and sacrifices of the Sikhs in different wars. A 45-meter-high sword at the entrance symbolizes the valour, strength and determination of the Sikhs. The memorial-cum-museum compound has a cafe and an auditorium with a beautiful garden encompassing the ground.
Tip: DON’T miss the 7D film show at the auditorium.
♥♥ Gobindgarh Fort
Gobindgarh Fort stands on an expansive area of 43 acres! Maharaja Ranjit Singh strengthened the fort and, it is said, the famous Koh-i-Noor was housed here. The ruins of the fort speak of its magnificence even today. After restoration, it is now a major attraction of Amritsar with a coin and a paagdi museum, a 7D auditorium which runs an excellent show on the life of the Maharaja, a restaurant where you can taste authentic “Ambarsari zaika”, several shops showcasing traditional Punjabi handicrafts and live cultural performance. We were fascinated by the bhangra dance and the Nihang military performances.
Tip: It’s open from 10 am-10 pm. Spend 3/4 hours or more here and enjoy.
♥♥ Sadda Pind
This is one new addition to the attractions of Amritsar. Our driver-cum-guide for 4 days, Sukhraj Singh told us to spend a whole afternoon here. We abided by him and were rewarded accordingly. The entry fee to Sadda Pind initially seemed a bit on the higher side (INR 750/per person), but as we explored the place and finally, had a sumptuous lunch in the restaurant there whose price in included in the ticket, it looked worth enough to pay.
Sadda Pind, literally means Our Village, gives you the taste of a traditional Punjabi village with all its characteristics and quirks. You can taste different types of chats, Makki di roti and sarson da saag made by locals just in front of you, enjoy and participate in cultural programs, meet phulkari artists or can ride a camel/horse cart. The alleys of the Pind provides the real feel of a village. There are many other things to experience and know about. The place is very well-maintained. It’s fun as well as an educational tour for all.
Tip: Spend half the day here to immerse in Punjabi culture. Timing: 11.00 am -10.30 pm.
♥♥ Experience Authentic Cuisines of Amritsar
The taste buds of Bengalis and Punjabis are quite similar. So, as a Bengali, I really savoured Amritsari Kulcha, Fish Amritsari and different chicken dishes. I loved the lassi and Makki di roti with Sarson da saag! If you are a foodie, Amritsar will steal your heart through the path of your stomach!
Tip: Go for decent roadside dhabas instead of luxurious restaurants. We had the same food at Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s “The Yellow Chilli” and at a dhaba named “Rangeela Punjab.” Taste of food was the same (if not better in the Dhaba), but the billing amount differed a lot.
♥♥ Go For Shopping at Hall Bazaar
It would be a crime not to indulge in shopping while in Amritsar. several phulkari items with vivacious colours, juttis, pickles, ornaments, parandas– there’s a whole lot of things!
Hall Bazaar is the best place to shop, though, you will find shops almost everywhere.
Tip: A little bargaining can save a lot.
I loved Amritsar not only for its so-called attractions but also for its people. They are friendly, ready-to-help the tourists and well-mannered.
We stayed at Radisson Blue, Amritsar. Courteous staff and mouth-watering food were added advantages along with the regular amenities of star hotels. Moreover, it takes 10 minutes to reach there from the airport. There are numerous hotels in Amritsar and OYO Rooms are also available. It’s better to make a prior booking to save time and energy wherever you want to stay.