To the north of India, in the state of Punjab, lies the fascinating city of Amritsar and an intriguing blend of sublimity, splendor and somewhat insane. The focal point of the city is the enchanting and awe-inspiring Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine. Glittering in the sunlight like an oasis in a desert, the warmth and welcoming of the Sikh people is a joy to behold. However, step outside of the temple walls and you will find a maze of frantic streets and bazaars to rival anything the country has to offer.
Most of Amritsar’s action is split into two areas, the Old City and Modern Amritsar. In the Old City, southeast of the train station, are the glorious Golden Temple and an abundance of bazaars. This area is bordered by a circular road, the former site of the city wall, and scattered around the narrow lanes are the usual amount of street vendors and Katra Jaimal Singh Bazaar, offering fine locally produced textiles, saris and jootis (traditional shoes). Amritsar’s vendors are known to be tough, so be prepared to bargain hard.
Modern Amritsar, to the north of the train station, is made up of top end hotels and the popular Lawrence Road, aligned with restaurants, modern shops and the Nehru Centre. Should you visit this area then it is worth hiring a cycle rickshaw, from which you can fully experience the contrast of old and new.
Food is a big thing in the Punjab state and Amritsar is a culinary hub, with restaurants serving up many of the usual Indian favorites. There are two specialties of the city, fish, deep-fried with lemon, chili, garlic and ginger, and the dhabas (snack bars).
The city is served by excellent transport links to the north and south. Regular buses depart from the main station, on GT Road, to Delhi, Chandigarh and Pathankot. There are also one or two daily services to Dalhousie, Dharamsala, Shimla and Manali. The city’s train station has a number of direct services to Delhi and long haul journeys to Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi. Traveling around the city can be done on foot or there is never a shortage of cycle and auto rickshaws.
Visits to Amritsar can be for any number of reasons, from spiritual enlightenment at the Golden Temple to experiencing the Punjabi culture, food and Bhangra music. Whatever the reason, be sure to make the most of the time here and enjoy all of its pleasures.
Things to do in
Golden Temple - The Sikhs holiest shrine is a place of both unsurpassed beauty and inspiring tranquility and rated alongside the Taj Mahal. With the Hari Mandir Sahib sparkling in the middle of the Amrit Sarovar (sacred Pool of Nectar) and crowds talking and bathing in the pool, the atmosphere is one of welcoming spirituality. Shoes must be removed, feet washed and head covered before making your way around the marble walkway. Best visited at different times of the day to soak up the atmosphere and listen to the chanting priests. Free meals are served (donations welcomed) in the community-dining hall, Guru-Ka-Langar. Entrance is free and the temple is open almost 24 hours a day.
Attari/Wagah Border - Around 47km west of Amritsar is this special Indian/Pakistan border. It is unique in that every evening, at sunset, a theatrical closing ceremony takes place between these neighboring countries. This is an event that must be seen to be believed and attracts hoards of locals, as well as tourist, who come to sing, dance and support their nation. It is a fitting display of friendship and harmony between two nations with a history of uneasiness. Buses from Amritsar to Attari village take 90mins/Rs15. Shared jeeps, departing from the Golden Temple, are probably the best option (prices vary so be sure to bargain).
Mata Temple - A Hindu cave temple celebrating the female saint Lal Devi, from the 20th century. The temple is visited mostly by women who come to pray when they wish to become pregnant. The temple is a labyrinth of tunnels, shallow waterways, staircases and caves. Open from dawn - dusk.
Sri Durgiana Temple - This 16th century temple, often known as the Silver Temple, is the Hindu version of the Golden Temple and is dedicated to the goddess Durga. This temple is considerable quieter and there are frequent performances honoring the goddess. Open from dawn - dusk.
Jallianwala Bagh - A public garden commemorating the 2000 Indians killed or hurt by British authorities in 1919. Opening times 6am - 7pm summer / 7am - 6pm winter.
Budget Hotels Amritsar
Golden Temple - Those wanting the full pilgrim experience can opt to stay in one of the huge accommodation blocks. Rooms are basic with shared bathrooms and no hot water. There is a maximum 3-day stay.
Lucky Guest House - This comfortable and friendly hotel is a stones through from the Golden Temple. Rooms, of varying size, come with hot water, TV, and some with A/C. Mahna Singh Road. Tel (91) (183) 2542175.
Midrange Hotels Amritsar
Hotel Grace - Well kept, modern hotel with bright rooms and a terrace restaurant. Within walking distance of the Golden Temple. 35 Braham Buta Market. Tel (91) (183) 2559355.
Grand Hotel - One of the oldest and most pleasant hotels in Amritsar, with great rooms looking onto a peaceful garden. Complete with restaurant and bar serving draught Kingfisher. Queens Road (opposite Railway Station). Tel (91) (183) 256424.
Luxury Hotels Amritsar
Hotel Ritz Plaza - Beautifully kept hotel, all rooms coming with TV, mini bar and a pool or garden view. There is also a restaurant, bar, gym and swimming pool for you to enjoy. 45 The Mall. Tel (91) (183) 2562836
Mohan International Hotel - For complete comfort, this hotel has some of the best rooms in town, all with TV, mini bar, A/C and stylish furniture. Convenient location near the railway station. Albert Road. Tel (91) (183) 3010100.