Amritsar – the Golden city!
Amritsar was always on my places to travel list and this Diwali time off, we finally got the tickets done! Imagination is so different from reality and the strange part is forgetting all that one imagines once one sees the real. Even before we started our travel, like always, I had my itinerary prepared. There were these places that were on the list including Wagah Border, Durgiana temple, Jalliawala Bagh and the Golden Temple. Amritsar is around 300 kms from Kurukshetra and instead of driving, we decided to take a train.
Amritsar is an affectionate place to say the least and the hospitality started an hour before at Jalandhar when my friend’s parents joined us in the train to take us to the place where we were going to stay. On the way, we crossed Beas River which one of the five rivers that flows through Panjab (Persian word meaning land of five rivers).
Amritsar is a small city and it felt very crowded. To all those people who keep talking about cities exploding with growing population and tourists should visit Amritsar. After a long time, we sat in a rickshaw to reach the Golden Temple campus where we were to stay. This city has a charm about itself which is hard to put in the right words. I could not differentiate tourists and the locals but the smiling and content faces spoke a lot of the life these lead. People were really helpful and one middle-aged Sardar ji even came and told me in Punjabi to carry my phone nicely else I could drop it on the road. (It had almost popped out of my jeans and I hadn’t noticed) I did not know how to thank him in Punjabi 🙂
As soon as we got closer to the Harminder Sahib, I could see so many tourists. There were a lot of shops selling various kinds of bangles, scarves, footwear and crafty items. Then a little further down the road, I saw the huge gate leading the Golden Temple Campus. The gate seemed to welcome one and all and I felt as if it said, I know you will get peace here. The night was drawing closer and our plan was to visit the gurdwara the next day.
We were advised to go in the morning as it would be quieter and less crowded. By 7:15AM we were in the gurdwara. The first thing that caught my attention was no metal detectors, no frisking, and no baggage checking. It felt good and showed the trust that temple authorities had in its tourists. The shrine was very peaceful and serene. Ardaas and Gurbani were all that could be heard and though it was not Hindi, it was still simple to understand. Something that I again liked was no pushing to move quick and we were allowed to take as much time as we wanted once near the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhism is a very open religion and it showed everywhere. There was no discrimination based on your gender, cast, class, status or whatever. No VIP lines and no special benefits.
Once done with the darshan and prasad, we took a round of the water body that surrounds the gurdwara. It was a very different experience. People from all walks and faiths of life where seeking blessings, taking a dip or were engaged in seva. So much going on at the same time but the place was very clean. From there we went on to where langar was set up. Langar means an open canteen or free food for all without any distinction to your background. There are certain rules to langar – you sit in a row facing another row and then the food starts getting served. You are not allowed to take a chapati with one hand. You show up your both palms to accept it as a blessing. I was very surprised to know that this langar is operational 24hours and serves 100,000 people on an average every day! The people who were serving food were devotees who were sparing time for some seva. Even clean drinking water was served here.
Not even this, Vikas and I was craving for tea after lunch and a bit of enquiry from one babaji, we were welcomed to a chai(tea) langar! Vikas told me that the tea was a typically Punjabi tea and I was overwhelmed with so much service that Sikhs do for the society irrespective of caste, status, age or gender. From all this experience, I concluded that no one can leave this golden city hungry or thirsty. You can also pack food to take home from this langar if you need to carry. The sevaks never say no!
Once outside, a cute little sardar kid approached me to sell some cards and I asked him the charges. He asked me to give whatever I wish and I felt so good. No exorbitant rates, no begging..just what I deemed right!