People travel to religious destinations for a variety of reasons ranging from a need to visit a place that has a special significance or just to experience the tranquillity that the place derives from the certain “something” that’s in the rarefied air of such places. I have to confess, I belong to the latter group of travellers and really started my “journey” at Bethlehem some years ago and then was coerced by a friend to visit Tirupati some years back – an amazing experience that I’ve managed to repeat every year since. The annual visits have been a bit of surprise even to myself, because growing up in an army environment shaped my (rather practical!) views on religion, unlike those of the quintessential Indian – all religions to be respected and practiced in private, with pilgrimages hardly a part of the annual holiday calendar! A few years ago was a bit of a watershed for me in that sense – a trip to Tirupati, followed by a recent one to the Golden Temple. I had heard so much about the Golden Temple experience over the years that it had been on my “list”, but had never really got around to it. I finally made it to Amritsar where the trip started with a very convenient flight to the city and checked into the rather cosy and conveniently located Ista Hotel. The Golden Temple lived up to all the things I’d heard about it and more – the tranquillity, the cleanliness, the legends about the miraculous curative powers of the water and the equality practiced in the Sikh religion, is a truly mesmerising experience. The temple is probably the most organized religious place in India, not surprising, since they had apparently hired the services of one of the Big Four Consulting Firms to put some of their processes in place and what a great job they have done. ‘Kar Seva’ or the voluntary contribution of service by devotees is an amazing sight, people from all levels of society, rich or poor, volunteer to cook, clean and serve food at the temple. It is completely selfless. Eating the simple, delicious ‘langar’ ( free food served to anyone who wants to partake of it, on an average it could be, a hundred thousand per day) was the highlight for me. It is also amazing how you don’t find any form of misery outside the temple.
No trip to Amritsar is complete without a visit to the Wagah border and the Jallianwala Bagh. The retreat ceremony at sunset on the Wagah border is absolutely beautiful. The Border Security Force on the Indian side and The Sutlej Rangers on the Pakistan side put up a well-co-ordinated and spectacular showpiece, with passionate Indian’s and Pakistani’s adding their full-throated support to the entire drama! The Jallianwallah Bagh is a reasonably well maintained part of the pre-Independence history of India and is a must do for all those who visit the city. Of course, two days in Amritsar were rounded off by a wonderful Punjabi gourmet experience and great shopping that included local spices and the locally renowned embroidered fabric that the women in the family bought by the yards!
My only mistake was to venture there over the weekend, it is just too crowded. Regulars tell me Tuesday- Friday are better days to plan your trip to Amritsar….next time!