Monday, April 16, 2012

Amritsar : Travelogue

A casual glance at the streets, the people and the anachronistic ambience won’t tell you the tale of sordid bloodshed this city once went through.  Amritsar, despite having a torrid history that spurred the nation’s independence, has been unharmed and unaffected. The air here still whiffs of spirituality and peace, like it has for years. This speaks volumes of the greatness of the city that despite such troubled history, thousands of devotees throng Amritsar daily in search of peace. What, then, could have been the magnet that attracts the world towards itself? We found those answers and a lot more in a first-hand experience in the one of the most amazing cities in India!

The board outside read Amritsar Junction in three languages including the native Punjabi. A cool breeze welcomed four of us. We knew something special awaited us for the next two days. We didn’t know what but one thing was clear to all of us. The objective: To soak in as much of Amritsar as we can in the next 48 hours. With loads of expectations, we headed to the city. The two old rickshaws that took us from the station to the temple reminded of the old rickshaws of Delhi. They had a subtle resemblance. Our first major concern was getting a good enough room to get things started. A good clean room that washes away the tiredness of the day! Skepticism lingered heavily if we could get such a room quickly for best money. After a failed attempt to bag in a room in The Golden temple itself, we found a relief in the form of Baba Deep Singh Niwas lodging. The Dharamshala seemed a newly constructed one and surprisingly less crowded. In one hour, we got our room and it met the low expectations we had for it. If anything, it exceeded! Clean washroom and floor, plus a mini-balcony having a panoramic city view –all that for mere 100 bucks a day. What more can you ask for? By 10:45 we left for a visit at the Golden Temple. A quick gorging of nearby delicious kulchas and  5 Rupee coke from the factory outlet-could it have started any better for the rumbling stomach? We made our way to the Temple. After a long queue, we got the sacred opportunity to pay obeisance to Him. It was followed by langar and idle sitting around the sarovar vicinity. A feeling that provided immense peaceful vibes –away from the rigmarole of our daily lives, away from the running crowd. It was something beyond words-something heavenly and priceless. Every moment dipped in spiritual cleansing. It had the aura that seemed to purge sins of ages. People had faith written all over their face as they dipped in Sarovar water. Enlightening and soothing –this was the place, I realized, that could make a thief a hermit. Such was the power it possessed. One could pass his lifetime here, just sitting and soaking in some soul food. But we had to leave. We were not like those lucky ones who worked here in His service. We were petty travellers bounded by a time frame. We had to make most of it. We rushed our way to negotiate with cab drivers for Wagah Border trip. A relatively modest charging cab driver took us to Durgiana mata mandir and finally to the border. Even after reaching fairly early, we were greeted by a long queue. We finally decided not to be a part of it-a decision that could have backfired.

Just as the small gate opened, the deluge of crowd shoved each other to get in and grab a good view of the ceremony. We somehow rushed and managed a relatively good place to grab the proceedings. A man ensured the crowd pumped up for some patriotic shrieks , while BSF jawans marched on the way, like they did every evening. The sweltering sun on our heads looked a little menace in that patriotic environment. You feel like a Hindustani sitting right there, an integral part of your nation. An amazing experience it was, that can be only partly and vicariously enjoyed if told and best when experienced. We felt a little more patriotic hormones being evoked on stepping out of the place. After a little rest at our Niwas, we headed to Brothers’ Dhaba-a place known  for its food here since 1912. But to our disaapointment, it lacked the traditional feel we expected Amritsari food to have. It was a restaurant  now and sadly commercialized. After the gorging, we headed back to the Golden Temple to catch the night view of the wonder. And it was more stunning than we had seen in the pictures. A beauty that stood in waters-the gold accentuated its sheen and the waters reflected a blurry image. The crowd now a little less and the view that any camera would be proud of. This was something that made Amritsar trip worth.  A picturesque Golden Temple against a night sky with slow Sangeet in the background –what else do you call Picture Perfect. We sat there for hours just admiring the view and soaking in as much as we can. Any thought of returning to normalcy after 2 days would make us to absorb more of the present. It was divinely beautiful. With tired bodies, we dragged back to our niwas and woke up a little late next morning. Hunger bugs were satiated with same morning Kulchas-this time they tasted better somehow to me. The relentless butter reflected the open hearted  food culture of Punjab. Truly, eating here is a bliss. We asked for a good Lassi place-that we had not found one yet. A 1500 m walk to Ahuja Lassi wala was worth the effort.

We headed to Jallianwala Bagh after that thirst-quenching mission. A massacre place that set off the revolution at enormous pace ending at Indian freedom. A 20 minute movie at the very place along with the museum paintings spoke how a butcher called General Dyre ripped apart humanity. It is difficult to imagine that a place you are standing on was once veiled with blood of innocents. Jallianwala Bagh stands tall next to the Golden Temple, reminding the world how humanity died one black day in 1919. We went back to the Temple for the probable final time and sat by. A foreigner made us understand what the maze on the floor and the ceiling of the main golden structure signify. And it was good to learn that from someone not living here. It showed how deeply Amritsar had connected with the world. After the evening started to take over, we went in search of Kesar Dhaba like ravenous lions in a forest. A shopkeeper ensured it won’t disappoint .And after a little walking, we realized he was true. This was the last piece of puzzle we were searching for-a perfect traditional dinner at dhaba with lassi. Kesar ka dhaba was 96 years old bistro that was still innocently a dhaba and preserved its legacy amidst rapid urbanization. After a delightful eat-out, we went back to the station to say good-bye to a trip that was amazingly soothing to the soul and amazingly satiating to the stomach.
 We departed with a lot of memories and a peaceful soul. But we aren’t dejected to leave as we know this place will call us another day when the mundane and dull life needs an escape. And we hope that amidst all the development human society is making, this place remains untouched and anachronistic, as it has.

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