Rooted to Punjab, but being born and brought up in Delhi, I barely got a chance to explore the Punjab region ever. This time the opportunity came knocking from a travel startup called, STAY ON SKILL, where in exchange of your skills, you can get to travel for some great privileges.
My architectural internship was still on and as I was looking for a break as well, I knew something had surely come up very soon. And yes! within days, I was packing my bags for an Amritsar meetup since I got an invite to come as a travel expert with Stay on Skill.
A train ride on Swarna Shatabdi to Amritsar was a viable option to reach on time, within comfort as well as travel budget.
On the morning of 13th April 2018, reached Amritsar Junction from where I took an auto ride to the Hostel in Sant Avenue, where our stay was arranged. At around INR 70-100, I was able to reach my destination.
Amidst a quiet estate of the city, there was this Nomads Hostel which I instantly found worth appreciation because of all the coloured graffiti walls.
Seeing the green fields by the side of the estate,
Too many things happened within a fraction of seconds. I put my weight off the auto with my luggage and my phone rings. The door in front of me opens and a known face greets me and asks me to come inside first rather than shooting the exterior for the video. I think the person behind the call heard a lot of noises because there were too many things in my hand, but nonetheless, it was a call from my home to know about my whereabouts, so nothing to be embarrassed about.
After Lunch, we all, invited experts stuffed ourselves in the autorickshaw and officially started the sightseeing with Jallianwala Bagh being our first stop. To be honest, more than anything else I was excited about the food. But I took a grip on my emotions and subsided them to experience the other part of Punjabi culture well.
There was an air of excitement on the first day to know each other and everything about everyone since all the experts were meeting with each for the first time. To balance it out, someone from us started talking to the Auto Rickshaw driver because it was evident that he would be with us for the next few days.
In 20 minutes or so we all were standing in the cultural core of the city.
The premises nearby Jallianwala Bagh were renovated within a span of one year by the government and all the streets were refurbished to make the area presentable.
The area in an instant reminded me of all the martyr and Indian Independence movies, as soon we reached an open land after passing from a confined entrance which was I think intentionally done to keep reminding the visitors of all the suffering times under the foreign invasion. And that open land was a public park called as Jallianwala Bagh.
A young child bowing with respect against the martyrs well
Jallianwala Bagh is a memorial inside the walled city of Amritsar and being present there on the eve of Baisakhi meant seeing almost the whole city together who came to revisit their memorials.
History books and movies taught us about this place as the spot where a peaceful lot of protesters were fired on the orders of Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer of the British Colonial Army and that too on 13th April 1919, the day of Baisakhi.
I somehow felt the part of that same history but simultaneously as an architecture graduate felt the absence of design consciousness that was necessary to be imparted around a place like this.
The martyrs` memorial
Apart from the martyrs` flame at the entrance, the most sacred placed is the martyrs` wall where the bullet holes are still evident giving you an imagery of what would have happened. The martyrs well still gave me reminders of the tragic scene where thousands of innocent people jumped into while the firing didn’t stop.
There is a 10-foot long statue of Shaheed Udham Singh at the exit/entrance, who was a Punjab revolutionary and freedom fighter from Ghadar Party, which is known for taking revenge for Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, by assassinating Michael O’ Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab in India.
As soon as you exit from the Jallianwala Bagh complex, you can roam around for like an hour to two around the area which has some attractions like the Partition Museum, Takhat-e-Taus, Central Sikh Museum, Gurudwara Shri Santokhsar Sahib and the Golden Temple itself.
The statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in its full glory at Fawwara Chowk
Me with my friend Yashi
Best time to visit-7:00 AM – 7:00 PMEntry-Free
We again stuffed ourselves in our Safar ka Saathi (the Auto) and were ready to cover another 5 km to reach our second stop.
Entrance to the Fort
Located in the historic centre of the city, it was occupied by the army, but now it is being developed as a public museum for heritage and community development. Made out of Bricks and lime, it is laid out in a square form and looks no less than a beautifully preserved historic site during both times of the day. As per historical records it was built by the army of Gujjar Singh Bhangi, a local chieftain in the 18th century and then the fort got enhanced in the early 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who renamed it after the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
Being present there at the spell of Baisakhi had its own advantages as we got to see some great stage performances.
This place is well known for the 7D show, The Lion of Punjab (happens throughout the day) and a multimedia laser show called Whispering Walls (happens after 7:30 pm)
Show ticket- INR 290 for both shows
Note: -Professional photography (DSLR camera) isn’t allowed inside the premises
City tour with CITY ON PEDALS
It was a pleasant morning, as I could perceive from the terrace of our Hostel.
Wheat in the farms around the estate swayed blissfully with the cold winds as if empathizing our bodies for the next experience that we were going to do with CITY ON PEDALS, a venture which takes you on a guided cycle tour throughout the streets of Amritsar making one experience the rich food and craft heritage of its people.
It was the first time for Yashi at riding a bicycle and she pulled it off like a pro.
With all the safety gear around us and getting briefed about riding instructions, we were off to our first stop which was Maharaja Ranjit (founder of Sikh Empire in India) Summer Palace, also known as Ram Bagh Palace or the Company Bagh.
Ram Bagh Palace
The exterior of the grand mansion shows a mix of architectural features from various periods like the Mughals and the Britishers.
The interiors of the mansion were being retouched by the authorities
A monument which needed a glorious status of a proud history instantly filled me with a realization of how badly the structure and its surrounding was neglected. The garden was unkempt as I could make out knowing the value of these heritage structures.
We also noticed the luxurious 2-storey palace, now called Baradari, which was built at the cost of Rs 1,25,000. Our guide Aman from City on Pedals took us to the cool basement of this palace where we felt a major drop in temperature because the walls were nearly 1 metre thick.
After a deep historic dive, we were ready to go even deeper into the momentous lanes where a beautiful mosque awaited our senses.
The mosque located in Hall bazar, dating back to 1876, is still a spectacle to behold. Leaders like Tootie-e-Hind, Shah Attaullah Bukhari called upon the people to wage war against the British rulers from this mosque only.
By this time, it was already 8 am and our stomachs were shouting for a heavy breakfast. Some of the food stops that we covered one after the other included years old Puri-choley shop (Maranda dukaan), Aloo-Kulcha shop and the most famous Jalebi shop.
City on pedals offers leaves plates to the shopkeepers everywhere they go so as to discourage the use of non-biodegradable cutlery. An astounding thing is that you get puri-choley here only for INR 16.
This 150-year old Banyan tree is called Baba Bohar.
The Aloo Kulcha from this stall are absolutely unforgettable and can I say that this was the best Kulcha I ever had. Stuffed with potato and coated with seasoning of Indian spices, it is served with traditionally cooked chickpea and tamarind dipped onions.
I can vouch for this jalebi to be the best in Amritsar. You can save these as dessert option after the whole food tour and will find them on the jalebi wala chowk.
The show stopper beverage to this was a glass full of lassi at Gian Di Lassi. This delightfully churned sweet drink will keep calling you back to the lanes of Punjab repeatedly.
In between, we saw one man working on handcrafted jewellery succeeded by a walk in the heritage building which was also being referred to as the mall and basically housed clothes merchants. This was the Qila Ahluwalia.
The 9-Km cycle tour concluded inside the premises of the Partition Museum.
Me, Yashi and Arjun (Co-founder of Stay on Skill) posing for perfect pictures
Tour Schedule (More Information)
Morning 6 am (Heritage and Food Tour)
Evening 7:30 pm (Extensive Food Tour)
Assembly Place: – City on Pedals, reception desk, Fab Hotel Orbion Mall Road, 36-A, White Avenue
Price: INR 1500
Contact: – +91 7888650183
When we dropped our bicycles and reached the Hostel, I realized how broken I was. The legs needed a break from life and I decided to grant it to them.
Wagah-Attari Border Beating Retreat ceremony
The most often visited touristic spot and never seen by me, Wagah-Attari Border was going to be my first one of a kind experiences in Amritsar. It is really a sight to gasp upon when the BSF soldiers from both sides of the border enthusiastically showcase their skills followed by the flag lowering ceremony during the dusk hour.
We took our seats in the open amphitheatre by 4.15 pm which is the time of scorching heat and thus sunset was desperately waited for. It is a 1 km walk from the outside till the seating space, therefore reach the location accordingly because the show starts at 4:30.
By the way, Wagah is a village which lies on the Lahore side and Attari village lies on the Amritsar side. The border lies near to the Radcliffe Line, the boundary demarcation line dividing India and Pakistan upon the Partition of British India.
The patriotism spills out from each and every one present to witness the ceremony.
A beautiful sunset while on the way back
Ceremony timings: – starts by 4:15 PM (winters), 5:15 PM (summer), lasts up to 45 minutes
Tip: – If you are a foreigner, you can avoid long queues by showing your passport and entering from the VIP gate
Named originally as Harmandir Sahib, the monumental Temple has seen a lot. From episodes in history to daily scenes of evolution in beings that enter its complex, my heart was only looking for teachings and blessings for myself today.
The air was filled with devotion and it could be felt even from the heritage street that led to the entrance for the temple premises.
As soon as you enter the complex, you instantly feel this huge wave of emotion which convinces you that, yes! This is the place. A place where acceptance knows no bounds.
We decided to witness the Palki Sahib ceremony (Opening ritual called prakash which means “light”. About dawn every day, the Guru Granth Sahib is taken out its bedroom, carried on the head, placed and carried in a flower decorated palki with chanting and bugle sounding across the causeway. It is brought to the sanctum. Then after ritual singing of a series of Var Asa kirtans and ardas, a random page is opened. This is the mukhwak of the day, it is read out loud, and then written out for the pilgrims to read over that day) at the Golden Temple on the Baisakhi penultimate night.
Without getting any nap, all of us left the hostel at around 1 am and reached the sacred place to witness the ceremony, even after knowing the extent of people that were going to collect there.
After a convenient entry, we joined the line that was a mile long and where everyone stood on the causeway, that floated graciously and formed a necklace over the brink of the holy waters.
What happens next, becomes the most awaited moment of everyone’s tough day.
Back to back pushing, accompanied by constant chanting of Waheguru, a 10-minute wait after every progressing 10 seconds of the line, surrounded by helpful people who didn’t refuse to help me find my phone and finally after two hours of dodging and tossing off to micro-naps in the standing queue, we reached the holy space by 5 am via Darshani Deori to the golden dome of wisdom and blessings.
And that very particular moment, the dark night of swollen and weary eyes turned into a fresh morning of cool breezes and a thumping heart out of sheer excitement to view the Temple complex in its ultimate glory.
The pain in the eyes vanished with the serenity of the space, a new form of energy turned our tired bodies to normal. The return journey from the sanctum via the causeway to the ghat space besides the holy water which is 5.1 metres deep, was much easier then.
A special bond bounded the soul within me to the soul of that space.
After this, we sat for an hour on the stairs near the holy water and everything was making sense again.
More to know
As soon as Guru Granth Sahib is taken for Sukh Asan (for Rest at Night) to Akal Takhat Sahib, the gates of Darshani Deori are closed from inside. The sewadar (attendants) on duty will allow only devotees with special permission from the Gurdwara authority for taking part in the night sewa (cleaning and washing of the sanctum sanctorum). Every morning devotees gather in front of the gate of Drashani Deori, recite the Shabads (hymns) till the gates are opened for the day.
This Deori was beautified with marble and fresco work during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The main doors of the Deori are decorated with silver sheets on one side and the other one with beautiful inlay work comprising ivory work.
Travelxtalk with Stay on Skill
Now was the time when we had to give talks on various topics as travel experts and this was also the main task for which we were in Amritsar with Stay on Skill. The TRAVELXTALK was designed for aiming knowledge sharing and awareness creation where some selected experts from various domains would address a group of people and talk about some travel-related things. By 5:30, the talk started and I was still disoriented because a night`s sleep was skipped.
A big group of people including some natives of Amritsar, the crew of city on pedals, Statusbrew HQ, our own STAY ON SKILL team and Kajal from Himachal who was specially there to listen to us; did applaud for all of us at the end for the kind of new information they all received.
Some other experts were: –
1. Heena Raheja
2. Sahil Singh (Ghoomakad)
3. Jony Jindal (go4explore)
5. Satyam Aggarwal (The Window Ticket)
6. Himani Chhabra (Travel Bug Bytes)
7. Rajni and Yogesh (Couple on Bike)
The snacks and food at Café Chokolade are worth a mention with loads of varieties available in ice-creams, shakes, burgers, pizzas and the list go on.
About Stay on Skill
Stay on Skill is a collaborative initiative where a skilled traveller, be it photographer, musician, dancer, yoga expert, language teacher etc., can get free stay and food at some of the most amazing properties from anywhere in India and in return the host can get to learn that skill from the expert. It is an innovative skill exchange and skill provision opportunity and specially for budget travellers who also would like to indulge in rich travel experiences.
It was the day when everyone had to leave because the meetup ended the previous night.
But I decided to give the city another day and go to a place less heard of.
35 km away from Amritsar lies a small village, beyond which Lahore starts. The heritage site there was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and was used a resting point when he travelled with his troops.
Now why the name Pul Kanjri? Because as per the legend, the village was named after a bridge (pul) that was built by the king for a dancer ‘Moran’ belonging to kanjari caste. It is said that one day while crossing a canal, one of her shoes fell in there which caused her plenty of problems and thus to facilitate the dancer, a bridge was constructed.
We took an Auto for Rs 800 (to and fro fair) to cover a 35km ride from our hostel till the site and as soon as we entered the Sarovar area after a one and half hour, I was amazed to see the magnitude of historic beauty and peace in the main Pul Kanjari Sarovar area.
The mosque, mandir and the baradari (almost in ruins) have been conserved and well preserved after the war math when it was captured by Pakistan army in 1965.
It also gave me immense joy to know more about the significance of this site. A researcher found out that Maharaja not only married Moran for the love he felt for her but also to break social and communal prejudices and to set precedent for social harmony.
Tip: there are no eatery joints or dustbins around this site, so take your own food and do not litter.
Concluding our stay at the Nomads Hostel
How many of you have stayed in hostels during your travels? I bet many.
But how many of them had combinations of different ecosystems you always need time to time during travel days.
Nomads Hostel is one of best I have come across in India and the best in Amritsar. It is located in East End Estate (Sant Avenue), a little further from the core city centre at a place where only peace of mind exists.
I worked a bit sitting there in that lobby you see, spent a little time chilling at the terrace that also has a pool and we also had a dance party late night with the left-over experts.
Getting in and around Amritsar
Private taxi services, rickshaws and autos are widely available throughout the city. Using an autorickshaw (Rs. 15/- up to 3 km and Rs. 25/- up to 5 km.) is the best but agree on a price before hopping on, which are generally reasonable.
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Other Destinations to Cover in Amritsar
1. Sadda Pind Resort
2. Durgiana Temple
4. Partition Museum
5. Central Sikh Museum
6. Gurudwara Shri Santokhsar Sahib
7. Tarn Taran Gurudwara
8. Khalsa College
9. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
Some Important Food Stops
1. Kesar Da Dhaba, Chowk Passian, Near Telephone Exchange, Shastri Market, Katra Ahluwalia
2. Jalebiwala Chowk
3. Baba Bohar for puri-choley
4. Ram Lubhaya Aam Papad Wala, Arya Samaj Building, Lawrence Road
5. Aloo Kulcha
6. Kulcha Land, Chamrang Road, B – Block, Opposite M K Hotel, Ranjit Avenue, B – Block, Ranjit Avenue, Amritsar, Punjab 143001
7. All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha, Purani Chungi Crossing, Maqbool Road
8. Gian Chand Milk Bhandar, Opp. Regent Cinema, Katra Sher Singh (Gargar Mal Road), Chowk Regent Cinema, Katra Sher Singh, Katra Ahluwalia
9. Ahuja Milk Bhandar, Ahuja Sweets, B. K. Dutt Gate, Inside B.K. Dutt Gate, Dhab Khatikan, Katra Ahluwalia
10. Sabri Bhatura Shop, Near O.B.C Bank, Queens Road, Crystal Chowk, INA Colony, Amritsar, Punjab 143001
11. A One Kulfa, 3, Queens Road, Crystal Chowk, INA Colony
12. Vinod Sweets and Puri, Papraha Wala Bazar, Katra Ahluwalia
13. Kanha Sweet, Opp. BBK DAV College, Dayanand Nagar
14. Bade Bhai ka Brothers Dhaba, Adjacent to Bhrawan Da Dhaba, Near Town Hall
15. For Satpuda, Beera Samosa Wala, Atta Mandi, Katra Ahluwalia OR Khubi Ram, near Golden Temple
STAY ON SKILL
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