After we left Varanasi, we went on to Amritsar by plane, via Delhi. From Varanasi, we flew in a regularly sized aeroplane with three seats either side of the aisle. While we were in the air, Rob motioned to me from his seat, waved the tickets in the air, and mouthed, “we’re not going to make our connection!”.
Rob took a few minutes of panicking to himself, and then he pressed the call bell. The flight attendant was super cool about the situation; then about 5 minutes later he announced that everyone going to Anritsar (and a load of other places) should make themselves known to the steward after exiting the plane. That didn’t stop Rob from stressing, but the plane continued to fly, long, long after we should have landed in Delhi.
When the pilot eventually landed and parked the plane, we shuffled towards the door with our bags and we were hurried down the steps and into a waiting van. Rob’s relief was palpable. But the van continued to wait, and he started to voice his exasperation. A man after my own heart explained to him, “We are all here in the van, they’re not going without us, just relax and wait”.
The van began to drive around on the tarmac to a tiny little propeller plane. No wonder they were waiting for us. Our family of four took up about a quarter of the seats. I’m exaggerating, but really it wasn’t very big at all!
Our hotel in Amritsar was the Hotel Hong Kong Inn (find it for a great price on Agoda.com). It gets good reviews on TripAdvisor, and they are deserved. The room was simple and clean. Room service was quick and the food tasty – we ate breakfast this way both mornings we were there and ate in the room in the evenings. The minibar was so well priced that we cleared it and took the food with us for snacks in the rest of our trip in India.
Amritsar’s biggest draw is the Golden Temple – Gurudwara Shri Santokhsar Sahib. It’s the end point of Sikh pilgrimages, and it has a very peaceful atmosphere. It’s very, very busy, yet somehow calm.
No shoes or bags are allowed inside, and everyone must wear a head covering. We paid 20 rupees (about 20p) for 4 bandanas from a guy on the street. There are loads of people pushing the same orange pieces of cloth, but the cheapest thing to do would be to remember to take your own, much more stylish, hat.
Inside, it’s hard not to be stunned by the Golden Temple in the middle of the lake. The walkway all around is cool beneath your feet, and as I’ve mentioned already, despite it being so crowded, it’s a really calm place.
To go in the golden temple, you join the queue. Families with young children can go in at the end (so effectively you go backwards) and skip the long line, but that involves waiting for a gap in the trail of people coming out of the temple. Be patient, allow others to direct you, and the helpers will push you into the right place. Hold on to your children!
Inside it is beautiful. I mean, the outside isn’t too shabby, with its solid gold roof, but the inside is glorious. Carvings, plush carpet, and inlaid gold.
If you go up the narrow spiral staircases you can go on the roof, and see the view from the top, as well as go inside the little temple if you choose.
We spent about 2.5 hours at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
In the street away from the Golden Temple, there are loads of ice cream vendors, as well as souvenir and other shops. Of course, we got ice cream!
We also stopped for a short while in the Jallianwalla Bagh, which is a walled garden, and the site of a massacre on 13 April 1919 when troops of the British Indian Army, under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer, fired rifles into a crowd of Indians, who had gathered in the garden. A tank blocked the entrance and the exit was blocked. On Dyer’s orders, his troops fired on the crowd for ten minutes, directing their bullets largely towards the few open gates through which people were trying to flee. The people who were killed and injured in the massacre (over 1,000 dead and more injured) were basically people who’d done just what we had – they’d been to the Golden Temple and were visiting the gardens afterwards.
In the garden, they have planted soldier-shaped topiary, installed a museum, and left the bullet marks on the walls as they were. It’s a moving place.
In the afternoon we drove to Wagah to see the border ceremony. First, we took a quick side trip to see Shree Durgiana Tirath, which is very similar to the Golden Temple, but smaller, and a Hindu temple not Sikh.
Shree Durgiana Tirath
While we were here, the walkway to the temple was flooded, and was really slippery! Watch out!
Wagah-Attari border ceremony
The ceremony takes place every day before sunset. It is a rousing parade, with soldiers from both sides taking part in a theatrical display, before the flags of Pakistan and India are lowered simultaneously. Border soldiers from both sides also intimidate each other by throwing high-kicks and by staring. Watch some Michael Palin footage from the Wagah-Attari border ceremony here. He was on the Pakistani side, but get the idea:
On the evening we were at the Wagah border ceremony, the Pakistani soldier had only one leg, so he was basically doing that gesticulating while bouncing on one leg for a couple of hours. Amazing.
I absolutely loved the ceremony. We arrived very early and sat watching the crowd grow. While they did, the music was pumping, and women ran down from the bleachers to dance in the centre. A family crossed over the border into Pakistan with their luggage on an airport trolley. Vendors passed up and down the steps selling snacks and souvenirs. Lots to see and all in a brilliant, fun, atmosphere.
If you want to read more of our trip, check out the other postcards from India.
After Amritsar we travelled on to Udaipur, to begin ten days of driving through incredible India!