I have been particularly fascinated with Punjabi culture for the past few years. Punjabis are by far the most delightful, fun-loving, party-hardy Indians– the family in Bend it Like Beckham were Punjabi Sikhs. Bhangra, the powerful crowd-pleasing last dance in our Diwali shows, is a Punjabi style of music and dance. So I have always wanted to visit Amritsar, the capital of Punjab, and see what it’s all about.
We started off the trip by visiting Wagah Border, the border between India and Pakistan. Every evening, the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan BSF do a gate ceremony and lower each country’s flags. They open the gate between these two countries with a complicated and intertwined history, and members of each BSF march up to the opposing country and perform grandiose physical statements of aggression. This practice has been happening daily since 1959. As such, the ceremony has attracted tourists from all over India and the world.
The day we went was the day before India’s Republic Day, which is similar to our Fourth of July. So both the Indian and Pakistani sides of the borders were filled with cheering crowds. Imagine a stadium prior to a game. Opposing countries played their own music over the speaker system. On the Indian side, a group of Indian children performed a series of dances prior to the ceremony. There were men on both sides of the border, leading the countries in chants and cheers. A hugely patriotic affair, pride surging through the crowd and the air.
The next day, we were able to visit the Golden Temple. It was Republic Day when we went and it was super crowded. There were people bathing in the holy water, others sitting around the temple praying/thinking/soaking up the sun. There were people there from all over India and from all over the world. And although this is one of the most important temples for Sikhs, as I read somewhere that Sikhs include in their daily prayers a plea to be able to visit the Golden Temple once in their lifetimes, there were also people there of other denominations as well. As such, I truly felt blessed to have had the opportunity to visit. When we got there we took a lap around the temple and the holy water tank that surrounds the temple. Then we waited in gender-separated lines to be able to go inside the temple– we waited for about an hour and a half in a very crowded, tightly packed line. As one can imagine, this is a very holy and special experience for a lot of these visitors. Imagine the line to the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point and fill all the holes and spaces that exist in the line with people and that was the congested throng that we were in the middle of for an hour and a half.
Inside we weren’t able to take pictures, but people were quickly being ushered in and out to pray, provide any sort of offering, and then to leave. Also, it wasn’t until I was inside that I realized that the prayers that were being sung over the loudspeakers outside of the temple was actually coming from a group of musicians that were singing inside of the temple! It was all very interesting and definitely a memorable experience.
So far, I haven’t really made any mention of food in India which has been a mistake on my part. The food here has been unreal. First, it’s been lovely to eat authentic Indian food and see how it varies by region, how my grandmother’s food is unique from what my aunt makes. It has been nice to have freshly cooked meals and completely avoid processed food. I feel more energetic and I have been truly enjoying each meal and it has added to the memories of the trip. However, I do need to make mention of one specific thing I tried in Amritsar. There, they are famous for their Kulcha. It is essentially naan filled with potatoes and onions and it is just perfect. It makes every bite of your Indian food orgasmic.
The kulcha we had at this particular restaurant was amazing. Even the rest of the food, I thought was pretty good. I thought I had successfully led our group to the “world famous” Brother’s Dhaba that I read about on Trip Adviser. However, my Mom and Mausi were not that big of fans of the food. They said, this isn’t that great. It’s just meh. Wonder what all the hype is about… As we’re taking out rickshaw back to our hotel, we see a huge sign, a billboard, in front of a building that said World Famous Brother’s Dhaba. Turns out, we went to the wrong place. Somehow, this huge fraud of a restaurant just functions with no problems, no questions from any lawyers or the government. Like what?! If only we hadn’t seen this sign, we would have left in ignorant bliss. If only…
This was a really spontaneous trip and we were only there for two days. But we all appreciated the sight seeing we were able to accomplish and the different taste of India. Even for my cousin Eishaan who has grown up in India but had never visited Amritsar really enjoyed the trip. That’s what I appreciate from travel– you don’t have to go for months to be able to have sweet memories or to learn lasting lessons. Sometimes it’s the spontaneous trip you take a few hours away from your home that can be just as impactful.