OK, I admit it! I’m not the first person ever to travel to India and come away feeling enlightened. In fact, enlightening experiences are pretty mandatory when you journey through such an awe-inspiring country.
However, I’m sure you’ll agree that nobody else has walked in my particular shoes at the particular moments in time I travelled. So I’m going to take this opportunity to share my top five moments of discovery from the beautiful Indian city of Amritsar.
I’ve been to Amritsar before, yet every time I go there I learn something new. Not simply about myself, but about the people and the distinctive culture that gives me a whole new perspective on life. So I invite you to step into my comfortable Punjabi shoes, relax, and come with me as I show you around.
Top Five Moments in Amritsar
Visiting the Golden Temple
For me, the Golden Temple is the most serene place on the planet. Not only that, but absolutely everybody is welcome (you don’t have to be Sikh to visit, which is a common misconception). It’s a little-known fact that the temple’s four entrances – North, South, East and West – are there to symbolise that people from all walks of life, from all four corners of the globe, are truly welcome!
Built in 1588, the temple tells many magical stories from times past. Embodying both beauty and peace, it is the perfect escape from the exhausting hustle and bustle of Amritsar, itself a city that bursts with energy. Adorned with stunning architecture, this beautiful temple is the perfect place to begin your search for tranquility.
Taking time to simply stop, look and listen
It was a genuine eye-opener to stop and people-watch, which felt luxurious as it’s something I can only do when I travel alone, with no other distractions.
The hustle and bustle of Amritsar is a different kind of ‘hustle’ to the kind you might expect or have experienced yourself, and that’s because it’s all about survival.
In all honesty, seeing genuine survival up-close is both sad and inspiring to witness. Sad, because children as young as three are outside begging for food and money, and inspiring because they both act and seem as though they are beaming with ambition and hope.
Unforgettable observations take place at the end of the evening, when the shops close and the streets fill with impossibly young orphans and stray dogs. Yet the locals make sure that everybody is fed, even the poor dogs.
I have always believed that those who are struggling, or who have struggled, in life possess the ability to empathise, because they have felt it. This tends to make them more generous, because they know how it feels to be without, and my belief was proven in witnessing these simple acts of kindness.
If you are in search of a humbling experience, simply stopping, looking and listening in a city such as Amritsar is all it should take for you to realise how lucky you are, simply to have easy access to life’s basics.
Sampling the local food
I don’t meet many people who need encouragement to eat, and I certainly don’t need much of it myself! So if you find yourself in Amritsar, then I urge you to try as much of the amazingly authentic food as you can.
Beginning your culinary journey, a Thali is an absolute must! Found in most restaurants, a Thali is a selection of mouthwatering Indian dishes (meat or vegetable-based). Perhaps stop for a cup of Masala chai – otherwise known as tea – on your way, from a teashop far removed from your local Starbucks. Bursting with flavour, Masala chai is made from a soul-soothing mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and a whole host of other spices, soaked in warm milk.
If you’ve seen the blockbuster film ‘Lion’, you may recognise the calorific jalebi! Amritsar is renowned for these tempting delights, which featured in the film as a sweet that harks back to beloved childhood memories.
Volunteering for Seva at the Golden Temple
“Seva” translates to “a selfless service made to others in the community”. I experienced this first-hand when I volunteered to help prepare langar, which is a free meal available to all.
The Golden Temple kitchen feeds up to 100,000 people every day for free, which I’m sure you’ll agree is pretty awe-inspiring. Joining others, I helped prepare the food by cutting carrots and popping peas. I discovered that you can participate as much or as little as you like, and it was a truly humbling experience to spend this time around people who simply want to help others, with no personal gain.
The meals are all vegetarian, consisting of bread, rice, lentils, a vegetable dish…and even a dessert.
Exploring the city by rickshaw
I find that the very best part of visiting a new city is in soaking up its culture, really getting a feel for how people live and go about their days. To help me do this, I hopped onto a rickshaw and asked to be taken around the city, which cost no more than 50 rupees (60 pence)!
There are no traffic lights and the Highway Code simply doesn’t exist in Amritsar, so prepare to be shit scared or amazed – or maybe a varying combination of both! – throughout your journey.
I’m happy to report that I was amazed, loving every single moment. I saw all the hustling, all the survival, of the city up close, a beautiful chaos that showed me that anything is possible, and that all the worldly goods that everybody seems glued to are not really necessary. I stepped off the rickshaw with a much greater appreciation for all I have; all I take for granted and unthinkingly regard as necessities.
My journey also highlighted just how lucky I am, to live in a country that values order and basic queuing. My favourite picture is this one, of a man travelling by moped whilst carrying dozens of eggs…now that is one high-pressured job!
In a nutshell, if you decide to visit Amritsar in your own shoes, my advice is to take some valuable time to explore and really soak up the energy present in this incredible city. And if you’d like to know any more or have any questions, please email me at [email protected].