When you are visiting a place, you could either fill up your schedule and visit all the places of interest or simply limit your visits so that you get to all the leisure to soak in the feel of the place, at Amritsar, we chose to do the latter.
Golden Temple on a serene morning
When we stepped out that early morning, there were tour operators everywhere offering to take us on a city tour, the list of places sounded interesting including the must visit Wagah Border but we were so much in love with the Golden Temple area that we didn’t want to go anywhere else. We decided we would first chill on the roads of Chowk Fawwara and then decide if we wanted to go to Wagah Border or not.
Before going to bed the previous night, we knew the first thing we would do in the morning was visit the Golden Temple. It was numbing cold and just as the sun was rising, we caught the dazzling beauty of the Harmandir Sahib !
A cold, misty morning and the warmth of first rays of the sun – despite all the strife of the outside and the violence that this very place once witnessed, at the Harmandir Sahib, you will feel all is right with the world !
We joined the queue for the Darshan once again. This time, we spent more time inside the Gurudwara, climbed up the stairs to the first level and saw the 109 years old hand written copy of the Guru Granth Sahib being opened for the day. One can see the massive pages of the Holy Book being opened amidst hymns and prayers, we were lucky to have been at the place at the right time. We are not sure if there are specific timings, we suppose it is opened early in the morning at sunrise time. Similarly, the original Guru Granth Sahib in the Sanctum Sanctorum is also opened every morning at dawn, we did not witness that.
Some more moments of pure zen followed as we walked around the precincts, sat down and closed our eyes. Capturing the moments on our camera, we finally took leave of the Golden Temple.
After our visit to the Golden Temple, it was time for breakfast !
Hot Kachori and Chole followed by steaming Chole Bhature !
The team refused to let this writer indulge in Lassi early in the morning !
We walked around the bye-lanes near our hotel, behind the beautified road lies the old Amritsar, age old buildings, old shops, merchants. We stopped by to have a syrupy Jalebi that tasted like heaven.
With no specific plan in place, we took a stroll and found a place to sit on a raised platform opposite the Maharaja Ranjit Singh statue, who was looking even more regal under the daylight.
We sat there and watched the colour and gaiety of Amritsar, people dressed in bright hues, all happy and walking towards the Gurudwara, traders, hawkers, shops, the cold weather yet the warm sunshine. It felt like we were sitting in a vast theatre and watching a slice of life. Our deep breaths told us how relaxed this “doing-nothing-just-chilling” was making us feel !
After about an hour, we decided to visit the Partition Museum. During the British rule, the building which now houses the museum was the Town Hall.
The Museum has pictures, videos, interviews, newspaper clippings and articles about the horrors of the Partition in 1947.
If you want to realise how lucky, privileged a life you are leading, one has to visit the Partition Museum, you will end up feeling grateful for whatever little you have. We are only used to reading about the violence that followed the India’s independence, we never really take time to imagine what it must have been like, walking through the Partition Museum and seeing the photos almost has us choked to tears, it made us angry ! Why aren’t we taught all these ugly truths in our history books? We felt guilty about the happy lives we are all living in the present, our freedom was achieved over the dead bodies of millions of innocent people. We have been painted a rosy picture of our non-violent means of achieving independence, we thought that would be an insult to the memory of all those millions of people who died gory deaths. The visit left us extremely disturbed.
We left the Partition Museum with a heavy heart and walked around wondering what to do next. We were approached by some tour operators who offered to show us around Amritsar including Wagah Border. That’s when we decided, we had a lot of time and we could make a trip to Wagah after all. We did not want a city tour, which would include the Gobindgarh Fort, we fixed a trip to Wagah Border with one of the tour operators and headed for a quick lunch.
Overwhelmed by patriotism
We started to Wagah Border around 1.30 PM. Our trip to Wagah took us through the ancient route that was once part of the Uttarapath or the trade route from ancient port of Tamralipti to all the way to Central Asia. Later, it became the Grand Trunk Road built by Sher Shah Suri and further expanded by the British (obviously, the name Grand Trunk Road was given by the British). Today, the route is part of National Highway 1.
This is the last (or the first, depending on which end you look at it from !) toll booth on National Highway 1 ! Poor quality picture because it was clicked through the windshield from the back seat of a speeding car.
There was some kind of an adrenaline rush as we neared the border, after all, Wagah Border is the most famous border point between India and Pakistan ! That is why when we saw this sign board, it was quite surreal.
The sign board only talks about Pakistan cities, it was amusing for us. We had never imagined that one day, we would be standing at a place so close to Pakistan !
Vehicles are allowed only upto a certain point about 1 km away from the border, one has to either walk or take a rickshaw to the border point. The place has stalls selling Indian flags, caps and other souvenirs, eateries and hawkers. Equipped with some Guava fruits and miniature Indian flags, we decided to walk to get a feeling of countdown to India’s frontier.
Wherever you turn, you can see BSF – offices, buildings, hoardings, officers, check points – awe inspiring and though an ordinary citizen, it fills you with pride.
We arrived at the Wagah Border after a 10 minute walk and joined the queue waiting to witness the Beating Retreat Ceremony. It was around 2.45 PM and the Beating Retreat was supposed to begin at 4.30 PM. Wagah Border attracts huge crowds and it is a good idea to reach atleast 2 hours in advance, so that you can find some place to sit.
At 3 PM, they allowed us near the Border Crossing Point, one has to walk half a kilometre. Men and women are asked to stand in separate lines and women are allowed to go first, this got a little chaotic because it is hard to spot your family in the crowd and phone signals do no work here. It is quite confusing and you do feel lost not being able to contact your people, despite that, when you see the arch with “INDIA” written in bold, you seem to forget the inconvenience for the moment.
Once at the gallery from where one can view the ceremony, people were rejoined with their families and all was well. Seating in the front few rows will give you the best view but anywhere will be just as fine.
We found a place to sit on one of the upper rows and waited for ceremony to start. The biggest point of interest was Pakistan on other side of the gate ! It was almost a “oh my God” kind of moment, India ends at that gate and Pakistan, the name that evokes so many emotions in an Indian, on the other side !
While on our side, the crowds were milling in, there were only a handful of people on the Pakistan side. Wonder what they must have been thinking looking at India !
Patriotic songs were played, cheerleaders from the BSF built up the patriotic fervour by asking the crowd to join in shouting slogans “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, everybody cheered from their heart ! The idea was to be louder than the Pakistani crowd, which was not even 10% of the Indian crowd !
A group of women from the crowd were asked to run a relay with the National Flag amidst loud cheering from the crowd, then, girls from the crowd danced to patriotic songs, it was fun, festive and above all, a great feeling of love for the country !
There wasn’t much fun and frolic on the Pakistan side and our cheering grew louder to drown any slogan shouting from that side. It was like the cultural events way back in school and college.
Promptly at 4.30 PM, the Beating Retreat Ceremony began. India’s ceremony was lead by two women officers of BSF, it was inspiring !
We cheered our heart out, feeling immensely indebted and grateful to our soldiers who defend us, who undergo unthinkable hardships, leave their families behind and even lay down their lives so that we can live in peace. Our cheers were our way of thanking the soldiers but even bigger way of thanking them would be being responsible citizens and making this country worthy of their sacrifices.
The border gates were opened, there was show of might and valour on both sides and lowering of the flags just before sunset.
The ceremony took about half an hour and left us ecstatic, we were so glad we decided to visit Wagah Border and cheer the Army men. Patriotism is a great thing, though one has to be wary of mindless nationalism !
May be it was to do with being in Army area, people were surprisingly disciplined while coming and leaving the galleries. We are capable of discipline, it’s just that we are too lazy to be disciplined unless we really have to be, is that it?
After the ceremony, we were allowed to take pictures of the border gates. Earlier, people were allowed till the gates, now there are barricades a few metres before the gates.
With our hearts filled with love for the country and in awe of BSF, we left ceremony arena to head back. While leaving, we spotted this board.
“Welcome to Republic of India” ! A goosebump moment !
We also caught a glimpse of the border fencing running till as far as your sight permits. Back on the road, the whole place looked like a mela, a long line of food carts, stalls and people having a good time.
Wagah Border is a must visit, though on holidays and tourist season, our driver told us, it could get very crowded and if you do not plan well, it could be a hassle as well. Nevertheless, all of us need this shot of patriotism. After all, Walter Scott had written “Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, “this is my own, my native land” !
The flag we bought at Wagah Border is now safely kept in our cupboard, we look at it almost everyday and remember the BSF and say “we love India” !
We were back at Amritsar in time for dinner. We went for dinner to the legendary Bharwan Dhaba at Amritsar. The ghee flowing from the Dal Makhni and Panneer was indicative of why the restaurant is legendary ! Our Amritsar trip was drawing to a close and the lip smacking food at Bharwan Dhaba was the “Makhan on the Paratha” !
We had to catch the early morning train to New Delhi, we did one more round of the market place, another glimpse of the Golden Temple from outside and retired. Amritsar is magical !
We leave you with our favourite view of Amritsar.
- Partition Museum is open from 10 AM to 6 PM.
- Wagah Border is 35 kms from Amritsar. There are tour operators who will take you on a city tour including Wagah Border and charge you around Rs.1200/- for a cab. There is not much difference between a city tour package and Wagah Border alone. You could negotiate if you are good at it.
- Entry to view the Beating Retreat Ceremony is free. It is a good idea to plan a visit Wagah Border on a weekday and off peak season for tourists. Weekends and holidays are usually supposed to be very crowded and unless you reach the place atleast 3 hours in advance, you wouldn’t be able to find a place to sit. Even during off season, we suggest, you go there 2 hours before the Ceremony time.
- Since men and women are made to stand in separate queues before entering the gallery, it could be a tad difficult to locate your family in the crowd once inside, especially without mobile signals. Don’t panic, you can spot them once everyone settles down or ask them to wait at the entry point. If you have kids with you, be extra careful and keep them close.
- Keep half a day aside for Wagah Border.
- It is alright if you cannot get a great view of the Ceremony, it is all about being at the place and being a part of the experience and cheering the soldiers.
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