“Straight Outta Punjab”: A weekend in Amritsar, Punjab

Greetings! As mentioned in the title above, this blog will cover our weekend in the state of Punjab. I saw this quote on a T-shirt when we were walking around, and it just seemed too clever not to share with you guys.

Well, we had quite the interesting and explorative weekend in Amritsar, Punjab! On Friday, we got back to Dehradun and immediately got ready to leave for Punjab. It was quite a busy day as I had been pretty sick the night before and had hardly slept. After arriving in Dehradun, we just barely had enough time to unpack from Patti, pack for Punjab, and eat some food (most importantly, of course). Exhaustion and stress aside, we persevered and got to our night train on time!

It was a 12 hour night train, but I was able to sleep just fine and get some much needed rest. Once we arrived in Punjab that morning, we were taken to the beautiful Sawera Grande Hotel and got ready for the day! First thing we experienced—our very first Indian McDonald’s! The setup was very similar to what I was used to, but the menu was ENTIRELY different (in the best way possible). They served vegetarian options, spicy seasoned fries, and cuisine reflective of Indian culture…but McDonalds style. I got a Fanta float and was “lovin’ it.” 😀 Many of the sights were just a quick walk from our hotel so we were able to explore and more fully immerse ourselves in the people, smells, and culture of beautiful Amritsar. While walking around, Lindsey and I found very colorful and bright scarves. I may also have found a pair of very cute flats.

After that, we continued to walk around shops. We stopped at an Indian cuisine Subway, and it was quite delicious as well. After that, we walked to the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara and the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. Essentially, the Golden Temple is a very sacred place for people who follow the Sikh religion to come to, worship, and experience. Before entering the temple, everyone was asked to cover their heads with a garment, wash their hands, and remove their shoes before walking through a small pool of water. Many people removed most of their clothes to walk in the sacred pool of water that surrounds the temple. The temple is made of gold (hence, the name) and is spectacularly beautiful to see in real life. Just standing there and gazing at the entire temple amongst so many followers allowed me to feel what a holy experience it was for so many people. It was such a privilege to be able to experience it along with them.

Once we left the Golden Temple, we headed back to the hotel to catch our ride to the Waggah border aka the India-Pakistan border for what is most commonly known as the Wagah-Attari border ceremony! And this is a a big thing, let me tell you. The Wagah-Attari border ceremony happens at the border gate, two hours before sunset each day. The flag ceremony is held by the Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Force (BSF). The ceremony shows the changing of the guards for both countries on each side of the border. Obviously, we sat on the Indian side. As we arrived at the border, we heard loud cheering from audience members and patriotic music being played. The entire ambiance of the place gave me goose-bumps. Just witnessing the pride and love that Indians have for their country was something I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Once the guards directed us where to sit, we purchased little India flags that we were fully prepared to wave once the ceremony started. With the bright and relentless sun beating down on us, we watched as the ceremony commenced with hundreds of people dancing and everyone repeating exciting chants to the main guard who was keeping the crowd amped. At 4 pm, we saw the Indian guards march down the steps and come to the center of the arena area. One by one, they walked down with the most impressive and militant stance, not to mention some amazing high kicks. Wow. As the guards walked down, the gates to both sides of the border finally opened and each Indian guard faced a Pakistani guard with a greeting. Once all the guards from both sides had greeted, the gates closed and the guards had officially changed. It was incredible.

After we got back to Amritsar, we went to an excellent restaurant called The Crystal. You can imagine that its aesthetic was as elegant as its name. We were so lucky to be able to eat there. Lindsey got some delicious vegetable biryani and I ordered some mushroom soup, as I still wasn’t feeling super great 😔. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and had a great night’s rest. 

The next day was mostly filled with more shopping and walking around. We explored more of the city by foot and got to see a memorial dedicated to Indian civilians whose lives were lost during an attack by the British. What is known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre involved the killings of hundreds of Indian civilians on the orders of a senior British military officer, Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. The massacre took place on April 13, 1919 in the heart of Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs, on a day sacred to them as the birth anniversary of the Khalsa (Vaisakhi day). A crowd of people had gathered in this area when Dyer blocked the main exits and ordered his troops to begin shooting toward the densest sections of the crowd. This lasted for ten minutes and approximately 1,000 people were killed. It was an extremely sobering experience for Lindsey and I to walk around the memorial as we saw bullet holes in the walls of where the attack had occurred.

After exploring, shopping, and eating at The Crystal (again… because it was just that good) we were dropped off at the train station to catch our 12 hour night train back to Dehradun. Until next time!

-Meredith

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