Amritsar, a city of colourful culture, soul-touching sacredness and sweet locals, holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve been here thrice- once as a kid with my parents, then for my first anniversary and this time I wanted to start my new year on the right note. Since we were in Himachal on 31st December, we decided to drive down to Amritsar on 2nd January 2018 and get some blessings.
The thought of entering Punjab evokes tons of images in my mind- The romantic scene of ‘Raj and Simran’ running in those sarson ke khet (mustard fields), blooming sunflower fields, bollywood bhangra beats, big glasses of lassi, food that leaves all your senses stimulated and of course a beeji (grandmother) who feeds you aloo paratha with desi ghee. Aah so exciting!
Just like their butter, Amritsar is so rich in history and culture. From iconic landmarks and the gorgeous Golden Temple to their lip smacking cuisine and the air of spiritualism, the heart of Punjab is definitely worth experiencing.
Whether you’re here for 24 hours or 5 days, here are the top 10 things you must to do in Amritsar:
1) Golden Temple:
The best way to start your journey in Amritsar is by taking a trip to the Golden Temple, known to the Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib. This gurudwara is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs around the world. As you step foot into this sacred shrine, your heart and soul will light up when you see the shimmering temple glistening in the holy water. The peace and tranquility that every visitor feels is undoubtedly one to experience. The singing of the Gurbaani (hymns), the touch of the cold marble floor, the pure air and the belief in everyone’s eyes, it brings a sense of calm and wonder amidst all those bustling lanes you come through.
Try and visit the temple during sunrise and sunset both, the vibe is so different each time and it just gets better. Also witness the Palki Sahib ceremony that happens early in the morning around 4am and at night around 9pm (confirm exact timings before going). The temple welcomes everyone regardless of their age, religion, caste or race. It also has the largest community kitchen in the world which feeds lakhs of people every single day so do try their delicious langar.
Note: Please wear full clothing, cover arms and legs, also carry a scarf to cover the head(men and women both).
2) Wagah Border:
Wagah is the border that lies between the cities of Amritsar(India) and Lahore(Pakistan). Every evening at 5.30pm there is a ceremony that takes place on the border, called the Beating Retreat Ceremony. This includes closing the international gates and lowering both the flags and is conducted by the security forces from both the sides. It’s a great experience to watch the ceremony, the national anthem, the dance performances and get a glimpse of Pakistan.
3) Jallianwala Baug:
Known for the horrific massacre in 1919, Jallianwala Bagh is a public garden in Amritsar that now houses a memorial for all those innocent souls that lost their lives in a bloodshed by the British troop. Although disheartening, the place is a historical landmark and worth a visit. The bullet marks on the walls and the martyr well are still a part of the site. A tour around the Baug is bound to ignite deep feelings of patriotism within you.
4) Shop for Phulkari Dupattas and Juttis:
The famous Amritsari Phulkaris aka thread work dupattas should be on the top of your shopping list. The markets are flooded with stores selling all things Phulkari. These ethnic pieces are simply gorgeous, super affordable and also make great gifting items for family and friends. I suggest going to this store called Dolly’s in Kairon Market, Hall Bazaar. I bought everything from here and the staff is so good. Don’t forget to bargain. The dupattas cost anything between Rs 600 to Rs 1,200. Apart from that, the market also has these really good Punjabi juttis (shoes). Haggle your way through the local markets and shop these regional ethnic goodies.
5) Eat Jalebis at Gurdasram Jalebiwala
You just can’t leave Amritsar without trying the jalebis from this famous spot. Literally everyone in town can guide you to this stall. The jalebis here are the best you will ever eat, they’re hot, fresh, so crisp and are friend in ghee. The place is always crowded and hence the jalebis are fried on the spot for everyone. Absolutely worth every calorie!
6) Shop Walnuts and Local Spices:
When in the northern and the most liveliest part of India, you simply cannot miss hoarding up on the local spices. From Amritsar you can buy items like waddi, pappad, the famous Amritsari walnuts, other dry fruits and some robust Indian spices. If luggage is an issue then fear not, most of the stores will courier the items to you at an additional cost. You can also place an order on the phone every month to restock the items and they will send it by courier. We bought ours from Mahajan Store.
7) Hop on a Cycle rickshaw:
The best way to get around the crowded market and streets is to hop on a cycle rickshaw. You definitely have to experience this when in Amritsar. Also it’s the easiest and fastest way to reach the big market.
8) Try the Kesar and Pista Milk:
With dhabas marking more or less every corner of the city, there’s definitely no way one can miss the wholesome drink served here. End your day with a good warm glass of kesar and pista milk. Try Novelty Sweets for Pista Milk and Giani tea stall for Badam Pista Chai
9) Try the Kulchas and Lassi:
Kulchas to Amritsar is what pizza is to Italy! You just can’t think of stepping out of this city without indulging in a traditional Aloo Kulcha and Lassi. I’ve almost tried all the dhabas and my favourite has to be Kulwant Singh Kulcha Shop. Their aloo and paneer kulchas along with sweet lassi are to die for. Alternatively you can also try the famous stall Gian for creamy lassis!
Note: Avoid Kesar da Dhaba and Brother da Dhaba, the place is hyped and not that great. The kulchas there are so average!
10) Walk around the Golden Temple Market Area
This should probably be the first thing to do in Amritsar. The area around the Golden Temple is buzzing with happy people, traditional food stalls, local markets and a vibrant energy. This road now has a new approach as compared to what I had seen in 2011. The path from the town hall to the Golden Temple has been given a complete makeover. Surrounded by blush pink buildings in stone tiles, royal architecture, beautiful statues, multi level fountains, overhead screens and vintage street lights, this area now looks like a total movie set. The best part is that it’s a no car zone so just walk around and soak in the vibe. If history intrigues you and you want to dig deep into the Amritsari culture you can also opt for the Heritage walk – http://www.amritsarheritagewalk.com/
Apart from this, if you have time in hand then there are many more temples and gurdwaras in the city that can be visited. Also you can take a road trip to other parts of Punjab or drive down to Himachal Pradesh.
Getting to Amritsar:
The best way to reach Amritsar is by flight (they have an international airport too). The second option would be by train and the third by road.
Getting around Amritsar:
To get around the city, opt for an auto rikshaw or a cycle rikshaw. If you will be staying for a couple of days it is best to hire a car and driver, especially to visit the Wagah Border. Highly recommend our driver: +917986572196
Where to stay:
My preferred hotels in Amritsar are the Ramada (best location) and the Hyatt Regency.
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Best time to Visit:
The best time to visit this city will be in the cooler months of October to March. April to August is a too hot and rainy.
Hope you enjoyed the article, if there’s anything else you need to know do leave me a comment below! Xx