Here is my travelogue on Kashmir. This part will cover the first leg of my journey, that is, visit to Amritsar.
We first started from Mumbai to Amritsar on 13th November by taking a sleeper class coach on Paschim Express which departs from Borivali Station at 11:35 AM. It reached Amritsar at 9:30 in the evening of 14th (though it was scheduled to reach there by 7:30 PM). From station, we took an auto to Gurudwara (the Golden Temple). The autos are large enough to carry 5 passengers and luggage. However, one will have to bargain with them for the fare or else they may charge exorbitantly. At the Gurudwara, rooms are available for one night in the dharamshala for Rs.50/- only. However, no rooms were available there when we reached…. so we put-up at a nearby hotel. Though the rooms were quite costly, it was only a matter of passing one night there, so we didn’t mind. In any circumstances, never forget to check up whether they provide hot water, as in our case, we had to do with cold water – that too during this time of the year!
The next morning, we were ready for the local site-seeing. The very first thing that we did in the morning was to rent a vehicle (a Tata Sumo) which would take us about in the city. The cost of renting a vehicle as almost the same as what we would have shelled out to auto-wallas for going to various places. Plus the convenience of the vehicle being ready at any time. We started by visiting the Golden Temple first. Its a magnificent sight from the moment you enter the premises. A huge reservoir with the main building in the middle.
Even with the presence of so many devotees within the premises, one can feel serene, quiet and peace. There are a couple of rules that needs to be followed – take off your shoes before entering the premises (there is a depository just outside the main entrance), wash your feet, hands and head (even a sprinkle of few drops of water can do) at the entrance and keep your head covered at all times as long as you are inside the premises. A couple of hours went by without notice while we were enjoying the beauty of historic monument.
Then we went to see another historic place called the Jallianwala Bagh. This was the place where on 13the April, 1919, General Dyre of the British Army opened fire on the unarmed people who had gathered to peacefully protest againt the Rowlatt Act. Two thousand innocent Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were shot by the British bullets on that bloody day. Today, a Peace Monument stands tall in the middle of this garden, a photo gallery and a couple of old walls which still bear the marks of the bullets that were fired.
The ladies in the group did some shopping from the local market, and by the time they were through, it was already half past noon, and everybody had gathered enough appetite for some Punjabi delicacies. We went to a popular ‘dhaba’ called The Brothers, which it itself proclaims to be famous for Amritsari Kulchas. There were a variety of Kulchas available (Amritsari Kulcha, Paneer Kulcha, etc.) and though they were listed in the breakfast section of the menu card, I was wise enough to order them for lunch, at they happened to be quite large in size and was served along with curry, curd and some sweet-and-sour tasting sauce. One “Amritsari Kulcha King size” as they call it, was enough to put me through till the evening, though I could still have had a glass of Punjabi lassi.
After filling ourselves, we proceeded towards Wagah Border Gates. On our way, we made a stop to a Hindu temple which was designed in the same fashion as the Golden Temple. There were a couple of other temples as well in the surrounding premises. We reached Wagah border by 4:30 PM where the Retreat Ceremony is held every day at 5:00 PM. It was an event to remember… Soldiers on both the sides of the border parade in a synchronized fashion… lowering the flags of both nations and retreating back.
By the time the ceremony ended, at around 5:45 PM, the sun had already set as it was the onset of the winter season. After the end of the ceremony, we went up to the border gates and shook hands with the Jawans of the Border Security Force. There were a couple of reporters from NBC interviewing people around about how they felt about the emergency imposed in Pakistan. He also interview papa who answered in a very patriotic manner.
We returned back to the city to pack up, as we had to take the train to Jammu at 11:30 the same night. We were not feeling adventurous enough to have punjabi dinner. Few of us just had soup and sandwiches and others just did with a glass full of hot boiled milk (called “Tawda milk” – available in the by-lanes around the Temple premises). We packed up and again took an auto rickshaw back to Amritsar station.
The first part of my journey ended here. The second part shall contain details of my visit to Jammu, Katra and Mata Vaishno Devi’s shrine.