Travelogue | Amritsar & Wagah Border with Taj Swarna

 

Amritsar literally means “a Pool of Nectar” and derives its name from “Amrit Sarovar” – which means the holy pond that surrounds the fabulous Golden Temple.

Dear travellers & vactioners,

This was my third trip to Amritsar but during my first two trips, I didn’t manage to go anywhere else except The Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh. Our itinerary included a visit to Wagah Border and two popular local eateries in Amritsar this time.

So we decided to confirm our attendance at the last minute, pack our bags hastily and onboard our Tata Vistara flight from Mumbai on time; with excitement to experience the extravagant launch of Taj Swarna and hope to discover new places serving delicious Punjabi food that we hadn’t tried before.

< Complimentary food on Air Vistara was surprisingly better than most domestic airlines > 

We were invited by the PR team from Edelman to join them on this FAM trip with various other journalists and travel bloggers, primarily to celebrate the launch of Taj Swarna and secondarily to discover Amritsar in their style and perspective. This is Taj Group’s first hotel in the golden city, strategically located approximately 30 minutes away from the international airport, as well as the sacred Sikh shrine of Shri Harmandir Sahib.

The welcome rituals at all Taj properties are famous for making guests feel special and instantly comfortable. The management of the newly built Taj Swarna didn’t disappoint our expectations, their welcoming efforts made us feel warm in our hearts and tummies alike.

< Traditional laal-teeka and aarti for each guest on arrival >

< Desi tunes to add more joy on our arrival >

< Aam pudina panna, masala chhaas & boondi ke laddoo >

< Samose, pyaaz ke pakore, corn puffs & assorted mithai >

Amritsar, the spiritual center of Sikhism, not only attracts pilgrims and tourists from India but also attracts voyagers from different parts of the world. Taj Swarna comprises of 148 luxurious rooms and 9 suites, including a lavish and spacious Presidential Suite; which probably is not as expensive as you’re thinking in your head right now.

When we checked-in, we were happy to discover our regular room to be amongst the largest in the city; fusing contemporary sophistication and traditional Indian opulence together. With a spacious bathroom, a study table, a mini bar and an adequately sized wardrobe; it would be safe to conclude that the modular design of our room with chic textured furnishings and more than adequate amenities, makes Taj Swarna perfectly revisitable for another leisure or business trip.

< Our room for double occupancy, before we occupied it >

< Itinerary for our short staycation, waiting for us in our room >

After freshening up and a quick power nap, it was time to enjoy some retail therapy on the busy streets of Amritsar’s popular market: Hall Bazaar – displaying the floral and intricate embroidery work created by the women and sold by the men of Punjab, even post 7 PM every night.

< Hall Bazaar, Amritsar >

We split into smaller groups, as we wished to enjoy shopping what we wanted or needed differently. Dear ladies, please don’t forget to pick up a dupatta and match it with a similar coloured suit material – to create your own custom-made authentic Patiala-Salwar, stitched to perfection at a wholesale shop recommended by Taj.

< Ordered suits were delivered to Taj within 24 hours >

< Phulkari shopping at Hall Bazaar in Amritsar >

If you prefer shopping for accessories over apparel, you can find traditionally woven shawls or walk down the Churaa Market for bangles and end your shopping spree by acquiring a comfortable and economical pair of Punjabi Juttie – a type of common footwear available in North India and its neighboring regions.

< Aren’t these colourful jutties artistic and beautiful? >

< We regrouped at a store called Raunak Jutti in Amritsar >

< Many options, sizes and colours are available for women and men too! >

For those who’d like to find something to eat and/or drink in the market instead, I’d recommend you to try irresistibly delicious Ram Ladoos, especially if you haven’t tried it before. I hadn’t either and I’m glad that I tried it this time.

A favourite tea-time snack of the locals, these incredibly crispy moong dal fritters are served with shredded radish, carrots, tangy chutneys and spicy masala on top. I recommend washing it down with a chilled glass of Banta, which is Punjab’s equivalent of Fotash Jawl in Bengal and Goti Soda in Gujarat.

< Hawkers sell ram ladoo everywhere in and around Amritsar >

We returned to Taj Swarna and decided to rest up immediately after a quick dinner, only to grab a king-sized breakfast on time from their wide spread of Indian and Continental food.

< Cholle-kulche, poha, veggies, croissants, muffins, baked breads, pancakes, waffles & more >

< Flaky and sweet cinnamon buns, fresh from the oven! >

< Hot waffles with whipped cream and maple syrup >

I decided to sip on a nice frothy cappuccino and skip breakfast that day, only to save some space in my stomach for garma-garam jalebis at our next destination…

< World famous Gurdas Ram Jalebi Wala in Amritsar! >

If you love jalebis as much as I do, you must visit Gurdas Ram’s nook for hot, fresh and crispy jalebis. I had visited this popular yet small shop during my first visit to Amritsar in 2013 and I can tell you this with complete clarity: I have not eaten better and cheaper jalebis than these anywhere in India and I must have eaten jalebis at more than a thousand places in life already.

< A trip to Amritsar without these jalebis = incomplete >

< Gurdas Ram – a favourite breakfast stop for locals as well >

< Jalebis available at INR 250/KG, a plate is for Rs. 10 only! >

When I visited Amritsar for the first time in 2013, it was not as developed as it is now. The long stretch from Hall Bazaar to The Golden Temple has nothing of the old familiar hustle-bustle anymore. After redevelopment, the new one-kilometer stretch looked like a monumental place out of forgotten history and a walk through it evoked a feeling of being somewhere else in historic time.

High pedestals made out of white marble now have intricate carving of war scenes with small statues of Sikh generals on them. A huge statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh riding a horse with a sword in hand, symbolizes the great historic period of the Sikh glory.

< Statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Chowk Phowara >

< A tribute to various Sikh generals from Indian history >

The facades of all buildings are now seen in pink coloured Kota stone tiles. LED lights illuminating the façades, buildings with Rajputana and Mughal architectural domes, larger tributary statues, artistic sculptures and just the right number of people displaying Punjab’s vibrant colours and cultures. It almost looks like a surreal production set of an Indian historic film now!

< Life-size bhangra dancers, carved out of black marble >

4 years ago, Punjab Tourism and Heritage Promotion Board announced a competition among architects to design the plaza around the temple. An architect named Jay Kaktikar won that competition and worked closely with them to redevelop it as an urban space, for a footfall of over a lakh and a half pilgrims every day of the year.

< The flame inside lights up digitally at night >

For those tho haven’t been to the holy shrine in Amritsar before, you must know there are a few basic rules that everyone is expected to follow, especially a few rules to follow before entering its premises. To know all about those few things to remember, click here.

< One out of the four entrances to Sri Harmandir Sahib >

The four separate entrances on all four sides of Sri Harmandir Sahib signifies one simple message: it is open for every kind of human from any religion, place or ethnicity. Any person from the world can offer his/her prayers at the temple.

< Punjabi family enjoying a moment together in the pond >

< I love this kid and his pure gold spirit! >

< Our first sight of the temple, after entering its premises >

< Panoramic view from that sunny day in April >

< Submerge yourself in the pond of positive vibrations >

< Swimming fearlessly in the pond of Godly vibrations >

Sri Harmandir Sahib was built between 1588 and 1604; however, Punjab was frequented with uninvited foreign invaders till 1900s. An invader named Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan demolished The Golden Temple seven times, the last of which was in the year of 1764.

It became popularly known as “The Golden Temple” during 1830s, only after Maharaja Ranjit Singh covered its dome and upper floors in gold-plated copper sheets. Regilding of the gold was done again in the year of 1999, with large amounts of gold and money received by generous devotees from all over the world.

Due to increasing air pollution around the shrine, restoration of the gold is done every year now, to maintain the unique sheen and the temple’s pride.

< The Golden Temples shines as bright as the Sun all day >

The world’s largest free kitchen in the world is the langar at The Golden Temple. In Sikhism, the term Langar is used for any community kitchen in a Gurdwara – where free food is served to all its visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity.

< Sevadars handing out plates at the entrance of langar >

< The langar serves more than 50,000 people every day! >

At the langar, all people eat a simple, nourishing and vegetarian meal as equals. The menu usually includes of rotis/prasada (bread), rice, dal (lentils), a mixed vegetable/paneer dish and some soulful kheer or kadha prashad (semolina halva) as dessert.

< An experienced senior sevadar cooking rotis for devotees of the temple >

We exited the temple after a short break to drink water and regrouped outside to collect our footwear. That one-of-a kind feeling of vibrations after leaving the temple, is rare and inexplicable but definitely not unfelt by all.

As most of you already know, Jallianwalla Bagh (short walk away from The Golden Temple) is a public garden of 6 to 7 acres, infamously known for the tragic massacre that took place 98 years ago, on 13th April 1919.

< Entrance of Jallianwala Bagh >

The ‘Rowlatt Act’ was passed in 1919 to control the efforts and actions of Indian revolutionaries. During that time, General Dyer had banned any public meetings or gatherings in Amritsar. A public meeting was scheduled on the day of Baisakhi in 1919. What happened that day, makes people mourn in deep sadness even today.

Around 6,000 to 10,000 people gathered at Jallianwala to attend that meeting on that day, including ladies and even children, met with no remorse from Dyer and his heartless soldiers from the British government.

< Bullet marks on a wall inside Jallianwala Bagh >

1650 rounds had been fired by Dyer and his troops, a number that was apparently derived after counting empty cartridge cases on the next day. According to The Indian National Congress, more than 1500 people were injured and over 1000 were declared dead.

< Congress built this memorial in 1961 >

After a long stroll inside the Bagh and after another quick shopping break at Hall Bazaar, we returned to Taj Swarna for lunch at The Chinese Room, starting with some comforting green tea or fruity concoctions, whichever we preferred on our arrival.

< Black Pepper Chicken at The Chinese Room >

< Crispy Salt & Pepper Vegetables at The Chinese Room >

A heavy lunch called for a deservingly quick nap, before we received a wake-up call by someone from the front desk, informing us about our timely departure for Wagah Border that afternoon.

< Caught candidly while walking towards Wagah Border >

Wagah Border is a popular tourist attraction, situated as the border point between India and Pakistan, between the historic cities of Amritsar and Lahore.

< Tallest Indian flag in the country: 360 feet >

Honestly, when we entered the ceremony area, we were quite baffled to see the size of crowd out there. It was definitely more than we anticipated but after we found seats for ourselves, the excitement in the air was palpable.

< People from different states of the country, waiting for the ceremony to start >

< Proud Indian spotted spreading some joy! >

< Women with flags were invited to join the ceremony >

< The gates of both nations were opened during the ceremony >

< The flag lowering ceremony at Wagah Border  >

While the focus for both sides remained on lowering the flags, we managed to observe many explicit overtures from both sides of the border, reinforcing the tension and rivalry between India & Pakistan.

I did enjoy a few patriotic moments in the ceremony, especially yelling Vande Mataram on top of my voice but honestly, I found most of the ceremony to be quite pointless and purposeless.

If given a chance, would I go to Wagah Border again? Probably not. But well, I’m just glad to have another place and experience off my check-list, alright.

After an hour’s drive back to Taj Swarna, we were impatient to see what was organised for their launch ceremony that night. We decided to put our party clothes and sprits on and what followed next, made it an unforgettable night for each and every one of us.

< General Manager, Mr. Sumeet Taneja, kickstarts the cultural & fashion show >

The traditional fight sequences and dance performances elevated our mood and what came next, was something spectacular to witness for one and all in the audience. A fashion show themed on the game of chess, by none other than the iconic designer-duo of Shantanu & Nikhil.

Hope you like these candid shots from that exhilaratingly entertaining fashion show.

While the music dropped and the lights went dimmer, while we thought the fashion show was about to end, The audience was surprised (and impressed) to see the entire staff of Taj Swarna walk the ramp, including the GM, ending the launch ceremony with a loud applause. Sweet gesture by Taj, what a heartwarmingly pleasant surprise!

< Everybody who works at Taj Swarna, walked the ramp too! >

< GM Sumit congratulating his team and thanking the audience >

< Designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil with their team >

After the grand launch-show ended and doors of the ballroom opened for our exit, we were given the choice of either enjoying our favourite cocktails at The Peg or try exclusive creations at La Patisserie – a dreamland for kids and adults of all age groups, with more than 20 kinds of chocolate on display; including unique flavours like onion curry and all time favourites like dark chocolate truffles!

< Delicious dark chocolate truffles >

< 4 large buffet-spreads with live counters serving Asian, Italian and more! >

< Makai di roti & sarson da saag at Taj Swarna >

< Amritsari Fish (and chicken) Tikka available at Taj Swarna >

< Mash-ups created and performed by Manasi Scott >

Great food, great cocktails, great performances with great company of various chefs, industrialists, journalists, bloggers and celebs from all around the country. Taj definitely knows how to throw a party! Thanks Atrayee, Parinita and the entire team of Taj Swarna for that unforgettable launch night. It is an honour to be a part of the Taj family.

While most guests decided to party till wee hours of the night, we went back to our room at midnight, only to catch adequate sleep and not miss out on experiencing sunrise at The Golden Temple on the next day. Every sunrise (and even sunset) is a mesmerizing sight that most pilgrims come or stay back for.

< The Golden Temple glistening gorgeously before sunrise >

< A majestic sunrise of golds, oranges, pinks, purples and blues! >

Sunrise and sunset at The Golden Temple can be every photographer’s paradise because the colours of the marble plaza and the glow of the gold-gilded temple walls, slowly and gradually change with the sun’s movement together.

Here’s a time-lapse video I captured to share this surreal moment with all my readers like you.

Even though I've been to this holy place several times in my life so far, for those who haven't and don't know; Sri Darbar Sahib or Sri Harmandir Sahib (informally & popularly referred to as #TheGoldenTemple) is the holiest Gurdwara of Sikhism, located in the heart of Amritsar city in Punjab. I would sincerely suggest everyone to visit #GoldenTemple before sunrise; preferably between 3:30 to 5:00 AM, to experience how rays of sunlight take over the glistening temple, amplifying that radiating sense of godly and heavenly positive vibrations that exist around it everywhere all the time. While some people may believe it to be temporary nirvana and after personally experiencing those vibrations during every visit of mine, it's still extremely difficult to explain that distinct feeling in words. So I decided to capture and share a #hyperlapse #video of the #sunrise out there for all of you. Thank you so much @tajhotels, for inviting us to the land of this great monument, great people and great food. It's not less than a blessing to have found an opportunity so soon, to relive this moment again after January earlier this year. We also feel grateful and honoured to have attended the grand launch night of @tajswarna in #Amritsar. Best regards to your entire team from my team @lensplate and yours truly, TBB. A travelogue from our journey will go up on my blog sometime next month.  Waheguru ji da khalsa, Waheguru ji di fateh! . . . . . . . . . #amritsartemple #sridarbarsahib #goldentempleamritsar #punjab #sikhism #hyperlapsevideo #traveler #travel #travelblogger #travels #travelogue #india #indiatravel #thebigbhookad

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After enjoying this magical moment, we returned to Taj Swarna to pack our bags, check-out on time, say our goodbyes and discover two popular eateries of Amritsar before on-boarding our return flight to Mumbai.

Kulcha Land and Kanha Sweets.

In order to avoid heavy crowds and long queues, please visit the temple on a weekday. No matter how long the queue is, if it’s your first time, don’t compromise on entering the temple and please don’t forget to eat at the langar and preferably take a dip before you enter the temple for darshan – especially if it’s going to be your first trip to Amritsar.

I sincerely hope this travelogue helps you plan out your trip in Amritsar.

Please reach out to me unhesitatingly if you’d like to know more about places you could eat at or visit during your stay in Amritsar.

Happy traveling! 🙂

Yours truly,
The Big Bhookad™

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As an aspiring food critic, it's my responsibility to share reliable recommendations to improve your culinary experiences, travel experiences and praiseworthy branded experiences in the world of food and hospitality.

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