Final year thesis was looming over our heads. We had deadlines surrounding us from every corner. Amidst all the madness and the summer sun, there was only one thing to do… escape from the madness! There were other ways to do this. The usual ‘party and dance off’, the ‘let’s have an amazing meal with all the money we ever saved’ or travel…
The choice was quite obvious.
We had been planning a trip to Rishikesh (Uttar Pradesh, India), but the plan always seemed to run into some trouble or the other. So we decided to be impromptu. One evening, six of us just packed our bags and arrived at the Kashmiri Gate Bus Station, Delhi. Between the six of us and a couple of hours expended in packing, we had decided to target Amritsar (Punjab, India) as our final destination.
There we were, at the bus station and no buses. Minutes away from midnight, we were giving up on our spontaneity and disappointingly turning away, when we crashed right into our travel godfather for the night. The old man calling out for Jalandhar stopped us to inquire about our plans. Our faces reeked of our lamentable story and he proposed an alternative way to reach the city.
Delhi to Jalandhar, a wonderfully smooth journey, left us completely unprepared for the rickety two-hour ride from Jalandhar to Amritsar at 5 in the morning. Despite all the travel mishaps, our spirits soared as we climbed down the bus while the conductor bellowed “Amritsar! Amritsar! Amritsar! Last Stop! Amritsar! Amritsar! Amritsar!”
With famished eyes and a voracious appetite, we sauntered through the lanes of the Golden City.
The Golden Temple, a mesmerising sight, stimulating one and all to bow their heads, sitting atop a water body, a giant gold diadem shining over the beautiful city. Hundreds of people pour in through the four gates, bathing in holy water, walking in reverie, sitting in a state of utmost devotion. A pleasant stillness enveloped the space. Despite the crowd, there was no rush and gush. The place swayed with the music, rhythmically synchronised to the soft heartbeats, billowing the air with tranquillity.
Beyond the boundaries of the temple, the city is a medley of vibrant colours and spirited crowd. And if that was not enticing enough, then the smell of the glorious meal was a deal maker.
In the thick of lively banter, Amritsar also has a melancholic centre, housing one of the tragic events from the days of our freedom struggle. The Jallianwala Bagh, a site marred with the massacre, is a tribute to the heroes of free India. Anguish held captive in the park surrounded by old broken houses with quaint blue windows and bullet marks. Having only read the stories did not make this any easier.
In defiance of this desolation, the streets around teemed with people and markets, bursting with life and spreading the exuberance. There is no dawdling in this city. So we quickly moved on…
It has been four years since my trip to the Golden City. I’ve visited many cities since. I’ve experienced different cultures, met and made friends, tasted great food and yet when I close my eyes, I can still smell the freshly fried jalebis from our early morning walk immediately after our arrival. I can still feel the hustle-bustle of the morning market in the air and yet a sense of calm prevails. I can picture the city blossoming right in front of our eyes through the day, opening its layers as we meandered.
The city of Amritsar is not golden just because of the Golden temple that adorns it, but because of the harmony, it exudes. It shakes your hand, gives you a tight hug and offers you a long-lasting friendship. That’s what I remember… with a warm smile.
Amritsar, the golden city… a city of colourful heads and sprightly hubbub.